American Creativity at Risk

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 8, No 2 (Fall 1997)

The Alliance of Artists' Communities

Copies of the report may be obtained from the Alliance of Artists' Communities, 210 SE 50th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97215

The Alliance of Artists' Communities released American Creativity at Risk: Restoring Creativity as a Priority in Public Policy, Cultural Philanthropy, and Education. The report documents a symposium held in November, 1996 and attended by artists, educators, administrators, critics, and grantmakers.

The symposium mission statement says that, "Creativity is at risk in America. While individual innovation, experimentation, and research have been essential ingredients in our society's development, the resources and commitment to American creativity—in the arts, business, science, and other fields—has diminished. What are the consequences of a loss of creativity as America prepares to enter the next millennium, and where and how can creativity be supported for our common good? This symposium will explore the nature of human creativity and its significance in a wide range of disciplines, taking artists' communities as a model and metaphor for fostering pure research and innovation in all sectors of our society and culture. The symposium will result in a call to action addressing the challenges and opportunities of restoring creativity as a priority in public policy, cultural philanthropy, and education.”

Sections of the report document specific symposium themes, culminating in a blueprint for action. Sidebars are drawn from participants' quotes. Here are three:

  • “All creative people are empowered by an inheritance from the past, a debt that can only be repaid by dedicating a portion of our present labors toward the future.”
    — Lewis Hyde
  • “It's not just a matter of creating audiences, it's a matter of bringing people up who are joyful, who continue learning and looking for significance in patterns throughout their lives, who are problem solvers throughout their lives.”
    — Mary Catherine Bateson
  • “If we are not recognized in the press, if we're not recognized in the media, we do not exist, and there is no way to be seen to exist, except by making a noise in the world, and we shouldn't be ashamed of using any devise possible to achieve that.”
    — Brendan Gill

The symposium “Blueprint for Action,” sets the goal “to restore creativity in American public policy, philanthropy, and education.” Seven specific steps are proposed, and they are not so much ideas for action as they are statements about the nature of what is needed in order to achieve the expressed goal. For example:

Step #1: Recognize that creativity is not discipline-specific but transcends age, gender, race, and culture; its sustenance is a societal issue, one vital to the future of American society. Recognize that creativity is an innate quality in all individuals, and work towards a society that unleashes that creativity for the common good.

Step #6: Recognize the role that artists play in society. Collaborate with institutions, business, unions, government, and the media, establishing national and international linkages to enhance opportunities for artists to serve society as creative problem-solvers. Extend public understanding and respect for artists' skills and insights, and their abilities as citizens to work with other problem-solvers to advance humanity.

Step #7: Recognize that with innovation comes the possibility of failure, creativity and risk are strange bedfellows whose progeny cannot be predicted. Advocate for research and development budgets with the understanding that they are the bedrock of innovation, ensuring that the concern for the bottom line does not mortgage our future.