Supporting a Creative America

What does it mean to “support a creative America?” Do we think of major arts institutions that are the pride of many communities? Do we think of the music we listen to, books we read, film we just saw, or building design that impressed us? Do we think about innovators and designers who create systems and products that drive markets and trends? Do we think about the choir at our church or our children’s performances in the play at school? At Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA), we think of it all.

We start with the belief of many indigenous people. In the Lakota Sioux language, for example, there is no word for art. It is synonymous with being human. In daily life, there is an eco-system that nurtures creativity and the human spirit. It begins with parents singing to their children and is followed by schools where talent and creative thinking is (or should be) taught and encouraged, and by neighborhoods and small towns that celebrate diversity and cultural pride through artistic expression. All of this is a complement to the world of professional artists and arts organizations.

At the Council on Foundation conference in Los Angeles, we have attempted to express this kind of personal and community involvement in the arts. What does it means to experience creativity in our own thinking processes? What does it mean to be inspired by professional artists at the top of their game? The arts are so very much more than the end product that we often focus on in the funding world.

In our current economic and social environment, it is a simplistic approach to community revitalization or sustainability that excludes support of the arts. Artistic expression is not only a product, it is also an approach to learning, to problem-solving, to honest human expression, to community-building and self-esteem. It is a lifeline to many young people who consider dropping out of school because the classroom offers them nothing that stimulates their creativity or keeps them engaged in a group activity—a lifeline that we have cut in many of our public schools because it isn’t tested and isn’t encouraged by most federal and state competitive grant programs. Since 1984, arts classes in public schools have steadily decreased, especially in those schools primarily serving black and brown students. How does this bode for the future of a creative America?

Supporting a creative America is a part of GIA’s mission that we take very seriously. Encouraging creative thinking, cultural sharing, and individual and collective human expression in all their forms supports a creative America. The arts are a tool for the kind of involvement that builds livable communities. Artists and arts organizations are actively working in areas of healthcare, aging, at-risk youth, education, our military, immigrants and refugees, poverty, homelessness, and more. There is no single answer to all the problems of the world, but encouraging creative human expression and nurturing those who can inspire us through beauty and truth is certainly part of the solution.

When we think about a creative America, let’s aim for an engaged and creative workforce and a citizenry that embraces our commonality as human beings through shared artistic expression. We can enhance all we do by involving artists and arts organizations in our goal of a healthier and more creative America.