Arts on the Cutting Edge
If you type "arts" into any reputable news source these days, one story seems to appear over and over again: the arts are high up on the chopping block in this economic downturn. After all, when people are worried about feeding themselves and keeping up with the rent for their family, who has the time or the desire to think about theatre, literature, dance, or film? I fear, however, that if we keep pushing all of the arts to the back of the funding line, we will be a sorely different society come 2010.
Michael M. Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, made an excellent point in the Chronicle of Philanthropy last week: “Arts organizations are so small that society at large doesn’t feel the impact of any one organization having problems...It’s when you take them across the whole country and you add them up that it is so difficult.” Mr. Kaiser is correct- if all of the arts programs are slashed in America, what will happen to our history of free speech, free expression, free dialogue?
The arts are a main stage of expression for Americans, and I often feel it is what separates us from other countries. The fact that we have the ability to speak and listen to our fellow men/women with complete freedom is a great power that should not be looked upon lightly. Now, I realize that the arts are not going to become extinct in America just because of some budget crunches- history has proved that people will always find a way to express themselves, whether they have a venue or not. But the fact that we see popular exhibits being cancelled, galleries shutting their doors, and more than half of all Broadway shows closing within two weeks of each other (yes, even these monolithic theatre companies who are more "Wall Street" than "art" are having trouble), is pointing to a darker period in the arts.
So what can we, as philanthropists, do? Recognize that the arts, though not primary to survival of the body, are in fact primary to survival of the soul. We need to lend our support to local arts organizations so that every American can maintain the ability to express him/herself in some- in any- way. Let's continue America's tradition of freedom of expression, and give those who need it a helping hand, or a helping donation.