Pageant contestant advocates that arts provide 'a new perspective'
Brianna Layman is using her beauty to advocate brain power.
As a biochemistry major and upcoming senior at Allegheny College, the 21-year-old Franklin Park resident said she is living proof that music and art education are vital to understanding science and math. When schools eliminate the arts from their curriculum, she said they are committing a great disservice to students.
To better spread her message, she entered her first pageant — a local pageant near her college campus in Meadville — where she competed in swimsuit and evening-gown competitions, a talent contest, on-stage questioning and creation of a personal platform based on an issue she will work to promote.
Layman's platform, titled “The Art of Science: From STEM to STEAM,” stresses the importance of music and art education in schools, where subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, are taking increased precedence and funding. The “A” in STEAM stands for “arts.”
In the pageant, which was held in February, Layman was crowned Miss Crawford County, which qualified her to compete in the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant this month at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel.
“There will be 40 contestants in that pageant. That is the most ever in Miss Pennsylvania history,” said Juliann Sheldon, the pageant's public-relations and social-media representative.
The winner at this level progresses to the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., on Sept. 13.
“There's a stigma around pageantry, with all the dresses and makeup and hair. All that's very fun, but my biggest joy comes through my influence and getting support (for my cause),” Layman said.
“I can be a role model and embody the importance of art and music and its demonstrated developmental benefits on young brains. Music and the arts help in science and math. They help us use creativity to drive innovation.”
Art and music always have been important to Layman. While she was a student at North Allegheny Senior High School in McCandless, she took Advanced Placement science classes, as well as art classes. She also played violin in the school's orchestra and performed on the piano with the Golden Strolling Strings ensemble.
While pursuing a pre-med track at Allegheny College, she found time to take private cello and viola lessons, self-teach herself to play the guitar and enroll in studio art classes.
She cringes at the thought that her younger siblings might not get the same opportunity if arts budgets are cut.
“The arts have given me a new perspective on how I view, learn, and study science and math. Creativity and music learning have demonstrated benefits on the brain which create new neural pathways allowing students to understand the big picture of science, data and solving complex math problems rather than just ‘plugging and chugging' numbers into an equation or regurgitating facts. With the arts, you can visual science better, the pathways and mechanisms,” she explained.
Layman plans to graduate next spring with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry. After that, she plans to earn a master's degree in studio art at Georgetown University in Washington.
“I took an art class last semester and now, instead of pre-med, I want to be a bio-artist,” said Layman, referring to an artist whose media is living matter, such as live tissues, bacteria, living organisms and life processes.
“There are about 100 bio-artists in the world. It excites me,” she said.
Laurie Rees is a freelance writer.