Personal responsibility and the arts

A compelling op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal addresses the tension between the need for the arts and the burden of funding the arts. Funding for the arts via the National Endowment for the Arts in Obama’s stimulus package barely squeezed through the Senate, even though it was a RELATIVELY small allotment.

When economic conditions grow dire, the arts are usually the first sector put on the chopping block. Arts-related non-profits reportedly contribute $166 billion in economic activity every year and offer the equivalent of full-time employment to 5.7 million workers. Yet, the arts are seen as a luxury not a necessity.

While it’s hard to make a case for arts funding in the face of health clinics closing and other crucial services being cut, I think about those whose life paths have taken a severe turn for the better because of arts programs.

Artists like MB Hanrahan and Michele Chapin, or Peace Thru Music‘s Tony Barnes work with imprisoned and/or at-risk youth to develop artistic expression that often leads to positive, substantial personality and behavioral changes. These kids talk about having no sense of their own worth before they completed a piece of art, took a meaningful photograph or played an instrument. This kind of intervention is critical to the future of humanity.

In Ventura, funding for ArtWalk and it’s key administrator is currently in peril. I can’t help but wonder how such an event would look were it produced entirely on a volunteer/community basis. I’m not saying this is not an important job, but, as with many government jobs, there are always places to trim fat.

Arts funding should not be viewed as dispensable, but do we really want government’s hands in it? I’m not so sure. I think there is something beautiful that occurs when one person is moved to share the gift of creative process with another. When it unfolds in an organic way it enriches the experience, people feel both authentically cared about and necessary.

Maybe those of us who have benefited by our creative abilities have a responsibility to pass it along to those who have yet to discover their own creative potential and maybe the exchange is an energetic one vs a monetary one.


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