Let’s start with two assertions:
- First, every meaningful social change movement for the last 1,000 years, at least, has been driven, in large or small part, by the arts.
- Second, many arts-based civic works contribute little or nothing to individuals, communities, or societies.
It boils down to this: You can’t produce great social change without the arts. But there’s no guarantee that every arts-based program accomplishes something.
As with all interventions, whether arts or education or agriculture, much ends up on life’s cutting-room floor—or, if not tossed, left as a relic. If great art alone would suffice, Woody Guthrie’s Plane Wreck at Los Gatos would have changed the American experience for immigrant farm workers.
Let’s circle back to the first assertion.
- Imagine what would have come of spiritual life in the last 2,000 years without the contribution of literature (pick a version of the Bible and say thanks to Gutenberg).
- Imagine the LGBT movement without the contribution of theater (see Charlotte circa 1996).
- Imagine the Civil Rights movement without Guy Carawan teaching We Shall Overcome to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at its founding in Raleigh in 1960.
“Myles, before he founded Highlander, had been over to visit the Scandinavian folk schools. He had observed in Denmark that when people came together to work on problems, they did a lot of group singing. He kind of brought that idea back to Highlander. He was not a musician himself. But he was really supportive of anything that would help grassroots people feel stronger.”Read More