100 Colorado Creatives: Michael Stanwood
It might be the oldest news around, but public schools are really broke. Denver Public Schools alone is facing $332 million in budget cuts this year — which means that already watered-down ‘nonessential’ programs will be further starved of funding or cut altogether. The arts, as usual, die first.
Michael Stanwood identifies his work as compensation for this. When education is stripped of the classes that foster creative thinking, Stanwood believes, it is incomplete. “It’s the arts,” he says, “that make it an integrated learning process.” So, Stanwood teaches music and songwriting workshops in collaboration with Think360 Arts, a nonprofit devoted to supplementing art-related classes in underfunded schools.
Think360 Arts was the product of a merger between two other nonprofits, Young Audiences of Colorado and the Colorado Alliance for Arts Education. Counting his work with Young Audiences, Stanwood has been involved in this community in some capacity for more than twenty years. “The idea is basically incorporating the arts, even the senses, into learning,” he says. “My main focus has always been to write songs, to put into music what students are studying. I was a songwriter and love empowering kids through music. We learn our ABCs growing up with a melody. I know I often remember things by singing them.”
So music, as Stanwood sees it, doesn’t just promote the independent thought processes essential to critical thinking; it can also reinforce education in other areas. He applies songwriting to literature, to history, even to the cold, no-nonsense wasteland of the maths and sciences. “If they’re taking a subject matter like geometry,” he explains, “I’ll have them explore different ways of saying the word, or use different sounds in the classroom to get a rhythm or a beat, and then we start brainstorming, thinking about geometry, I’ll ask them where do you see geometry in your life. It’s personalizing the subject matter, but as well as that, it’s totally involved with the melody and the rhythm that come out of the school environment.”
In that sense, it’s also about play. Kids learn more, after all, when they’re also having fun.