A couple of weeks ago the Vermont Arts Council "soft-launched" a new commissioning project which will unfold during the course of the next 15 months. The project, "The Art of Action: Shaping Vermont's Future Through Art" is funded by Lyman Orton and seeks to build on the body of work being collected during the Vermont Council on Rural Development's "Council on the Future of Vermont." The "CFV" has been holding public meetings all over Vermont in an effort to uncover the major issues, concerns, and opportunities facing Vermont and Vermonters for the foreseeable future.
"The Art of Action" asks artists to reflect on what is coming out of these meetings, and then create work that reflects or responds to the CFV data and serve as a call to action on the part of Vermont citizens and policy-makers.
This is a pretty tall order, even for artists from Vermont!
But here's why this effort is so important. Day after day I come into work having read in the paper and listened on the radio to an ever-increasing litany of bad news. I've spent the last three or four of these blog postings enumerating the many economic, environmental, educational, social, and political problems we all face.
In my last post, I grabbed onto David Budbill's four-word explanation of the role of an artist ("They tell the truth") as if for dear life (just scroll down, you'll find it!). And now I'm ready to issue my own challenge to myself and to anyone reading this:
Once a day, act like an artist and tell the truth.
Telling the truth is becoming a lost art. It might be because there are so many truths that we don't want to hear that we tend to shut out all truths, except for the few that make us feel good. It might also be because there are so many truths (or at least points of view) that our minds quickly get cluttered with things that, although truthful, may not be all that important.
For example, the following excerpt is a truth offered up by Senator Robert Byrd on March 19, 2003 as America swept towards war with Iraq:
"We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.
"There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.
"The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses."
This truth appeared during, and was lost amid, all the clutter of a great nation girding for war. Had it been listened to by enough people, we might have avoided pursuing a course that has caused great suffering across this land. Borrowing $10 billion a month for five years to pay for a war without a cause (and for the record, I'm only talking about the Iraq War; Afghanistan I believe is a very different story) guarantees that the suffering will be visited upon our children and our children's children.
This generation's legacy will never be forgotten. It will be remembered as the generation that took all the goodwill built up by "the greatest generation" (the generation that defeated fascism and communism) and squandered it for reasons that have yet to be fully brought to light.
Truths always seek the light. They always get revealed. They always defeat lies.
So back to the "Art of Action."
We're not interested in truths about humanity or global warming or international diplomacy, or the lack thereof. We're interested in truths that are about Vermont and its future.We are interested in Vermont's role as a leader in conserving energy and developing renewable resources; pushing towards affordable public transportation; developing greater local food production and storage capacities; designing attractive affordable housing that complements our downtown and rural working landscapes; preserving and protecting habitats for at-risk species; providing state-of-the-art recreation facilities so that future generations will enjoy the same access to fishing, hunting, canoeing, camping, and hiking as we; valuing creativity so much so that entirely new schools are created that promote the arts, languages, and cultures of other people; and developing a sense of curiosity in our youngest citizens so that they become avid, life-long learners, explorers, and seekers-of-knowledge.
I contend that, pound for pound, artists are the greatest problem solvers. They see and experience things in a different way. Their point of view is uncommon. They value the differences between people because those differences provide new opportunities to build bridges. They live for blank canvases, for silences before the downbeat, for the raw, uncut stone or lump of clay. They can read and write in languages our brains understand but they are attuned to the languages that can only be interpreted by the heart. Invention and intuition are their livelihood, and creativity is their currency.
I've worked closely with artists for 35 years. I know what I'm saying is true.
The Art of Action will prove it.