Recently I gave a talk to the American Association of University Women’s Lincoln City branch titled “Art Builds Community: The Relevancy of the Arts Today.” You might wonder, “Well, what else would the executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts talk about? Isn’t that a natural?” Yes, it’s true. But it’s also true that people need to be reminded of the efficacy of the arts time and time again. Below are excerpts from my presentation.
All too often the arts are marginalized, pilloried as the cause of the evils in society or, worse, the arts are eviscerated by lack of funding, rendering them impotent (for example, witness what is happening in my home state of Kansas and the current governor’s elimination, by line-item veto in the state budget, of the Kansas Arts Commission – hence extinguishing that agency). However, this column is not a rant about what is going on elsewhere, but rather a thoughtful reminder of what we all know: the arts are relevant in our lives and in our culture and are vital to us and our children.
Let’s reflect together. And be prepared for poetry, because I am a poet and a former English teacher. Without a doubt, our communities are in a state of change and transition. Some observe that culture is slowly “disintegrating,” that we are losing our center and losing touch with core values that keep us together. Everything is happening so fast; how can we possibly keep up?
Current conditions remind me of a portion of Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” that he wrote in 1919 in the aftermath of the first World War:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The more polarized we become, the less we seem to be able to communicate with each other (we are probably too busy convincing people to think the way we do).
In spite of globalization of news and instant communications, I believe we are in danger of becoming more and more isolated into what I call cell phone silos, full of sound and fury and tweets. A friend shared with me a Sherman Alexie poem, “The Facebook Sonnet,” that illustrates this concept. Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian who is a writer, poet, filmmaker and occasional comedian.
Welcome to the endless high-school
Reunion. Welcome to past friends
And lovers, however, kind or cruel
Let’s undervalue and unmend
The present. Why can’t we pretend
Every stage of life is the same?
Let’s exhume, resume, and extend
Childhood. Let’s play all the games
That occupy the young. Let fame
And shame intertwine. Let one’s search
For God become public domain.
Let church.com become our church
Let’s sign up, sign in, and confess
Here on the altar of loneliness.
So where do the arts fit in to our shifting landscapes, our uncertain futures? How do they build community? We need plenty of people to agree as George Bernard Shaw said, “I believe in Michelangelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of color, the redemption of all things by beauty ever lasting, and the message of art that has made these hands blessed.”
Part II will appear in the March e-newsletter.