Part One – How to Upset Anyone Involved in the Arts
Just say, “the arts are unnecessary.” We’re loath to say it. We’re defensive if the notion surfaces. However,
somewhere along the line, despite the hype, despite the political-speak, the educator-speak and the
arts-organization-speak, it’s staring us in the face. The arts have been rendered irrelevant. Unnecessary.
(Are you getting upset yet?) Excluding movies and huge rock concerts, from a statistical standpoint, only
about 5% of the population of a given region attend any live arts events. Of that 5%, only a fraction will
attend a dance event, a classical music concert or go to see a play.
Ask your neighbors; do they or their kids think about or use the arts in their daily lives? Do the people
on your street come together for singing or dancing? It shows everywhere – people now believe the arts are
for schools. They believe that artists are a special (and weird) breed, not everyday people. Ask your
neighbors: what’s more important for a student – learn about math and science or learn how to play the piano?
Ask any parent what type of profession they’d like to see their children go into. It’s a good bet that not
a single art form will be mentioned.
Virtually every major art form was originally central to the cultural life of the community, from a small
tribe in the amazon jungle, to Native Americans, to the all early civilizations like the Chinese, Greeks and
Romans. The arts were inseparable from the culture – dancing and singing were part of ritual and celebration,
paintings and carvings adorned utilitarian objects (clothing, pottery, tools, etc.), and cave paintings were
arguably the earliest form of documentary. In America, every artisanal craft from clothing to bowls to toys to
religious objects is now factory-mass-produced. In China. True craftspeople are out there, but predominantly
relegated to specialty shops and small venues, seen or experienced by a relative few.
And the arts? Now? They are “electives” in schools; but they have absolutely no part in the all-important
standardized testing. They’re the last programs to be considered and the first to go when budgets are cut. The
litany of outraged complaints about how the arts are viewed and treated is too long to go into, and besides,
arts educators and teaching artists already know.
Even though those of us who care speak out, we’ve actually bought into it. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be in such
trouble. Years of struggle have made us buy into the bleak reality as much as those we look to for support –
support that goes far beyond the financial type. And all those funders, everyone from endowments to the big
corporations looking to keep up their images as supporters of the arts, everyone is tired of hearing the same
endless evidence that the arts matter and they’re weary of the same old pleas for help.
Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary
Part Two – Lip Service and Art Class