There is a movement afoot for which I’ve been waiting for a long time.
Here in California in the last several years, the James Irvine Foundation conducted several studies and issued reports about arts ecology in California and engagement in the arts by diverse audiences, including folk and traditional arts.
The data was so powerful that Irvine is refocusing its grantmaking efforts “to promote engagement in the arts for all Californians, the kind that embraces and advances the diverse ways that we experience the arts, and that strengthens our ability to thrive together in a dynamic and complex social environment.”
The most exciting report is Getting In On the Act: How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation, by WolfBrown.
They are specifically talking about active engagement, not passive, such as attending a concert. By no means is the Irvine Foundation abandoning the concept of excellence in the arts, but recognizing that there is a broad range of accomplishment that is equally relevant, perhaps more so to community vitality.
I don’t know how many people I have spoken with who were turned off from pursuing a creative passion by people who belittled their beginning efforts. Many worked full careers at a “real job” and only discovered after retirement that they had a profound aptitude and became excellent artists (in the broadest meaning including the full span of the arts and culture).
I’ve often wondered how many more excellent artists would emerge if we engaged people in the arts by inviting them to come play with us. By creating enticing and non-threatening (or non-judgmental) opportunities for people who don’t consider themselves “artists,” we can nurture their creative spirit.
Sometimes I wonder if we artists try to keep as our special secret the fact that engaging in artistic creation is not only immensely rewarding, but fun, too. Sure there’s the agony of it, but in the end, there’s no feeling like being the vehicle for creativity.
As complex, confusing, and frustrating as this world is, we need to spread the joy, and in doing so we’ll discover the amazing talents of our fellow community members. People will meet your expectations, so you’d better have the highest and best possible expectations of them. We all need as many coping mechanisms as we can muster.
So, let’s open up and invite the whole community to engage their creative spirit. Make it fun, playful, and joyful. Even if only a few ever achieve excellence, our communities will be healthier, happier places.
Engaged citizens create safer places and more creativity will spark innovation, building more robust economies. I’ve seen it work.