More From the Arts Front

Has Culture Shock given you more arts advocacy than you need or want? Are your gullets glutted with our pro-arts sentiments?

Perhaps you're already sold on the notion that arts and culture are societal salves --balms to cure economic catastrophe, reverse rampant underachievement, and assuage the anomie of the aimless. If so, our relentless advocacy may smack of beating a horse that already drank the Kool-Aid.

Or, heavens forfend, some of you may not be buying it at all. You've heard all the arguments in favor of the arts and all you can say is "pish posh" and "pizzletwist." For you, the arts are nothing more than a shiny charm bracelet--a little gris-gris stuffed in a juju sack to make us feel better. Or you think the arts are elitist and unable to survive in the rustle-tussle of the marketplace. "The fat lady has sung, " you declare. Enough said. Period. End of story.

To every one of our dear readers, it's my duty to tell you that we're duty bound to be hidebound on this issue. What would you have us do? Throw up our hands and throw in the towel?

Every once in a while, somebody famous says smart things about the arts that are ... well ... more eloquent than anything we can say. Rachel Maddow, for instance. That MSNBC pundit says smart things all the time--about all kinds of issues. She recently spoke at Jacob's Pillow, the annual contemporary dance festival in the Berkshires, and shared this brilliance with the audience:

Sometimes we choose to serve our country in uniform, in war. Sometimes in elected office. And those are the ways of serving our country that I think we are trained to easily call heroic.

It’s also a service to your country, I think, to teach poetry in the prisons, to be an incredibly dedicated student of dance, to fight for funding music and arts education in the schools. A country without an expectation of minimal artistic literacy, without a basic structure by which the artists among us can be awakened and given the choice of following their talents and a way to get to be great at what they do, is a country that is not actually as great as it could be.

And a country without the capacity to nurture artistic greatness is not being a great country. It is a service to our country, and sometimes it is heroic service to our country, to fight for the United States of America to have the capacity to nurture artistic greatness.

Not just in wartime but especially in wartime, and not just in hard economic times but especially in hard economic times, the arts get dismissed as ‘sissy’. Dance gets dismissed as craft, creativity gets dismissed as inessential, to the detriment of our country. And so when we fight for dance, when we buy art that’s made by living American artists, when we say that even when you cut education to the bone, you do not cut arts and music education, because arts and music education IS bone, it is structural, it is essential; you are--in [Jacob’s Pillow founder] Ted Shawn’s words--you are preserving the way of life that we are supposedly fighting for
and it’s worth being proud of.”

Though Maddow's statement is spreading on the interwebs, I credit the website Dancing Perfectly Free as the first place I spotted it. The photo is by Christopher Duggan.

No comments: