Wednesday, February 13, 2008


In this week’s ArtMail we ask for nominations to receive the Council’s Governor’s Award in the Arts and the Walter Cerf Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts.

Why do we do this?

Several reasons…

The most obvious is because it provides all of us with an opportunity to come together in celebration of the work of a Vermont artist who has made a lasting impact on the arts, on the state of Vermont, and on some essential aspect of our humanity. There is something viscerally pleasant about being around someone while his or her work and influence is recognized and celebrated.

An equally important, but much less tangible reason we recognize our artists is to make sure that we retain—and even sustain—our connection to them. Recently I was party to a conversation among colleagues where the subject of “elitism and the arts” was raised. It was the same old discussion in which one person argues how “art” is usually something that only highly-educated, wealthy people with leisure time on their hands are able to enjoy. The response is usually along the lines of no, art is for everyone, it is a reflection of the human condition as seen through the eyes of someone who has the facility of communicating through visual means, dance, poetry, and other art forms. Blah blah blah. But then someone else observed:

“It’s not about elitism. It’s not about wealth, or access, or leisure time. It’s not that simple. What creates a separation between “us” (the people) and “them” (the artist and their work), is a sense of reverence for what “they” are able to do with a few brush strokes, a pen, a musical instrument, or an idea.”

Humans are drawn to those expressions like moths to a candle. How an artist’s work speaks to us, we may not quite understand. However, the more I am around great art and artists, the better I understand this sense of reverence that people direct towards them. It’s not an elitism thing, it’s a “wanting-to-be-connected-to-them” thing. It’s a connection that everyone should be allowed to experience often in their lives.

A third reason we recognize our artists is because someone who labors in the arts all their life is likely to get little else in the way of tangible remuneration. I had the pleasure of chatting with Ella Fitzgerald once back in the mid-1980s. She was well into her old age, but still making public appearances and, apparently, still “singing for her supper.” She was in a crowd and when I reached her I suggested we sit because she looked a little tired. She thanked me for my concern and I led her over to a seat and after a few words of small talk, I asked her, what brings you here tonight, performing for this particular crowd? Her answer stunned me:

I still have to pay the rent.

So, on behalf of all the Ella Fitzgeralds out there, please let us know who we should be celebrating. And while you’re thinking about it, make a donation to your local arts organizations or better yet, buy a work of art, or purchase that song you just downloaded from a friend.

Then join us in celebrating our next award recipients, whoever they may be.

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