I am all for defeating an amendment that prohibits museums, theaters, arts centers, and zoos from receiving federal stimulus money, but an argument that somehow connects the arts with job creation is beside the point, and problematic.
We need the arts now more than ever not to help create jobs, but to help everyone deal with an emotionally complex world. True artists have the ability and moral obligation to serve as facilitators for emotional argument and to create the resonant environments where such personal and social reflection can take place. There is no more effective cultural tool than the arts for doing this. This is the argument the arts community should be making for funding the arts.
But it is a difficult argument for many current arts institutions to make after they have spent so many years cultivating what is most narcissistic in our culture.
The arts have become, and continue to be, obsessed with the “mirror” for its own sake rather than using it to help us imagine more fully our own sense of common humanity.
If we, as a society, don’t get the argument right, not only will we lose funding for the arts now, we will lose some of our sense of community and human dignity in the future.
Political leaders think they lead. But they don’t really, not in the big picture. It is human emotion, good and bad, that has always shaped our past and will shape our future.
Now is a time of uncertainty, fraught with both fear and hope. But at times like these, we artists don’t need government handouts – we need to be culturally relevant, and, honestly, that is our responsibility.
Our 24-seven culture doesn’t need the ephemeral from us—rather, we have a moral responsibility to be better than that if we wish to be considered artists in any meaningful sense.
Where are the artists daring enough to take up the call? When are we going to start the work of earning our keep as true artists again?
The writer is a composer at the Longy School of Music and a former president of Composers in Red Sneakers.