Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How does Art support you?

I spent several hours on Pine Street at last weekend’s Burlington South End Art Hop (go SEABA!) encouraging people to step up to our video-camera and respond to this question on tape.

Some people acted suspicious, not because they found it odd that a stranger was asking them to speak about something so personal on camera, but because they couldn’t understand why was I bothering them about something that was so self-evident. After all, they were at the Art Hop, weren’t they?

Why indeed…

The purpose of this marketing campaign ( is to get people to think differently about the role the arts play in their lives. The truth of the matter is that Art, in all its multidisciplinary glory, has never been, nor probably ever will be, given enough financial support. Foundations, philanthropists, businesses, public funding agencies have for years been faced with a nearly impossible task: to develop a set of clear and convincing reasons to increase the flow of dollars going into programs and services that nurture and sustain our various types of cultural expression. But, we asked ourselves, what if we turned that around? What if, instead of asking how we can all support the arts, we instead asked, how do the arts support us?

We are better now than we were in the 1990s at articulating the many “public value” reasons to support the arts,most of which address the Arts’ role in stimulating community economic development (just look at Church Street Market Place and the entire Pine Street Corridor if you don’t believe me).

But the good people at Place Creative helped us home in on the Arts more powerful and compelling effect—the emotional impact it has on each of us individually and on all of us collectively. For some of us whose careers are in the arts (either as artists or teachers or presenters, etc.) the Arts support us literally, with a paycheck, a commission fee, or some kind of remuneration that enables us to pay for food and shelter.

But for most of us, defining how Art supports us requires us to be articulate about subjective impressions and emotions—something we are not comfortable with very often and something at which language frequently fails miserably. For me, art has a way of inserting itself with great subtlety and meaning into even the most mundane activities.

For example, the style of clothing you wear; the make and model car you drive; the way you cut your hair, and adorn your skin and clothing with “accessories” ALL have their basis in a creative act—not just those made by the clothing designers and car-makers, etc., but by YOU, the person who selected that particular look (or automobile) at this particular time and place.

On a slightly less subtle level are the cultural expressions that appeal to you, from the art you hang on your walls, the books you read, and the music to which you listen and sometimes dance.

And there are the obvious, “big ticket items” like concerts, exhibitions, expositions, dramatic works, films, and a host of mixed media expressions that capture our collective attention in some way or other.

Those who create “popular” art tend not to need support from foundations and arts councils because their creative output is immediately attractive to their audiences who will pay for it. But the Mozarts, Van Goghs, and other artists who are now considered “classical,” “modern,” “post-modern,” “multi-cultural.” etc. tend not to connect with enough of an audience in their lifetimes to sustain themselves. They have always needed and will continue to need support from benefactors in order to pursue their craft.

And what do we get in return for their labor? Big moments like Leonard Bernstein conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Berlin Wall on Christmas Day, 1989 or Picasso’s Guernica commemorating the atrocities inflicted there by Nazi-supported Fascist troops during the Spanish Civil War. We also get smaller moments by the hundreds: the shared joy of experiencing a play written by Shakespeare or Mamet; taking in a ballet choreographed by Balanchine or Morris; attending a concert composed by Brahms or Nielsen or performed by The Boston Symphony or the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble.

And finally we get the individual moments by the thousands: the experience of encountering Michelangelo’s Pieta for the first time; or something much simpler, like hearing your child rehearse her part in the school musical.

Art is part of everything that makes us human, makes us individual, and enables us to enjoy (or least tolerate) our brief journey through life.

So the simple question we start with, we hope, will create an outpouring of sharing and understanding about the value and importance of Art to all of us. Because, whether you like it or not, whether it’s to your particular taste or not, Art really matters, in all its magnificent forms. And in Vermont, we are blessed.

How does Art Support You?

1 comment:

Candy Barr said...

Fantastic points Alex. Hope your video collection at the Art Hop goes viral!
Thanks for the support the VAC does for Vermonters and beyond~~~!