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Meet Merryl Goldberg of California State University San Marcos

Today we’d like to introduce you to Merryl Goldberg.

Merryl, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My earliest memories are of playing music and or listening to it! My dad was a total jazz buff, and his father was a violist in the Boston Pops and Symphony. Before I could walk, I was playing the bongos to jazz greats such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Clifford Brown, Sara Vaughn, Stan Getz, and Oscar Peterson, and attending concerts on the Esplanade in Boston. When I was in second grade I saw a picture of a saxophone in my music book (yes, we had music books!), and I knew I was going to play it. However, my parents insisted that the sax was a boy’s instrument, so I had to go with my second choice: guitar.

Even at 10, I was somewhat resourceful. When I realized that the studio where I was studying guitar taught all instruments, I started sneaking saxophone lessons! When I hit high school and finally convinced my parents I had to play the sax in order to be in the ever-popular marching band – they finally relented – and of course, much to their surprise, I could already play it. Fast-forward to college. I received a scholarship to study classical sax at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music. There I blossomed and before graduating started performing professionally with a band called the Klezmer Conservatory Band.

We performed eastern European Yiddish music – and we performed all over the world. Here is a link to popular videos from the band: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvvZcoNcFymtYzeE0nnbWcV6WEO3MqNpX

Being a performer was wonderful, but I realized that I loved working with people more than performing for them. I went back to graduate school at Harvard and majored in education – specifically on the role of arts in learning. My main focus has been on arts integration – which is how to use the arts as an engaging and impactful way to teach math, science, reading, and social studies. For example, if I tell a bunch of students about the lifecycle of a butterfly and then give them a test – I will only know if the students can parrot back my words. I don’t know if and what they actually understand.

However, if I present them with information and then ask them to act out or show me through dance the lifecycle of the butterfly, I can see the extent of their understanding, and even evaluate it. I know for sure they are engaging with the science concepts and thinking critically. Along the way, I have written a couple of books, presented at hundreds of conferences, gotten federal, state, local and private foundation grants, and have started numerous programs aimed at preparing teachers to integrate the arts into the curriculum.

One thing that often surprises people, is that I add to everything else I do, I’m an avid boxer. Boxing and music, believe it or not, have a lot in common. The university even featured my boxing on the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYJcCAon8lA

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I don’t know too much about smooth roads! The arts are inherently about risk-taking, discipline, dedication, and communication, all of which tend to have their rough edges, and I’ve experienced all of them. When I was a kid I was bullied. Thank goodness for music – because I would hole up in my room for hours practicing my guitar and writing songs; what a wonderful outlet for the 10-year-old me.

As an arts advocate, I’ve continually run up against people and administrators who will talk about supporting the arts but will not prioritize them. Thus, the majority of college students who come to me have had extremely limited exposure to the arts. This is quite a dilemma and shortcoming. There is tons and tons of research (it can be found here: http://www.csusm.edu/artopp/tons_of_research/index.html) that shows that students with arts in their K-12 experiences are better prepared for careers and the workplace, live life to the fullest and excel in education.

Overcoming the “Arts are fluff” argument is an obstacle in the road I hope to remove! Our children deserve better.

California State University San Marcos – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
ART=OPPORTUNITY is a research and evidence-based movement that seeks to transform communities and schools by ensuring all kids have access to the arts, because the arts really do matter. With the support of our extraordinary leadership team, my hope is that the mantra ART=OPPORTUNITY will become the next Got Milk? My goal is to move the needle from the thought that arts enhances life and education, to arts embodies life and education and is a necessary ingredient for healthy living and opportunities to succeed in life, careers, and becoming an empathetic citizen.

We’ve been engaging youth in arts summits, parent education in arts and literacy, art literacy residencies, as well as mentoring of Visual and Performing Arts coordinators, with Business leaders. Recently we facilitated the first San Diego youth summit. The 2018 AAY! Arts Amplifying Youth Summit was led by youth for youth in National City. The day was spectacular and included youth-led workshops on dance, media arts, spoken word, photography, visual art, portfolios, community activism, and diversity.

Powerful performances included the Burns Brothers, Dairrick Hodges, BKSoul and TransceDance. It was truly extraordinary and was highlighted by a guest appearance by musician and arts advocate Jason Mraz! Here is a short video with the day’s highlights the youth’s Facebook page – the video alone has had over 5.2K views: https://www.facebook.com/AAY2018/videos/571650433205140/. Plans are already in place for AAY! 2019.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success to me is marked by progress toward a goal. It can be measured in inches or miles! It depends on the situation. However, each and every time I hear a student, parent, teachers, or community member talk about the importance of arts in their lives and take a confident stand on the issue, I feel that is a measure of success for all of us.

Contact Info:

  • Website: http://www.csusm.edu/artopp/
  • Email: artopp@csusm.edu
  • Instagram: @artopportunity
  • Facebook: @artopportunity
  • Twitter: @artopportunity


Image Credit:
Toni Robin, Charlie Neuman

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