by michael larosa | June 23, 2014 | People
Rachel Goslins and Rory Pullens discuss their shared interest and commitment to advancing arts education over an Alfresco lunch at Art and Soul.
Rory Pullens and Rachel Goslins enjoy drinks on the outside deck at Art and Soul.
Rachel Goslins and Rory Pullens were drawn to Washington, DC, out of a sense of duty. The head of Washington’s famous Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Pullens had always felt the importance of promoting the value and effects of arts education. Goslins was a documentary film director and producer before President Obama appointed her executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. She became responsible for advancing support of the arts throughout the US. Today, they are both fierce advocates with a mission to change the perception of arts education and to push government to do more. The two have a shared affection for Washington, the city they call home, and their energy and common purpose are evident through an animated conversation over an alfresco lunch on a gorgeous spring day at Art and Soul—just steps from the US Senate.
What looks good on the menu?
Rory Pullens: I admit it was a busy morning; I missed breakfast, and I’m starving for good food! I love seafood so the pan roasted snapper caught my eye. But I think I’ll start with the “Earth n Eats” baby lettuce salad and then have the cast-iron-seared hanger steak with seasoned fries.
Pullens dined on a signature dish of “Earth n Eats” baby lettuce salad with smoked blue cheese, nuts, cranberries, and cider vinaigrette.
While we wait, let’s talk about arts education. Why do you think the arts are often first to be cut in budgets?
RP: There is this fallacy in the thinking of some people—that the arts don’t contribute to education. There is a perception that education should be taxing, grueling, and unenjoyable. “You can’t have fun and be in an educational environment at the same time,” they say. There is also a swing toward high-stakes testing and assessments that [add tunnel vision to] the education process. Sometimes people want to cut out everything that doesn’t contribute directly to this high-stakes testing. Finally, there is a misconception that you can’t make a living out of the arts. At Duke Ellington, 77 percent of all alumni are engaged in the arts or entertainment as a profession.
Rachel Goslins: It’s odd to me that we’re cutting arts education at the same time we’re worried about the high school dropout rate. Cutting what keeps students interested, engaged, and excited doesn’t make sense.
Table décor reflects seasonal accents.
How can government promote integrating arts in education?
RG: Ultimately, the best thing government can do is be a megaphone and spotlight to show what is working. Government can lead the way as thought leaders in talking about the ways arts education can help some of the education problems we’re grappling with in our schools. They can also prevent roadblocks to state funding for local public schools.
RP: The more the federal government can keep this issue on the national radar, the easier it is for state and local governments to move forward. We tend to follow the priorities of the federal government [and the current administration]. Government can lend credibility and value.
RG: The STEAM Caucus is a great example of leadership at the federal level. [STEAM is a movement to integrate the arts into education curricula that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math.] Congress made this issue a priority, and now we’re able to generate energy, attention, and conversation around the intersection of the arts and STEM subjects. That’s huge. STEAM is a powerful and important way to tell the story of arts in school.
Art and Soul offers an ideal venue for a springtime lunch alfresco.
Rachel, what’s it like to go from producing to politics?
RG: Everything I’ve done so far helps me do this job. Critical thinking skills I developed as a copyright attorney during the Clinton administration apply to policy. And [filmmaking] taught me about storytelling… so much of what we do is telling stories. We take a tapestry of work across the country and see the value it’s creating for students, then turn it into a story that’s compelling.
Rory, what brought you to DC?
RP: I’m committed to providing young artists this opportunity to achieve their dream. The mission I’ve been engaged in at the Duke Ellington School keeps me here. Most people think of DC as a political town and overlook the robust artistic community that exists here. Growing up in Southern California, I value all of the diverse experiences, the talent, and academic institutions that DC offers.
How do you like to spend the summer in Washington?
RP: I love bike riding in the early mornings along the Potomac. And I find myself spending entire Sundays walking around Eastern Market.
RG: My girls are at the age when they really enjoying hiking, and we’ve been taking them along the Billy Goat Trail. We also love taking canoes and kayaks out on the river right off the Georgetown waterfront.
The foyer of the restaurant features quaint hanging chalkboards.
How are you enjoying your meals?
RP: This steak was prepared just as I ordered it and is exquisitely presented. I love the ambience. Sitting on the patio on such a beautiful day at lunch time really lets me enjoy the city setting, which makes for perfect conversation.
RG: I like that they have a bar set up on the patio! And I loved my salad to pieces. I’d definitely eat here again.
RP: The patio is just the right size, climate, and tone to make us feel that we are part of our own environment, but still a part of the city. The atmosphere is just perfect—great meal and amazing company. It doesn’t get much better than that! And the Wester Ross salmon looks so delicious. I must get back to Art and Soul to try the dinner menu.
photography by daniel bedell