As is fairly common for me, I’ve been thinking recently about Stephen Sondheim lyrics. The Prologue to Into the Woods contains long lists of wishes. Here’s just one list from Jack (and the Beanstalk)’s mother:
I wish my son were not a fool.
I wish my house was not a mess.
I wish the cow was full of milk.
I wish the house was full of gold-
I wish a lot of things…
There are so many things for which we wish.
- Everyone (or at least many more people) valued the arts the way we do.
- Government funded the arts at levels that made it unnecessary to barely scrape by from day to day and year to year.
- K-12 schools provided all students with significant educational opportunities in the arts.
- That the arts were central to the collective life of our country.
Yet despite our wishing, these are not true. And they will not be in our lifetimes.
We can spend time arguing about why they’re not true, but, ultimately, that’s not productive. We could also expend our energy wishing that “someone” or “something” would make them come true; but that is even less productive. This wishful thinking is a neighborhood of Fantasyland in which we sometimes find ourselves wandering.
Many religious and philosophical traditions teach that wisdom begins with accepting reality and moving on from there. The only psychologically healthy response to the situation is to devote ourselves to doing things over which we have some control–the work of our arts organizations. If you look at the wish list, the common denominator is that far too few people to see the arts as important to them. The only solution available to us is to do things that make the arts important to more people. And we can’t do that unless we know them, work with them.
Community engagement is the means to that end.
For another post: I originally wrote the “we wish” list with “the arts (that we value)” in every line. We should probably explore that another day.