The Governor's Speech

As promised:

In accepting the Americans for the Arts Public Leadership Award
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thank you Senator Merkley for your introduction – and for the outstanding job you are doing in Washington for the people of Oregon. These are difficult times for our state – but they would be a lot more difficult without your voice and vote in the United States Senate. I also want to thank Bob Lynch and Americans for the Arts for selecting me to receive your Public Leadership in the Arts award.

Oregon – like most other states – is facing painful budget choices. I frequently remind people that 90-percent of our state’s budget goes to just three things: Schools, public safety, and human services.

Where does that leave public funding for art and culture? For the shortsighted, it leaves them on the cutting room floor. But I believe passionately that art and culture are not luxuries to be supported in good times – and frills to be discarded in difficult times. They are essential at all times.

By the standards of many states – Oregon is not the most financially prosperous. But we would never trade financial wealth for our wonderful quality of life. It is who we are as a people – and why we work so hard to protect our natural beauty. Art and culture are part of that beauty and are equally important to Oregon’s quality of life. This is as it should be. In creativity – we find hope. In artistry – we find our shared humanity. And what is too often overlooked – by investing in our cultural assets, we invest in jobs and economic renewal.

I often compare the human mind without art – to a room without furniture. The room exists – but it is empty of joy and inspiration. This is why I created CHAMP – to reinvest in culture, history, art, movies, preservation and public broadcasting, and in doing so to enrich the human mind.

I’m very proud to receive this award. And I think it is a credit not just to me – but to Oregon’s entire creative community, from practicing artists and cultural institutions, to business leaders, to legislators from both parties.

But I have a confession: When I was a young man growing up, I didn’t know much about the arts – and didn’t see them as relevant to my life. When I came home from overseas after serving in the Marines, I went to work in a steel mill. I thought that would be my life. But I met a woman who was in college – and she told me that as a condition of our marriage I would have to go to college too.

I enrolled at the University of Missouri on the GI Bill, and for reasons I don’t fully remember or understand – I took an art class. Then a second art class. And then a third art class. I didn’t just learn to appreciate the arts – I learned I needed the arts. The arts made me a more open and curious person – with greater promise and hope for the future.

I realized that the arts are a path to opportunity. This is my greatest motivation for supporting cultural re-investment – to give children in Oregon the same opportunities I had. That means giving them the chance to enjoy, practice and learn about art.

Andre Malraux, the French writer and essayist, once said, “Art is a revolt against fate.” To which I would add: So is investing in art. For children – public investment in the arts will open doors. Change lives. Raise sights. And hand to them an even better future than was handed to us. For those of us in positions of public leadership, there is no greater responsibility – or achievement – than that.

Thank you.

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