Go big, or go home

Flickr: lastbeats

Since Diane Ragsdale left her work at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and wandered to the Netherlands to pursue a PhD, she’s been increasingly feisty about how the arts world works — particularly in the United States, as that’s her area of focus and experience. And I rather adore the emerging Diane (I was already a huge fan of the previous iteration). She’s particularly bold in her latest post about goals and aspirations for the entire arts system, and lobs a challenge into the room for anyone and everyone to answer:

If our goal for the next century is to hold onto our marginalized position and maintain our minuscule reach—rather than being part of the cultural zeitgeist, actively addressing the social inequities in our country, and reaching exponentially greater numbers of people— then our goal is not only too small, I would suggest that it may not merit the vast amounts of time, money, or enthusiasm we would require from talented staffers and artists, governments, foundations, corporations, and private individuals to achieve it.

Arts world….your move.


  1. says

    I believe Americans are already involved in the arts, though not always the ones that Ragsdale and other observers are concerned about. Our neighbors vote with their time and their wallets as to which arts are worth investing their lives in, and those that complain rarely think about what they bring to the average person. Learning is a lifetime project, but in America, many people think they are done once they leave school.

    This is such a complicated subject, and my take on it is that those talking about it rarely consider the people they are trying to inspire, uplift or reach. They want the people to come to them, but they must go to the people instead.

    Some stats:

    Using a definition that more accurately reflects Americans’ arts participation, the 2008 SPPA data reveals that 3 out of 4 Americans participate in arts activities. This definition includes a fuller variety of artistic genres, participation via electronic media, and personal arts creation. The 2008 SPPA data show that nearly 75 percent of adults attended arts activities, created art, or engaged with art via electronic media. This is more than twice the share of adults (34.6 percent) who attended “benchmark” arts events such jazz or classical music concerts, opera, plays, ballet, or who visited art museums or galleries. The highest rates of participation via electronic media—including mobile devices and the Internet—were reported for classical music (18 percent), Latin music (15 percent), and programs about the visual and literary arts (15 percent each). In 2008, 24 percent of U.S. adults attended a music, theater, or dance performance at a school, and 19 percent attended such a performance at a religious institution. These percentages are among the highest rates of attendance for any arts activity captured by the 2008 SPPA. There are ample opportunities for audience engagement through electronic media, non-traditional venues, and new program formats.

  2. says

    In one of the wonderful interviews the late Joseph Campbell did with Bill Moyers he points out that all through history it has been the artist who leads and the people who follow. New fashions, jazz, rap, and artistic styles still today are met with a push back from society in general until these new forms take hold and become popular. It’s hard to think of one musical or visual form that wasn’t initially met with resistance when it first appeared. Yet because of the political and social cultural war that still rages even today we as a society have adopted a public idea of support that want the opposite of what Campbell contends.

    We need to be careful when calling for a world where we want our artists to cater to the taste of a public becoming less and less educated about the arts, a world where more and more of our children don’t even have art taught in school.

    Today we have a NEA budget, even with the recent 2013 proposed increase which is a joke. We as a society appropriate money to the NEA to be used for fostering the health of all our art institutions and arts organizations. Yet the entire budget for the NEA is little more than what we will spend on one new f-35 fighter jet loaded with bombs.

  3. Hill says

    Actually, I find Ms.Ragsdale statement unimpressive and disingenuous. She was employed by one of the most monied and internationally famous art nonprofits and has a work history littered with august institutions and only when departing aforementioned institutions she finds a censorious voice?

    If she had a history of working in small/poor non-profits in the hinterlands or urban areas of the US, then I would have far greater respect for her.

    I can only thank her for not using the current trendy buzzword of social justice in her statement.