August 15, 2000
Mesa Public Schools Governing Board:
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Mr. Robert Meko has informed us that he will be proposing to you that, the next time an elementary school is opened/named, that it be named The Arthur L. Hall Elementary School. We are offering this letter in support of that proposal. We knew Mr. Hall well and we are confident that naming a Mesa school after Mr. Hall is a fine and well-justified tribute.
Arthur Hall passed away in Camden, Maine, July 6, 2000. He had been a friend and inspirational educator as an Artist-in-Residence in the Mesa Public Schools for the past twenty-one years. It was during his residency in MPS in February, 2000 that he was diagnosed as having incurable cancer. He strove to complete his contractual obligations to each of the schools for which he was scheduled to teach. He was finally persuaded to enter the hospital to begin treatment, in an effort to forestall the inevitable. Following several weeks of treatment, he had gained enough strength to make the trip back to Maine, where he was to continue his medical treatments. He was able to complete one last one-week residency in New Hampshire before he had to be hospitalized again. Throughout this entire period, Mr. Hall kept alive his plans to do residencies in the future. It was very important to him that he return to teaching children.
The impact of Mr. Hallís presence in the Mesa schools each January and February (sometimes extending into March) is immeasurable. He was a friend to many people. He was an inspiration to the students and their teachers. He was a master teacher who was able to identify with each one of his students as individuals. In some instances he had the opportunity to return to the same schools in subsequent and sometimes consecutive years. In those cases, he remembered the students he had taken a special interest in, and the impact on these individuals was particularly notable. His contributions will live on in the lives of the many thousands of students he taught. The nature of his teaching and the content of what he taught was so very deeply human, so very deeply valued by those he taught, that we have an enduring monument which is carried about by each of these persons.
But he is now gone, and the means of carrying to future students that rich gift he offered so generously is no longer within his/our grasp. How can we sustain his memory and retain the kinds of education he offered so very skillfully? Various options are available. Many communities seek to memorialize the contributions of such gifted and generous persons by naming institutions or landmarks after them. In Philadelphia, a community which identifies very keenly with Arthur Hallís contributions to the culture of that city, proposals are being developed for naming after him a street on or near the Avenue of the Arts. Also, there are some efforts planned for naming an institution or theater after Arthur Hall.
Naming a theater and/or street in Philadelphia makes sense for that location. Although Arthur Hall was always an influential force as an educator wherever he worked, he is also very well known for his work as a dancer and choreographer in Philadelphia. It is there that he established the Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center and the first African-American Dance Troupe. He traveled internationally as well as throughout the United States with this Troupe, bringing alive the performance traditions of Western African dance.
Arthur Hallís impact in the Mesa community was primarily as an educator. He choreographed performances at each of the schools and with the very well-respected Ballet Etudes company, but his lasting and most widespread impact will be through his teaching. Therefore, it is appropriate that his teaching contributions be honored and his legacy be sustained by naming an elementary school in Mesa Arthur L. Hall Elementary School.
Some observers not very familiar with Mr. Hallís contributions may view them as being only representative of the African-American culture. We express that as only because there are many communities he has touched in which the African-American culture was an extremely important element to come to know. The African-American culture is highly valued and has its rightful place among the many cultures found in the United States. Many of Mr. Hallís followers are searching for ways to continue his fine work in arousing and sustaining pride in "black" consciousness. Mr. Hall would probably not object to that "specialization" of his contributions, as he was very dedicated to the mission of drawing forth and focusing upon the spirituality and genuine expressions to be found in the African culture. It was clear, however, that Mr. Hall saw his mission very broadly. He frequently spoke and wrote of wanting to serve all humankind, to ease ugliness and hurt, to celebrate the human spirit, and to make regal each move of each human being, regardless of body size, shape, or dancing ability.
He carried that mission into communities which were vastly diverse. He taught in the inner city area of North Philadelphia, where the predominant culture was African-American. He taught in Camden, Maine, a community with a culture which contrasted vividly with that in North Philadelphia. His message seemed to be the same. Humanity is valued through its grasp of the human spirit, a spirit which is given clarity and greater essence through dance. This is a universal message.
Since Mr. Hallís death, we have communicated with hundreds of persons around the U.S. who called Arthur their friend. We are impressed and moved by the depth of feeling they have for him, the stories they tell us about the special experiences they had through his leadership, and the memories which they will always cherish. Many spoke of dancing experiences several decades ago which they seemed to remember with vivid detail. The theme of these memories always seemed to be the same. Arthur helped them find forms of expression which they had not yet discovered for themselves, and they felt they were forever changed as a result. He was a true artist, capable of intensifying a moment or series of moments. His performances were riveting events which left lasting impressions on dancers and audiences alike.
He carried his message to schools throughout the country. He did it through a cultural integrity and cultural mixture which was educationally lasting, energetic, demanding, absorbing, and captivating for all. A school which carries his name and embodies the unique symbols of his work is a strong and appropriate way for Mesa Schools to say "thank you" to Arthur Hall and to celebrate in a continuing fashion his way of teaching.
Lois Wells - Retired, Mesa Public Schools Elementary Teacher
Barrie Wells - Professor Emeritus, School of Music, ASU