In Thursday’s Washington Post, a column by John Kelly tells the story of a DC artist, Harold MacDonald, who rose to great prominence in the 1890s, but ultimately was institutionalized because of ‘mental illness’ and died there in 1923. Rudolphe de Zapp, the arts patron and journalist who tried to help him, said at the time, “The popularity of artists is a fragile thing. Anyone who sells beauty will tell you that the market rises and falls over night, and there is no forecasting the change in stocks.” How very true then and now.
An article this Thursday in Bloomberg News features our Americans for the Arts Policy Roundtable with Robert Redford at Sundance last fall, and talks about the increasing challenges facing private support for the arts. Noted in the article is the increasing trend among private funders to target dollars for solving social problems and away from the arts which they erroneously perceive as merely entertainment or about ‘beauty’ as de Zapp noted. There is nothing wrong with beauty, but ironically we all know that the arts deliver that and a whole lot more. Multiple stories in Thursday’s papers agree.
Our Cultural Policy Listserv cites Forbes.com telling the story of how Tacoma, WA is enlisting music the power of symphonies to help combat street gangs and violence. There are literally hundreds of stories in the last month about the economic and jobs impact of the arts. Also on the Listserv, the Orlando Sentinel tells the story of the Davenport School in Polk County, FL, once rated as an extremely low performing D grade school. It enlisted a rigorous arts curriculum in 1999 and vaulted to a high performing A status by 2003 and stays there. We all know hundreds of such stories, yet seeing them in print today was ironic as the Center on Education Policy reported that 62 percent of school districts nationwide increased the amount of time in elementary schools spent on English language and math causing 44 percent to cut science, social studies, the arts and music, and even lunch. Somehow, the lessons of the multiple values of the arts continue to be lost in a quest for practical skills in a world where creativity in developing and using those practical skills will be the competitive edge.
This is not lost on China as I said in an earlier post, nor in the United Arab Emirates where, as pointed out in a Washington Post story Thursday by Hassan Fattah, the arts are being employed to change images and create new avenues of communication. “In nearby Abu Dhabi, which produces Poet of the Millions, (similar to American reality arts star programs) as part of an initiative to preserve historic heritage, the oil-rich emirate has begun a $10 billion plan to build and operate branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim museums on a sprawling arts and culture development meant to preserve Persian Gulf culture even as it embraces the arts and culture of the West.” $10 billion dollars!
On the good-news front, our ArtsVote 2008 project is noting that some presidential candidates are paying attention to the arts. USA Today quotes Governor Bill Richardson as calling for a massive federal program for the arts. Richardson made similar remarks last week in the debate among Democrat candidates. Governor Mike Huckabee, Republican candidate, misses no chance to talk about the value of arts and arts education and even talked about the importance of music and the arts as his closing statement announcing his candidacy on Meet the Press. Other candidates are welcome to chime in.
-Bob Lynch, President & CEO, Americans for the Arts