[Writers note: apologies are given in advance for the blatant lack of technology talk in this post.] A couple weeks ago, I was a panelist at an Americans for the Arts "Creative Conversation" here in San Francisco. We were hosted at the lovely Brava Theater Company in the Mission. A group of passionate arts administrators, we sat in a circle on the stage and discussed a wide range of topics including collaboration, community engagement, grass roots initiatives, lobbying and activism.
And, of course, we discussed obtaining funding for the arts. How do you make a compelling case? How do you get people on board? How do you educate folks about your programming? And, inevitably... the question that is always raised when we talk about raising money for our field: what are the ACTUAL benefits of the arts? For me, the answer to this last question, at least, is simple:
The benefit of art is art.
Now don't get me wrong. By saying this, I'm not saying art is MORE important than other things... If I lived in some reality-tv-turns-real world and for some bizarre reason had to choose between giving all my money to a hospital or giving all my money to a museum, I would give it to a hospital. Because saving lives matters. And at hospitals they save lives. Literally.
But my need to make this clarification is part of what frustrates me about the "benefit of the arts" discussions. They seem to suggest that in order to be important, the arts have to be addressing all sorts of other social issues. Like poverty and homelessness and illiteracy. But come on -- let's face it. When we put up an exhibit we're not curing a disease. When we play violin in a community orchestra we're not teaching people to read. When we watch ballet dancers leap and move in ways we didn't know were possible, we're not negotiating peace between nations.
What we are doing is experiencing art. Experiencing creativity. Maybe we're experiencing beauty or maybe pain or maybe growth or maybe enlightenment or maybe mediocrity or maybe distraction or maybe something else. But definitely art.
And in my experience, at least, experiencing art is reward in itself.