quick thoughts on the arts and american society

I’m running out the door but while I was in the shower a few ideas started coming together.

First off – the financial and organizational problems of arts institutions are intrinsically related to the current non-profit funding model and the role arts and culture plays in our society. That’s obvious. When institutional change occurs it is more deeply problematic than in the for-profit world because people are KNOWINGLY working for less money than they could get elsewhere, they do it because of the camaraderie and a common belief in art and creativity. In some ways, the ripple effects are more personal. And that is taxing on everybody involved. The ability to create, produce and present art – moreso even than business – relies on trust and good will. All of that is predicated on security. (open to debate, i’m sure).

Anyway – the point is that the government will step in and save Bear Sterns but won’t support the arts because they don’t believe it has value. But arts and culture that is solely market-driven does not assure quality or innovation. In fact, do we really feel that rap music that extols misogyny, homophobia, violence and crime, though commercially viable, is really good for a civil society? Are movies that reinforce cultural and class stereotypes, that glorify violence, warfare, that promote the de-personalization of violence and de-sensitize the public, and cultivate prejudice and rampant consumerism REALLY of value to society?

The arts are actually a meaningful place for constructive social discourse. They promote creativity, collaboration and cooperation. Arts & Culture Build Community (online and offline in the real world!) They promote education and engagement, scholarship, innovation and a broader sense of involvement in the world at large. Yes, art for art’s sake is wonderful, but the ROLE of arts and creativity in a civilized society, the esteem in which it is held, is a direct measure of the sophistication and humanity of that society. The arts can make us more thoughtful and human. We’ve all seen situations where artists -particularly musicians – from all over the world, in all different situations, can come together and just make art. It can be an amazing thing.

So one step towards trying to solve the ongoing dysfunction in the industry is to wage a larger societal campaign to encourage valuing the arts, valuing the people who make it and the people who support it and make it possible.

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