Practicing the Art of the Possible

The entire world is aware that 2012 is an election year for the United States. The year ahead will be filled with different ideas of how we face the challenges of financial inequities, immigration, education, world affairs, unemployment, housing, the arts and more. We will have to wait to see how this election plays out but as with every election, because we are a self-determining democracy, we believe there is hope for change, for justice, for children and families, for a better world. We elect to be eternal optimists.

And there are no greater optimists than the artists, administrators and funders who work in the nonprofit arts sector. Having labored in this world most of my career (with the exception of a few years in for profit theatre and a short stint in higher education), I am continually invigorated by how creative energy ignores the naysayers and defies the odds. We are “practicing the art of the possible” to use a line from Tim Rice, and a few others.

In businesses that begin with someone's vision and end in product, decisions are easily made when monetary profit is the driving factor. Even in industries that appear to be “for the betterment of mankind” like pharmaceuticals, companies and researchers make the case for research and development with business plans that highlight return on investment. We procure investors not entirely because some drug will save lives, but also because there will be a demand for the product that will return monetary dividends. It's the win-win American way…right?

So how does the nonprofit arts sector fit into this kind of system? It's not easy to argue that support for community arts programs, arts education in schools and access to diverse cultural arts activities will create the next Apple corporation or international video game sensation or music icon giving investors a return on investment. It's a stretch for most of the power structure. But I believe it. I also believe that having the ability to make good artistic decisions, having an understanding of diverse cultures, and grasping the relevance of all art forms to societal mores, makes me, not only a good Jeopardy player, but a better citizen.

“Practicing the art of the possible” is what artists do, what arts administers facilitate and what arts funders, both in the private and public sectors, support. In this election year filled with cynicism and political dogfights, we need to convince more Americans of what is possible. We have much to lose as a country if our future is left in the hands of decision-makers who are motivated by fear and not faith. We need to positively engage in civil discourse and make the connections about the relevance of the arts for those who need it explained and demonstrated every chance we get. Are people tired of hearing this? Too bad… we are the ones supporting a creative America. We are the ones optimistically practicing the art of the possible.