On Language. And Arts for...

By Kiff Gallagher

A friend and I were mixing a bass track. I was leaning back in the chair with my eyes closed, "it needs to be rounder, fatter but not too heavy, yada, yada."  He said, "ya know, talking about music is like dancing about architecture."  We both laughed...and I thought about the transcendent nature of art. If art fit neatly into standard English (French, Cantonese, whatever), what would be the point of it?

But as folks point out, the world of politics, policy and gov't funding is language driven. And we cannot avoid the catch-22 of trying to sell arts education without ever being able to really capture and sound-bite the public value and purpose of art. Tempting concepts like creativity and imagination may be equally difficult to pin down, as Sam says, and may or may not be the memes we need to close the deal.

On language and issue-framing, I'd like to excavate an earlier comment from Richard K. He said, "More and more, I've been thinking about how we can tie arts education to the fundamental well being of our children and their development as human beings. What about arts education as a children's health issue, leapfrogging over the lexicon of the arts industry, that serves as a common language for the industry, but fails to resonate with those in the center of education."

Good call, Richard. In promoting a new "arts" program that will probably depend on taxpayer dollars to achieve scale, I spend remarkably little time talking about "the arts." It's always music and arts as a strategy -- to promote student achievement, health and wellness, civic engagement, intercultural understanding, etc. The government spends a lot of money on these problems and we have the data to show that the arts can make a difference.

I'm not an arts educator, but I do care deeply about creating a world where everybody has the opportunity to live up to his or her potential. And I know that music and the arts have a far greater role to play in society than just entertainment. People's eyes almost never glaze over when i talk about Musician/Artist Corps as a civic strategy.

As a public policy issue, "The Arts" may be following the path of National Service (AmeriCorps, etc.) itself; which, for years tried on different arguments ("service is important," "service is hip and cool," "service is the right thing to do"). And after hearing from congress, one too many times, "service is cute and nice but not fully fundable in tight times," folks started talking about service as an effective way to address pressing challenges in education, health, the environment and public safety. 

The service movement is juiced and, for the first time, national service is sitting at the adult table with hardcore policy makers. More importantly, landmark, bi-partisan legislation, tripling the size of AmeriCorps and doubling the size of the Peace Corps (among other things), will be on President Obama's desk within a year. 

(By the way, anyone want some of that?) 

December 3, 2008 2:20 PM | | Comments (0) |

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This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

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