Ask not what your country can do for you.
Ask what you can do for your country.
Like most people on the planet, I have been consumed with reports on the pandemic threatening us all. I have also been trying to figure out what I can do, both in reducing the spread and in making things better for people. I’ve had much more success with the former.
I’ve also been watching with great interest the number of arts organizations making content available online, providing virtual experiences to help us get through this. I applaud the motivation to be helpful that these efforts represent.
At the same time, I wonder if a myopia inherent in our industry might get in the way of doing even greater good. Both Joe Patti and Nina Simon have reflected on this recently so I won’t repeat their astute observations.
Let me just say this. The Kennedy quotation from his inaugural address told us to focus on how we can help, not on how we can be helped. But I think there is a further step we need to take in order to make sure our “help” is the most helpful.
To make a point through extreme hyperbole, imagine you are a motor boat salesman. You see someone drowning and, to be helpful, you take a boat out and circle them a number of times in impressively tight rings (other boats cannot do that!) in order to demonstrate what a wonderful boat it is.
The ridiculously obvious point is that the sales person’s core expertise was not directly related to the swimmer’s need, although clearly the boat could be extremely helpful.
The arts industry mostly views the world through the lens of its expertise–the presentation of arts experiences rooted in the European aristocratic cultural tradition. For some people expanded access to these experiences will unquestionably be helpful. For many others, maybe not so much.
By and large, arts organizations are not sufficiently connected with the broad community (or discreet community subsets with which little or no relationship exists) to know how to best be of help. The solution is “simple”:
Not asking or asking and not really responding leads us to the situation in which Nikki Haley and many others can question funding for high profile arts organizations in the stimulus bill. If we were demonstrably addressing the concerns of our communities, there would be far less political cover for politicians to take those stands.