During my participation in Utah Arts and Museum’s Mountain West Arts Conference, I had the opportunity to hear Laura Smith from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies present an overview of recent funding trends in the U.S. Listening to the statistics, a not directly related thought occurred to me. (My mind does tend to wander. But this time it was relevant wandering.) Standard categories for tracking charitable giving include “arts and culture” and “human services.” For the first time in my life I tumbled to several issues related to those labels.
The fact that the two are separated clearly demonstrates that those establishing the categories do not imagine that arts and culture are or could be human services. This is so basic as to be an unexamined assumption on the part of most people. And that leads me to the flip side of this, the assumption is so basic that we in the arts yield the field in not speaking up for arts as human service. If human services implies addressing physical needs, that might make some sense. However, at least some things included in that category (psychological counseling is one example) deal with the inner self beyond water-food-shelter. I realized while listening to Ms. Smith that if we more fully believed in the power of the arts to transform lives (and put our energies to making that transformation a reality for people who do not come to us on their own) we would be more deeply rooted in the fabric of our communities. We might be approaching indispensability.
This is not a call for actually revising these tracking categories. That would not make sense now nor would it probably be productive in the future. (Plus there is no way that could be done at this late date in the development of our databases.) But thinking about this does provide some valuable perspective for us in imagining our role in communities and in ways we can come to be seen as more valuable in the lives of those around us.