If you want to give a gift that will have an impact this year, take a youngster to a play, a concert, a museum.

And then get them involved in making art in some form. If they want to make pictures, give them the paint and paper and then a problem to solve with their work. Then get out of the way, and see what develops. You could be looking at the next Picasso.

Or if they want to dance, turn up the music, find a teacher and give them a few lessons. You could be looking at the next Gregory Hines or Lady Gaga.

Or if they want to act, get them involved in a community theater group. You could be looking at Julia Roberts or Robert Redford.

Or help them find a violin. He might be the next YoYo Ma.

Most importantly you will be setting them up to be a good citizen of the 21st century where creativity and collaboration are the most valued skills, according to the IBM 2010 Global CEO survey. Companies are looking for employees who use creativity to help capitalize on complexity.

The MVP of the corporate world will be the person who can synthesize the constantly changing business landscape and use the 4Cs: critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation to help global companies get ahead.

An arts education is one of the most important ways to teach those creative skills.

Think about it. To create a painting, you need some tools (colors, canvas or paper, a method of applying the paint,) energy and an idea.

Even with all the tools in front of you, the idea is the driving force behind the application of the paint. And maybe you want to talk over the idea with someone ahead of time.

Experienced artists will tell you that sometimes the idea is not fully formed, and it is in the exploration of the idea with the paint and canvas that the work comes together, using the quiet side of the brain.

An idea of a sunlit marsh scene may surprise the artist by becoming an abstract rendering of color and shape.

The idea of expressing an emotion, like anger or sadness, may become one of the world's greatest works like Picasso's "Guernica." That painting was born of his anger at World War II and has remained one of the most powerful works of the 20th century. To see it is to acknowledge complex feelings and a deep sense of disturbance that all the news reports of the war cannot convey.

But most importantly, the work communicates with everyone who sees it.

Beyond texting 1,000 people on Twitter, the useful skills of tomorrow may be the ones such as those learned putting together a theater production.

The collaboration starts with inspiration through a script, assigning roles of all types, figuring out lighting, music, how to use spatial imagination to create sets, how to keep each person engaged in the life of the production, even through major problems and disagreements. Marketing and getting the word out are equally important.

What was once words on a page comes to life, becomes something that didn't exist before.

So if you want to give a gift of a lifetime, find a way to engage a young person in the arts. They will learn things that no amount of studying historical facts will ever teach - and be better prepared for a lifetime of being a good global citizen.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at sharvin@postandcourier.com or 937-5557.