Making the arts a national priority
"The arts embody the American spirit of self-definition," President Barack Obama has said. Encouraging words for IU faculty members, who offer the president suggestions for making the U.S. a cultural leader, establishing a national Arts Corps, using the office of the presidency to communicate the importance of the arts, and recognizing the value of dance for children and adults.
Make America a cultural leader. Mr. President, with roots in Chicago, you should have first-hand knowledge of how important the arts are to a vibrant and healthy city, not just culturally, but economically, and more profoundly, spiritually and psychologically. Therefore, my first piece of advice is to invest in the arts to make a permanent difference to your country and as part of your longterm legacy. Chicago has one of liveliest and exciting arts communities -- and America is and needs to be a cultural leader. The arts are suffering as much, if not more than some of the other sectors receiving attention. So the arts do need help and they need to be reintegrated into the educational system from K-12 and beyond. The learning skills derived from the arts make us better thinkers as well as better people.
My second piece of advice: Stay with advancing the green agenda. It will help us save the planet.
Heidi Gealt is Director of the Indiana University Art Museum. Top
Anya Peterson Royce
The arts speak in powerful, dense, direct ways of what touches us most deeply as individuals and societies. They are at once of this world and separate from it, trapped in time but timeless, disciplined yet soaring with great affectionate joy. Artists understand these paradoxes in their bones, spend lifetimes mastering their craft, yet risk all by venturing beyond the comfortable.
As people, as societies, we are poorer when the arts are diminished, because they speak truth across the frontiers of difference and they show us the virtue of discipline wedded to the poetry of the imagination. We need them -- the poets, painters, dancers, composers, musicians -- now more than ever. Let's be bold and create an Arts Corps, a cadre of people -- artists, arts organizations, universities, museums, and people whose lives have been transformed by the arts, who will dedicate themselves to bringing the arts, their art, to those who will be changed by this experience. This country has a wealth of artists young and old. Let us put them into the schools, into community programs, into places of desperate poverty and despair. Talk to the revolutionaries in this endeavor: Jacques D'Amboise, who now has taught dance to literally thousands of kids from the poorest neighborhoods across the boroughs of New York City; Marian Allsop, who created an orchestra, the Baltimore Orkids in the Harriet Tubman School; Herb Stevens, creator of the San Carlos Apache Culture Center, who teaches his own people their traditional arts; or any of the hundreds of aspiring artists who volunteer in Boys and Girls Clubs, in after-school programs and in charter schools to share what they love with children who would never know it otherwise. Harness all that talent and energy to create an Arts Corps. We would create a generation of confident, boundary-crossing young people whose lives have been forever changed by this encounter with the arts.
Anya Peterson Royce is a Chancellor's Professor of anthropology and of comparative literature. Top
Communicate the importance of the arts. For my advice on the arts I have restricted myself to things that won't cost the government a dime. The last thing you need these days is more voices asking for money. None of these items requires an "Arts Czar" or "Secretary of Culture."
First, when the opportunity arises, let people know about how your outlook on life has been shaped by the world's cultural heritage -- literature, music, film, painting, or whatever things have moved you, entertained you, that you would want to share with friends or your daughters. The arts can only flourish in an America where citizens seek it out, and you are the highest profile role model we have.
Second, continue to articulate your understanding of America's cultural diversity, that America's artistic and intellectual vitality depends on its lively marketplace of ideas, including visions that on occasion will be disturbing to some. Be a champion of the First Amendment, and stand behind the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities when, as will almost certainly happen, one of their funded projects attracts protest.
Third, on the regulatory side, remember that citizens need to be able to have access to works, including those that come attached with intellectual property rights. Major producers of media will be sending plenty of lobbyists your way, asking for laws that often will make access more difficult or costly; keep in mind the arts consumer, or the young, struggling artist, whose ability to create is lessened the more that our cultural heritage is locked away behind ever-tightening copyright rules.
Michael Rushton is director of IU's Arts Administration Program and an associate professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Top
Through the outreach programs of many ballet companies, we know that schoolchildren of all economic levels are captivated, entertained and educated through our process of training the body to become strong, flexible and yet never shows any sign of stress or untoward brute strength the way athletes' might -- even though our art form encompasses athletic achievements and more. We develop our bodies for the purpose of performing actions, emotions and dramas that can only be told by the body. We spend many years refining our instrument -- our own physiques -- for this purpose. We take a daily class -- until the very day of our retirement (which comes much too early in life) -- to achieve this.
Yet we are so under-recognized. We are not taken as seriously as other theater arts: in fact, we are often lampooned.
I ask you to first, send your two adorable girls to ballet class. It will send such a powerful message to children all over the world. Chelsea Clinton has become a great advocate for the art of ballet -- she graduated from the Washington School of Ballet. Her father was a major supporter of the Washington Ballet.
And secondly, please invite the great American ballet stars of today to perform at the White House, just like the great John F. Kennedy did. In his time, thanks to his invitations to those ballet dancers, the names of those dancers become part of the list of great American artistes and thus part of the subconscious of the American people.
Michael Vernon is Chair of the Department of Ballet and a professor at the Jacobs School of Music. Top