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Art and imagination: keys to creativity; welcome address by Lady Mary Note, First Lady of the Marshall Islands.

Good Morning to all present this beautiful morning! Welcome to the 2003 International Children's Art Festival here in the wonderful city of Washington, D.C.! Before I begin, I wish to thank God that we have all gathered here safely today to celebrate the talents of all our children; children of every color, religion, ethnic identity, and nationalities. I must also commend you all for making this event a possibility by your very presence; to show the world how important our children are to us, and also to show that through their creativity and imagination, we can begin to build the bridges that will connect us all.

The key question today is, why are the arts important for our children? Why is it important for us, our school, our communities, and out countries to foster children's imaginations and creativity?

First, a child's imagination is a world without any boundaries and restrictions. It is a world that is unique to every child. And it is that imagination which ultimately shapes and forms the spiritual and mental foundation of that child as an adult.

A crucial aspect of any child's development, imagination is key to how children perceive and experience their environment. A child's imagination therefore impacts his or her ability to adapt to changes and differences.

Second, a child's imagination, because it is a world without boundaries and restrictions, is a world that is still largely untainted and relatively free from the prejudices of the world. This untainted imagination, and the creativity that comes from it ensures that each child grows in a manner which allows that him or her to develop his or her individual personality and beliefs, while also growing up to be open and unafraid of differences and diversity.

I shall give an example.

When I was a little girl, my mother taught me many songs. Most were old Marschallese songs! many told of stories from the Bible, while some were nursery rhymes. One day, my mother taught me a new song. The song was very different from any we had sung before, mostly because the words were in Japanese. I learned the song and I enjoyed it very much, but it bothered me that I did not understand the words. So, one day I asked my mother what the words of the song meant. She told me that it was a song about an old Japanese folktale called the "Little Peach Boy". The story was about a man and wife, who for many years tried to have a child. Over the years, they failed to have a child, but never lost faith and continued to work hard and with honesty throughout their lives. One day, a giant peach was floating in the water. The old man got a hold of the peach, hauled it towards land, and began cutting it in half. And lo and behold, a beautiful and healthy baby boy emerged from the peach! The man and wife were then blessed with a child, which they loved very much. And they all lived happily ever after.

Now, at the time I had never seen a peach before because we do not grow peaches in the Marshall Islands. Instead I would imagine a baby boy emerging from a coconut. As a child, whenever I saw a floating coconut in the water, I would try to catch it and open it to see if a baby would come out of it. To this day, I still remember getting into trouble when my mother would see that my new clothes were wet and soggy from trying to catch the coconuts in the water!

Yet, I also remember the first time I met some Japanese visitors who came to the Marshall Islands. I was fascinated by them, but was a little shy of approaching them. Then one day, I heard one of them humming a tune, and it was the tune of the song that I learned as a child! So, quietly I joined in. By the end of the song both of us were singing loudly the song of the Little Peach Boy. It was a moment I could not forget. The Japanese man shook my hand and smiled warmly. We could not understand each other, but I knew then that we shared something similar. Though we each understood the song from different perspectives--for him a familiar song in an unfamiliar environment; for me, an unfamiliar song in a familiar environment--we both shared an understanding and appreciation of the story and song, even though we did not know each other.

This is a simple story but it illustrates how a child's imagination can be triggered to allow him or her to become familiar with something that would otherwise be completely foreign, different, and unknown. Through the song, and my imagination, I was able to build a connection to another culture that would otherwise have been wholly unknown to me.

The arts allow children to be, see, experience, and feel what it is like to be someone or something else. Children then take these experiences and transform them into meanings that are relevant and important to them as individuals. This process allows them to develop not only well-honed cognitive skills, but also an open approach to learning that incorporates different perspectives.

Children's imaginations and creativity are the seeds of tomorrow's progress and innovations. Their dreams and wishes sometimes become reality, as their imaginations drive them to experiment and develop new and exciting inventions. To stifle a child's imagination and creativity would mean to stifle our own future, and ultimately our own Humanity.

A comprehensive arts program, ensures that children have the opportunity to develop in a well-rounded manner, gives them the confidence to try and experience different things, and provides children with the means to connect with people of different cultures, religions, colors, and ethnic identities.

In the Republic of the Marshall Islands, we struggle just to meet the basic requirements of education. Unfortunately, educational prioritization towards meeting these basic requirements has often meant that any comprehensive arts program has become the last priority. For many schools, there simply are not arts programs. You and I know that having an arts program will benefit and enhance the development of our children's young minds, and foster creativity, individuality, and open-mindedness. But for the Marshall Islands, any form of art is often restricted to children's homes and churches. As children belonging to both a local and global community, they are often unable to have access to, or experience the diverse and different art forms from throughout the world.

This is where ICAF can not only have a great impact in our schools and communities, but also throughout the world where many other schools and countries may find themselves in the same circumstances as the Marshall Islands. ICAF schools and countries. In this endeavor, ICAF has had a positive impact in the Marshall Islands; by allowing us to become involved, and giving us a head start in re-thinking how we can further the arts in the Marshall Islands.

The arts must be a part of every child's education; whether in the formal school system, or within the community as a whole. I ask each and every one of you to make sure that your school, communities, and countries become actively involved in developing and promoting arts programs for our children.

In this way, we ensure that our children will have the opportunity to develop their imaginations and their creativity for their own benefit as unique individuals, as well as for the benefit of our families, our communities, our countries, and our world.

Thank you very much.
COPYRIGHT 2003 International Child Art Foundation
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Title Annotation:On the National Mall
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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