For the Heart and Soul of a Nation (Janet's Blog)

I spent ten days on the road in February. Traveling this country and experiencing its cultural richness is one of the benefits of my job. I was in Washington DC for the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network conference, in Detroit with MFA students in theatre at Wayne State University and in New York City at the Arts Education Roundtable conference “Face to Face.”

As I listened to these advocates, students, arts educators and teaching artists, one question kept rising to the surface. How do we make our case in support of the arts?

I think we’ve built arguments around economic development, and career readiness. We have research that states the arts improve cognitive skills, engage children in learning and serve as a passionate outlet for creative energy that might otherwise manifest itself in negative activity. We assert that “creative communities” encourage growth and prosperity. And there are numerous examples around the country where an influx of creative people have changed neighborhoods from places where no one wanted to live to areas where those same people can no longer afford their homes.

Nick Rabkin cites our need for more succinct language to make our argument. He used this example in his presentation at GIA’s Thought Leader Forum on Arts and Education: the introduction to the federal arts standards is 8000 words in length. The introduction that makes the case for math is 700 words. What? Succinct, we are not.

I think it’s time to get back to the basics in our argument. We are not all things to all people but we are all things to one person. In the Lakota language, there is no word for “art.” It is synonymous with what it means to be human. This is not “art for art’s sake.” This is “art for humanities’ sake.” We are the heart and soul of a nation and we need to start talking like it.

We are a nation in the midst of ideological warfare. We can’t stretch the arts to be all things to every rightwing politician attempting to appease his base or leftwing official willing to sacrifice us for bigger fish. So our argument becomes simple. We are what it means to be human.