What is Our Calling? by Robert E. Gard

Posted by Mr. Clayton W. Lord, Jul 08, 2016 0 comments

This is the first in a weekly series of posts drawn 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. This excerpt was originally published in 1969 in "The Arts in the Small Community: A National Plan."

INVOCATION: What is Our Calling?
by Robert E. Gard

Portrait of Robert E. Gard by Daniel Ackerman

America is coming of age. Note the many changing aspects of America.

A maturing America means a nation conscious of its arts among all its people.

Communities east, west, north, and south are searching for ways to make community life more attractive.

The arts are at the very center of community development in this time of change: change for the better.

The frontier and all that it once meant in economic development and in the sheer necessity of building a nation is being replaced by the frontier of the arts. In no other way can Americans so well express the core and blood of their democracy; for in the communities lies the final test of the acceptance of the arts as a necessity of everyday life.

In terms of American democracy, the arts are for everyone. They are not reserved for the wealthy, or for the well-endowed museum, the gallery, or the ever-subsidized regional professional theater. As America emerges into a different understanding of her strength, it becomes clear that her strength is in the people and in the places where the people live. The people, if shown the way, can create art in and of themselves.

The springs of the American spirit are at the grass roots. Opportunities must exist in places where they never have existed before. A consciousness of the people, a knowledge of their power to generate and nourish art, and a provision of ways in which they may do so are essential for our time.

If we are seeking in America, let it be a seeking for the reality of democracy in art. Let art begin at home, and let it spread through the children and their parents, and through the schools, the institutions, and through government.

And let us start by acceptance, not negation—acceptance that the arts are important everywhere, and that they can exist and flourish in small places as well as in large, with money or without, according to the will of the people. Let us put firmly and permanently aside as a cliché of an expired moment in time that art is a frill. Let us accept the goodness of art where we are now, and expand its worth in the places where people live.


"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.

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