A very bright high school friend recently said on Facebook, “The arts were thriving for far longer than governments have been around. They’ll get along just fine without State funds.”
He’s correct, of course. The arts will continue to thrive, in the face of any and all oppression. They always have. That’s why they are so essential – not dispensable. And he and I agree that this is not about the money; this is a philosophical issue.
I used to think as he does in terms of government funding. But more and more I realize the value of the arts to our society and our humanity. I believe government should have a role in prioritizing and supporting the arts. This is an investment in our emotional and intellectual infrastructure, every bit as important for our mutual well-being as a road or a bridge or the school buildings in which the arts should be taught.
From a utilitarian perspective, investing strongly in early childhood arts education – particularly language-based art forms most effectively learned in infancy (i.e. music) – could very well improve overall emotional and intellectual health, creating happier, more productive, more empathetic citizens. Need I list all the ways this would be helpful in solving many of our societal ills?
Even more urgent, right now, is the need for art – as the intersection of emotional creativity and intellectual analysis – to battle the scourge of fundamentalist thinking, an imminent threat to our humanity and way of life. Why? Because artists have the ability to see beyond the obvious. They are willing to question, to analyze, think creatively, and not follow blindly.
So, if the federal government should not take the lead in establishing the primacy of the arts among our societal values, who should?
Some would argue that we should leave art to the private sector. And I would counter that art cannot and should not be made to compete with pop culture for entertainment dollars. And our current, short-term-profit-feeding, publicly traded corporate world is simply not structured to fully support this need . . . even though it’s in its long-term interest to do so. There is so much pressure to beat the next quarterly projections, rather than establishing long-term sustainability. And generations of neglect have left a cultural void in our educational system that’s too extensive for outside, private forces to fill.
After all, this is a societal issue – we ALL need to invest in our future. We need art now more than ever, as freedom of expression is the ultimate weapon in sustaining a truly free society.
What can you do? Speak out. Contact your congressional representatives. Here is one resource: theperformingartsalliance.org/issues and click on “Find Your Legislator”