At a recent arts advocacy event in Wisconsin, I was struck again by the loss of words we often suffer when arguing for public expenditure for arts and culture. Economic impact is still limping along as an angle for some. Creative economy arguments seem to be strong but peaking. Tourism and education are also contenders for talking points. And, of course, an effective advocacy strategy blends all of the above in response to its audience.
But four phrases came to me during the speeches, presentations, and conversations at that event. I’m not sure what else to do with them, so I’ll post them here.
It seems to me that a diverse, rich, and vital cultural ecology in any city, state, or country fosters opportunity for every citizen to inform these elements of their existence:
- a creative life
The opportunity to make something from nothing, or transform fragments of objects or thoughts into a cohesive whole, is an ennobling and empowering thing. Everyone should have the option to do so, no matter what their stage of life, circumstance, technical ability, or training.
- an expressive life
Finding your voice and having an opportunity to be heard is an essential quality of being alive and aware in the world.
- a connected life
The interpersonal and social sharing of meaning is the connective tissue between loved ones, community members, and civilizations. While the arts are not the only means to this sharing, they are among the most powerful and enduring.
- a remembered life
The accumulated actions and artifacts of our expressive lives are our most vital threads to who we were, who we are, and who we might become. Beyond our children, they are the most compelling evidence that we ever existed at all.
While these four elements, combined, may influence positive external effects for a city, a county, a state, or a country, they carry the most power when fostered as a central focus of public policy, rather than as tools toward other goals. Perhaps I’m naive to suggest such intrinsic goals for cultural policy and public subsidy. But I’m increasingly noticing us getting lost in the arguments we’ve constructed, and forgetting the reasons we exist.