Earlier this week, the p.a.v.e. program in arts entrepreneurship at Arizona State University hosted a fabulous speaker, Arlene Goldbard. Arlene is an author and community arts activist, as well as a frequent blogger on issues of cultural policy (see arlenegoldbard.com). Throughout the day, she spoke to several different groups of students and community members about cultural development, the impact of cultural policy in the US — or rather the lack of a coherent “cultural policy “ and, most pointedly, the need to be entrepreneurial about telling NEW stories about the arts and their impact. Mostly, she reminded us, or at least me, that we cannot keep telling a false tale of the arts economic impact; we need to tell the true story of the arts human impact, their impact on the human spirit, on empathy, on our ability to build community cohesion and to sustain culture.
Often, my postings here have focused on the pragmatic and I’ll return to the pragmatic topic of budgeting next but it is important to periodically fuel our spirit and remind our souls of why we do what we do. I’m driven to provide opportunities for young artists because I believe in the transformative power of art. It elicits joy and sorrow, makes us think, helps us heal. The world we will live in tomorrow will look completely different from the world my father grew up in or, for that matter, the one I grew up in. The next generation of artists and designers will have the responsibility of creating the culture of tomorrow, and we cannot even conceive of what that might be.
In her talk yesterday, Goldbard asked, “What do we want to be known for?” Do we want to be known for our prisons? Do we want to be known for what we stop people from doing?Or, as she implied, for what we help people to start? How can we help people to start? Public funding in its current model doesn’t work. Goldbard has been advocating for a new WPA, one that would put 120,000 artists to work in communities as painters, writers, actors, dancers. A program like that would transform the lives not only of the newly employed artists, but of the communities with which they come into contact.