Recently by Bau Graves

It's remarkable to me, as we enter the home stretch, how little money has been a topic of our discussion.  The many visions imagined here will remain just that for lack of a flood of cash, and does any of us think such sustenance is impending?  Perhaps the new Arts Corps will come with a big enough commitment to make it a real force.  I once calculated that the cost of creating an "Artist Laureate" position in every one of America's 18,000 incorporated towns at the prevailing median income level, would be just $606 million (2001 dollars).  That's a day and a half in Iraq.  Imagine -- we could all elect whatever artist we preferred; we'd find out once and for all if poetry or quilting could win out over speed-metal.  Real estate agents would pump up their sales based on the really great accordionist elected by the folks in Grundy Center.

We're in a dark time that is poised to have serious repercussions for many of the nonprofits that we count upon to deliver arts education programs.  But the demand for vibrant, relevant art experiences at all levels far outstrips the supply.  I am humbled by the fact that, in the midst of economic chaos, demand for our programs is stronger than ever.  Old Town School of Folk Music will register more than 19,000 students this year, and if anything, enrollment is building as the recession deepens.  In times of trouble, people value the experience of making music together.  I can't help but feeling optimistic knowing that a couple of our alumni -- Malia and Sasha Obama -- will be walking in the corridors of power.
December 5, 2008 2:10 PM | | Comments (2) |
Thus far, most of this discussion seems focused on K-12 classroom arts education, an arena fraught with extreme challenges.  But there is probably a lot more vitality and opportunity in arts practice taking place in community settings.  The Irvine Foundation's recent study of "Cultural Engagement in California's Inland Regions" (, the most detailed study of arts participation that I have encountered, showed that personal participation levels in broadly defined arts activities are high, but that most of this cultural engagement does not take place in arts spaces or schools.  Particularly among African Americans and Hispanics in the study, the great majority of arts participation is of a heritage- or socially-based nature, and exists in homes, churches, dance halls, parks and other informal environments.

"Diversity" appears in a lot of our postings here, but if we are not prepared to address the actual sources of diverse cultural activity, can this commitment be taken seriously?  This is not a matter of high art vs the rest.  Here in the upper Midwest polka is huge, and a lot of Mexican Chicagoans listen to banda all day (at least they manage to support multiple commercial radio stations) -- but that does nothing to diminish the relevance or importance of Mozart.  We just need to expand our field of vision.  There's a whole forest out there.  Why are so many of our resources and this discussion limited to so few trees?
December 3, 2008 7:29 AM | | Comments (1) |
Talking about "arts education" in America brings to mind Gandhi's comment when asked what he thought about Western Civilization:  "It would be a good idea."  We haven't ever really tried anything remotely approaching comprehensive arts education in this country.  The public school system that was largely dismantled by decades of budget cuts, and is mourned by the RAND study, ignored the vast majority of art created on our planet. 

Indeed, the current public arts infrastructure, despite endless rhetoric about "diversity," remains overwhelmingly devoted to those dead European males that John Rockwell mentions.  Last year, the NEA's expenditures in support of traditional, ethnic culture totaled 7/10th of 1% of the agency's budget.  Take a look at the course catalog of any music conservatory -- even at those places with the most esteemed ethnomusicology programs, the European canon (which accounts for about 5% of the world's musical output) outnumbers the rest of the world by several orders of magnitude.  This is akin to offering a science curriculum that ends with Copernicus.

Changing this cultural myopia, in education and in the public arts arena, would require a commitment that we have never seen from educators, governments or from philanthropists.  But the alternative is more of the long cultural gray-out that Alan Lomax predicted back in 1977 and which provides a stark context for our discussion today.
December 1, 2008 8:46 AM | | Comments (1) |


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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