An article published by the Lincoln Journal Star, Nebraska.
By Kathryn Cover
What defines a culture? This is a big question, especially for Americans who have such a diversity of cultures. When I was in school and learning about all the ancient cultures of the world, we were exposed to the visual arts, performing arts, architecture and literature of a society to teach us about that culture.
What will people be taught about us in a hundred years?
In our current economic distress, government and corporations are all looking for ways to save money. My fear is that the arts will be the first thing to suffer. Schools already have cut back on art classes and music. The performing arts of dance and theater have been cut to the bare bone. We are facing a tough cultural choice, and if the current trends continue, only the children of the wealthy will have opportunities to do art or even be audience members.
This needs to be looked at as more than a fleeting problem. Without the arts being a part of the everyday life of children, it will not suddenly become part of their lives in adulthood. Popular cultural trends of reality TV and Internet videos are fine, but is this how we want to be seen in the textbooks of the future?
Even coming from a lower-income family, I was able to see five or six Shakespeare plays by the time I had finished high school. This was not unusual. Shakespeare in the park, touring programs through our school and low-cost admission to local university theater productions had given me a great exposure.
Many of our youths have never seen Shakespeare performed. What have we done? They will never have that as part of their memory or education. Even if you do not enjoy Shakespeare as a regular part of your life, don’t you think you are a better person for having been exposed to it?
The same is true for all the arts. The visual art classes I took in
K-12 were the foundation of my aesthetic training for what is beauty and what is possible to create with my own imagination. Will we be healthy as a nation if our children are denied this?
Going even further, without support for all kinds of art and artists, art will cease to exist. Artists, like everyone else, need to earn a living. The Sistine Chapel would not have been painted if Michelangelo had not been commissioned to do so. Many of the murals that are in our public buildings for all to view were paid for by our government during the Great Depression.
The majority of artists, no matter in what area they practice, never become wealthy in their lifetimes, but they must be able to pay basic bills or they will find another way to earn a living. The arts will become stagnant and disappear altogether without support. We will actually lose our culture and expression of who we are as a people.
Studies have shown that exposure to the arts at a young age makes our youths better at many other fields, i.e., musicians make wonderful mathematicians.
So what should we do? That is the hard question. Here are a few suggestions.
– Contact government at both the local and national level and let them know you support the arts and art education.
– Go to events. This includes bringing your kids to a concert, a play or an art gallery or enrolling them in classes that will expand their exposure, as well as asking your school to do more.
– Give what you can, when you can. The majority of arts organizations are nonprofit and get their funding through grants and donations. With the large organizations giving less, it is up to us little people to make up the difference. If we all give a little, it becomes a major thing. Five dollars from 20 people is still $100. When you pay admission to an event, that is also a form of financial support.
We cannot count on our government to always do what is necessary for the health of our culture. That job sometimes has to be performed by the average Joe. Support your local arts organization. Support arts programs in your local schools. Let our children have the diversified world that we had.
Kathryn Cover is an independent theater artist and small business owner who lives in Weeping Water with her husband and two stepchildren.