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Janie Saviers-Steiger performs in a dance production at Oakridge Elementary in 2002. The production was supported by a Sorenson grant.

Somebody gets it. And that somebody is the Sorenson Legacy Foundation. The foundation just donated $12 million to the University of Utah, earmarked to enhance the arts in Utah's public schools. The money will help develop the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex for the campus and will enhance programs already in motion at the university. The arts will be wed to other disciplines in a pioneering program that looks to educate the whole person. Students at the university will learn to integrate art with other subjects.

U. President Michael Young said, "Integrating arts into the education of our young students early in their development will have a profound effect on their future learning."

What the Sorensons, Young and the university "get" is that the arts are more than just a pretty hem on the fabric of society. They are not an embellishment on "real life," but are life as real as it gets. Along with personal relationships and religion, artistic expression and appreciation are affairs of the heart. Dance, music, writing and painting put society's dreams, fears, loves, longing, pain, joy and sorrow on full display. And by showcasing such things, young people are able to feel more confidence and companionship in their pursuits, whether those pursuits are in the arts themselves or in the sciences, athletics or some other field.

The arts make people more sensitive to everything else. Pumping more art into students means getting more humanity into them. And in an era when society is in flux and values are tough to understand, let alone pin down, finding one's heart and — by extension — one's sense of self is vital for youngsters coming of age.

Beverley Taylor Sorenson has trod this path in the past. She was behind Art Works for Kids, a program that worked to keep the arts alive in schools where budget constraints had chopped them back. The new facility will be the clearinghouse for similar concerns. It will house the Virginia Tanner Creative Dance Program and will have classrooms as well as practice and performing venues. It will be up and running in 2011.

Some may wrinkle a brow at so much effort and money going into art, but those people simply need to read their Pablo Picasso.

"Every child is an artist," he wrote. "The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."

The University of Utah, thanks to the Sorenson Foundation, is now poised to tackle that problem.