On Audience: For Whom Are the Arts? by Robert E. Gard

Posted by Mr. Clayton W. Lord, Jul 22, 2016 0 comments

This excerpt is from the newly released book "To Change the Face & Heart of America: Selected Writings on the Arts and Communities, 1949-1992" by Robert E. Gard. 

"As art activity is developed, the community is re-created. The vital roots of every phase of life are touched." - Robert E. Gard. Drawing by Daniel Ackerman.

The arts are for everyone.

Each man, be he young or old, rich or poor, has the right to experience the arts both as spectator and as participant.

In the Wisconsin project, a three-part strategy was used to make the arts part of daily life:

  • Indigenous, hometown arts were encouraged. Groups flourished in painting, ceramics, creative textiles, writing, music, environmental beautification. People became involved.
  • Demonstration programs featuring plays, operas, concerts, lectures, dance performances, and exhibits were presented by professional and highly skilled amateur groups and individuals from outside the communities.
  • Demonstration and indigenous programs were combined to form unique, specialized experiences tailored to the communities, stamped by the people as their own because they had guided and planned them.

Five Wisconsin communities will never be exactly as they were before the grant project.

Their people have tasted of the arts. Now art is in their future.

Their children were drawn in with the help of an inspiring leader in creative theater. Adults were involved by the chance to try something new to them, such as ceramics or creative writing or interpreting their environment visually.

There is always the problem of isolation, the man, the woman, writer, painter, ceramist, the musician, living where there is no one else to share or understand.

The Wisconsin project opened the doors. Created sympathy, brought contact. It helped interested people to find and know one another so that creative joy could be shared and bitter isolation diminished.

Art products are the natural result of creative activity. The processes and products of art are intimately related and call upon the same sensibilities. Individuals who are actively participating in the arts become the most understanding and appreciative audiences.

Since the creator and appreciator are part of a unified process, the artist is doomed to isolated labor and non-communication unless he and the audience are developed at the same time. This two-fold development is the task of the arts council. It develops artist and audience in order that each may support and reinforce the other in a way beneficial to both.

In helping its community to have an arts life, the council must clearly recognize that art has two facets of equal importance to human beings. Art is a process which enables the individual to explore the creative possibilities of his intellectual and emotional self and a product which, if properly perceived and appreciated, can result in new understanding of the human environment.1


"To Change the Face & Heart of America: Selected Writings on the Arts and Communities, 1949-1992" is a series of meditations on core questions at the intersection of the arts and community life, all drawn from Gard's 43 years of writing. This book is part of the New Community Visions Initiative, a two-year national visioning exercise for local arts agencies, arts organizations, artists, and those interested in better understanding the future role of arts and culture in helping American communities thrive. It was edited by Maryo Gard Ewell and Clayton Lord, with illustrations (such as the one above) by Daniel Ackerman.

To read more of Gard's essays, purchase "To Change the Face & Heart of America" in the Americans for the Arts bookstore.

1 Gard, Robert E., Kenneth Friou, Ralph Kohlhoff, and Michael Warlum. The Arts in the Small Community: Supplementary Materials, Madison, Office of Community Arts Development, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1969. 80-86. 
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