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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Advocating for the Right Reasons

I've had Barbara Kingsolver's High Tide in Tuscon: Essays from Now or Never sitting on my To Be Read pile for, oh, five or six years now. I picked it up after reading her essays on farm life, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, but then it got shuffled into the stack and sat there, waiting. As usual, the Universe knows the right timing.

When you start advocacy, you need to have a pretty clear idea about exactly what it is you're advocating for. When it comes to increased support (financial and otherwise) for artists, I've long been back and forth in my thinking, not really certain what tactic was best. I mean, do we focus on the "arts for arts sake"? (And really what does that even mean?) Do we show how the skills you develop pursuing any of the arts help you no matter what your career path? Or do we talk about the return on investment for municipalities in their artists and arts businesses? Because I'm so close to it, I can argue many different angles about why the arts are the best thing ever. I mean, it's not a huge exaggeration that my friends call me the "Leslie Knope of Arts Administration." (Goddess, I love Amy Poehler in that role.)

So it is fitting that I'm now coming across these beautifully-penned lines from Kingsolver:

"Art has the power not only to soothe a savage breast, but to change a savage mind. A novel can make us weep over the same events that might hardly give us pause if we read them in a newspaper. Even though the tragedy in the newspaper happened to real people, while the one in the novel happened in an author's imagination." 

It's no surprise that the Federal Theatre Project's main program was called "The Living Newspaper."

"Art is the antidote that can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another. By virtue of that power, it is political, regardless of content." 

As opposed to mass media, which, in my opinion, is solely trying to numb the populace enough to let those who have power continue to rule the world. There's a reason "Stay Woke" is a popular phrase these days. (And why I shudder every time I think "Bread and Circuses.")

"We have all heard plenty about each other's troubles, but evidently it's not enough to be told, it has to be lived. And art is so very nearly the same as life." 

I once heard the phrase "art is that which makes you stop and look again." My favorite photographers are Annie Leibovitz and Henri Cartier-Bresson because I can lose myself in their art. I know the subjects purely through their photographs. Art is life.

"Art is entertainment but it's also celebration, condolence, exploration, duty, and communion."

I would argue that Kingsolver has it backwards here. Art is first about emotional connection between artist and audience. But it can also be entertaining.

Tactical arguments overlook the underlying importance of what we're doing this for: So that we may have more communion with each other. If that doesn't inform the basis of all my advocacy, then I need to step away from the work.