"Art Builds Community," Part 3 of 3
By Catherine Rickbone, OCCA Executive Director
Last issue we were talking about how community arts keep the commonality of our humanness alive and gives a venue for our dreams. Dreams must be nurtured. I’d like to share with you a quote from one of my favorite novelists and see if you can identify it:
“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts. Nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”
In case you’re not sure yet, these are the words of Thomas Gradgrind to a new schoolmaster in the opening scene of Dickens’s “Hard Times.” Dickens, of course, was poking fun at a form of education new in 1854, grounded in the relatively new philosophy of Utilitarianism. This reductive educational approach relied on definitions and formulas and certainly left little room for the imagination. Sadly, this still has a familiar ring in today’s educational landscape.
Self-expression is the one inalienable right that cannot be taken away from us - the freedom of our imagination. It’s through the power of imagination we can solve problems – protect the environment, purify water, and preserve the food supply.
My friend Patrick Overton says, “We help individuals to discover their own creativity by offering them opportunities to express themselves and celebrate the art of their lives.” Some observe that there is a deep hunger that people have to become “makers” again, not just consumers, where we have little relationship between the things we use/consume and the people who make them. Telling our stories through writing is one such way to become “makers” again.
I am reminded of a story by a local Lincoln county girl who now is a well-known opera singer. Erica Brookhyser looks back on the Newport Performing Arts Center and says, “It was the center of my life growing up. It provided me with my social circle, my after-school activities, and a variety of important life lessons.” Erica continues, “When people tell me that I look like a natural on stage, I owe the compliment to the arts community in Newport, since without them, I wouldn’t have had a stage to stand on.”
Sounds to me like this is a powerful example of how art builds community. A similar story can be found, or should be found, in every community along the Oregon coast, no matter whether it is a cultural or performing arts center, a theatre, or a visual art center.
I am reminded of an observation by Robert E. Gard, professor emeritus of community theatre, University of Wisconsin, Madison who believes that the American spirit lies in its grass roots: “In terms of American democracy, the arts are for everyone. As America emerges into a different understanding of her strength, it becomes clear that her strength is in the people and in the places where the people live. The people, if shown the way, can create art in and of themselves.”
In case you think this too touchy-feely, just know that without the arts, your soul, your life is and will be impoverished. It’s not just about bringing art from outside the community for people to see and enjoy, which is important. It is also about bringing out the art that is in the community, inside the people who make the community what it is.
We can all build community through the arts. Attend a performance and view an exhibit. However, until you hold a paint brush, write and tell your story, get your hands in the clay, or stand up on a stage to act, sing or dance will you know what your soul yearns for.