Last fall, when the National Endowment for the Arts announced the creation of an Interagengy Task Force on the Arts and Human Development, I didn’t pay too much attention. I should have. And what prompted me to reconsider was today’s announcement that, of all the creative activities being offered by all the creative arts institutions and organizations in the world, the MacArthur Foundation chose to give the one arts-related award among its 2012 grants for Creative and Effective Institutions, of 15 awards, to The Moth. $750,000 because it’s “dedicated to the art of storytelling to document our common humanity.”
I have nothing against The Moth; I’ve been to a few of its programs and I was entertained, maybe moved (one was clear and only comedy, though…at least I didn’t get meaningful message). But I find it hard to believe that it’s the most or best creative or effective arts institution… At least in terms of impact on people. Go here to see a couple of the events that impressed the MacArthur jurors, but the group’s own website provides a more well-rounded look that leaves me underwhelmed.
A look at past winners shows no other arts-related groups.
The MacArthur awards are chosen from nominations — organizations do not apply — and the nominators are secret (many years ago, I was one, for the “genius awards,” but my two candidates did not win). But I can’t help but believe that art museums (and other arts groups) are having more impact on people’s lives, especially the lives of children and youth, than story-telling evenings and podcasts. Clearly, the word is not getting out. I myself have only occasionally learned of and written about creative efforts at education — at MassMOCA, at the de Cordova Museum and at The Center for Childhood Creativity, for example. They may not be the best, but they are the ones I’d heard of at the time.
Which brings me back to the NEA task force, a group of 14 federal agencies and departments that aims “to encourage more and better research on how the arts help people reach their full potential at all stages of life.” It was created because of research contained in a report called “The Arts and Human Development,” which stated that “In study after study, arts participation and arts education have been associated with improved cognitive, social, and behavioral outcomes in individuals across the lifespan: in early childhood, in adolescence and young adulthood, and in later years.”
It then says we have to share, coordinate and do better research. I agree. And, clearly, we have to get the word out about all the creative things arts institutions are doing that MacArthur nominators ought to know about. So the press release that landed in my email box this morning came at the right moment. In it, the NEA announces that the task force’s next webinar will be Wednesday, Feb. 29, from 2 to 3 p.m. EST. There’s more information here.
Talk begets other talk. Of course, participants can just listen too, but then they may find something to talk up and hope that nominators are in hearing distance.