How Do We Make People Care?

Posted by Mr. Clayton W. Lord, Mar 16, 2011 3 comments

Clayton Lord

There are a lot of posts coming in about advocacy and arts education, and many of them are both hopeful and cautious about what's happening now in the world.

It's good to see such optimism, especially given that we face mighty opposition to the very basic value of what we do and make, but it seems to fly against what I see as a burgeoning reality in America.

Starting in the mid 1980s, on the tail of the passage of Prop 13 in California, the public at large started to make a demonstrable shift away from valuing the arts.

The number of eighteen-year-olds claiming to have received any arts education has declined, and precipitously, every year since 1985.

This isn't new info, and it probably has been rehashed better than I could in many other blogs across the ether, but while we sit here taking pride in our new data on our value, we are up against a mightily fractured world being run by a series of generations who have, by and large, had little or no sustained education in (or using) the arts, and who consequently are acting like people that don't care about a looming loss simply because that loss has never been personally felt.

It's a hard place to find ourselves in, a shrinking minority in a country with very little love for something that has been framed (by both them and us) as a luxury, a "want" instead of a "need."    

More than that, this thing we love, this art, is so personal and intimate that it is difficult to talk about in terms of value, leading us to focus on extrinsic and instrumental benefits (those things that sit next to, or two steps away from, the immediate internal impact of the experience of art on the audience) instead of the fundamental, indefatigable transformative power of art.

Which of course we do because we haven't had a whole ton of success talking about the fundamental, indefatigable transformative power of art, because the people we are usually talking to are numbers people, graphs people, and -- perhaps most fundamentally -- people whose constituents simply don't take much time to care about the transformative power of art.

I wonder what it would take to generate an impulse to ask for more art from the general population.

I wonder how much, or how long, we would have to talk and demonstrate and proselytize before we saw an uptick.

I'll tell you, though, that news like this, the newly-released monograph from the NEA outlining the drastically deteriorating state of arts education in America, particularly for African-Americans and Hispanics, makes me think we've got to be very careful not to simply cede the ground to a growing population of people who have never found a place for this thing we love so much.

3 responses for How Do We Make People Care?


Steve says
March 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm

There was a shift in attitude towards "arts" , arts education when we took it out of a professional activity/training and into the world of non profit.When the public stopped viewing art skills as a trade, it lost its educational value. It's absurd because every film you see, every commercial you see, every piece of signage you see, the music all around you throughout the day is produced by some form of arts education, either public, private or self-education. But the general public and their representatives view the arts now as a charity activity - and arts advocates are largely responsible for that perception.

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Ms. Rachel Ciprotti says
March 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I think we need to get people to realize what "arts" really means. It isn't just Mozart and Picasso. It's also Jay-Z, the 'dougie,' the mural on the street corner, the arranged flowers at your wedding, and on and on and on.

The arts aren't elitist. They are everywhere, and our society would be worthless without them. Music, dance, architecture, sculpture - they surround us. They make life worth living.

I think more people would see that of they understood just what we mean by "arts."

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March 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Well said Rachel.

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