"Inform, interpret, inspire." These three words form the core of the mission of the GRAMMY Museum and were championed by first lady Michelle Obama during her keynote address at the Museum's Jane Ortner Education Award Luncheon on July 16 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles.
"Every arts organization in this country should be embracing the mission of the GRAMMY Museum," said Obama.
Celebrating the power of music education, the inaugural luncheon honored GRAMMY nominee Janelle Monáe with the Jane Ortner Artist Award for her dedication to education through the arts. Southern California educator Sunshine Cavalluzzi received the Jane Ortner Educator Award for implementing innovative music-related lessons in the classroom.
In her remarks the first lady emphasized the importance of integrating the arts and education. She has collaborated with the GRAMMY Museum since 2009 to host several educational events, including I'm Every Woman: The History of Women in Soul, a GRAMMY Museum workshop for more than 120 students that took place at the White House on March 6.
"Thanks to your generosity the GRAMMY Museum has flown nearly 1,000 students to Washington to visit the White House and take part in these programs," Obama said to a group of industry and political VIPs and students, which included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sen. Holly Mitchell (D–Calif.) and NBC news anchor Ann Curry, among others. "These young people have had so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences."
Alluding to her most recent album, The Electric Lady, Monáe, a six-time GRAMMY nominee, called Obama the "first electric lady of the United States," a title Obama graciously accepted.
Obama's passion for education was evident. She noted that some studies show that students who are involved in the arts have higher grades, higher graduation rates and higher college enrollment rates.
"We know that engagement in the arts can unlock a world of possibilities for our young people, especially when it comes to their education," she said. "For many young people arts education is the only reason they get out of bed in the morning."
Obama also encouraged attendees to remember the students across the country who don't have access to arts education.
"We need to be thinking about all of the young people who will never have these opportunities," said Obama. "We need to be thinking about the 6 million children in this country who don't have a single art or music class in their schools. So for every Janelle Monáe there are so many young people with so much promise they never have a chance to develop."
Before bringing the audience to their feet with a brief set, including a cover of James Brown's " I Got You (I Feel Good) " and her own hit "Tightrope," Monáe said upon accepting her award that music helped her escape a difficult childhood in Kansas City, Kan.
"Statistics would even say that I wouldn't even be standing here right now because of my environment," said Monáe. "But all because of music, and music being my outlet, I stand here before you right now."
Monáe also invited other artists to use their platform for good: "I just really hope that we have more mentors — more mentors than superstars."
Cavalluzzi, who developed a curriculum titled "Money, Money Money — Musiconomics" for her economics class at El Dorado High School in Placentia, Calif., will have her lesson included in a collection of education materials housed at the GRAMMY Museum that other teachers can access.
"In our classrooms, as teachers we strive to build connections with students who might otherwise be disengaged with conventional content," said Cavalluzzi. "We try to inspire higher level thinking and we do all of that better when we do it through the arts."
The first lady thanked Cavalluzzi for her work and encouraged the students in attendance, including some from Cavalluzzi's high school, to reach higher.
"Don't be afraid to express yourself," said Obama. "And, most importantly, take the lessons you learned through [the] arts and apply them at school. Bring that same passion and dedication to getting the education you will need to fulfill your dreams."