By Regina Gil
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 rocket launch that brought Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon for a historic walk on July 20, 1969, the Gold Coast Arts Center will host a special event on Saturday, June 29, at The Cradle of Aviation Museum’s Reckson Center Atrium.
The event will include a screening of the Academy Award–winning film First Man, starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, followed by a live Q&A with retirees from Northrop Grumman and Grumman, who will share their personal stories of working on the Apollo program right here on Long Island.
On October 4, 1957, Sputnik was launched into orbit by the Soviet Union. That launch became the impetus for the educational mandate from President Eisenhower’s administration stating that going forward, educational emphasis should be on a strong science and mathematics curriculum. Why? The U.S. needed to catch up to the Soviets in the Race to Space, and schoolchildren who could help make that happen needed to be educated, identified and nurtured.
It is not a coincidence that the arts and humanities then began to take a backseat in schools around the country. Funding was adjusted to ensure that math and science would attract the best and the brightest and, slowly but surely, the status of the arts and the humanities began to decline in favor of those subjects that would educate the next generation of scientists and mathematicians who would get a man on the moon—a goal set by John F. Kennedy. It is arguable whether we would have gotten a man on the moon that quickly if the weight of presidential and federal power had not made it a top priority.
Ironically, many of the engineers and astrophysicists who helped make this happen were educated in schools where art, music, history, dance, theater, literature, poetry and so many more of the humanities were a daily feature of their lives from elementary school on. At that time, college core curricula supported the idea that you had to take classes outside your major concentration, so that engineers and mathematicians had to take art, music and the classics. In short, their creativity and ability to problem solve had been nurtured in the arts.
With this event, the Gold Coast Arts Center will put one of America’s most significant scientific achievements front and center while also demonstrating the power of the arts to educate, enrich, edify and entertain. We can do this partly because we are recipients of a grant from Science on Screen, an initiative of the Coolidge Corner Theatre with major support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, intended to help arts organizations like ours use film to put science in the spotlight.
Our hope is that future generations will value the links between the arts and science and appreciate how the full spectrum of human activity can be experienced through the arts. For more information about our Science on Screen partnership, visit www.goldcoastarts.org.
Regina Gil is founder and executive director of the Gold Coast Arts Center and Gold Coast International Film Festival.