GUEST EDITORIAL: The ARTS IN EDUCATION
Artists of 21st Century Should be Advocates for the Arts
In recent days, the arts have once again been caught up in the turmoil of a political maelstrom through the budget battle taking place in Washington. Considering the trillion dollar plus budget deficits that are projected, it seems particularly distressing that the comparatively miniscule budget of the National Endowment for the Arts ($155 million for fiscal year 2011) would be considered for deletion. Yet this political maneuver also shows how the arts are undervalued and misunderstood in American society.
Of course, this is hardly a new story for anyone who has been following America’s “culture wars” during the past few decades. Our country has always had an uneasy relationship with the arts, in contrast to many other countries around the world. Suffice it to say that an understanding of the arts can make each of us more caring, empathetic human beings. In addition, it is often through the arts that the complexities of the human experience and all its associated emotions and values become clarified and more understandable to us.
Although we can bemoan the fact that the arts are misunderstood in America, our country’s artists have not been as active as they should be in changing the environment for the better.
In titling my 2005 book The Artist as Citizen (Amadeus Press), I wanted to emphasize my belief that artists of the 21st century, especially in America, must re-dedicate themselves to a broader professional agenda that reaches beyond what has been expected of them in an earlier time. Specifically, the 21st-century artist will have to be an effective and active advocate for the arts in communities large and small around the nation. These artists must be not only communicative through their art, but also be knowledgeable about the intricacies of our society — politically, economically, socially — so that they can effectively work toward showing the power of the arts to a nation and its people who are often uninformed about the arts and view these activities with suspicion, occasional disdain, and frequently as being irrelevant.
This new agenda may not be as difficult to achieve as one might think. Many of the young people who study at Juilliard — and universities and colleges around the country — have a clear determination to change the world through their art. They exhibit a healthy mix of idealism, determination, expertise, and energy — a powerful combination in such matters. By performing superbly in traditional settings and making the effort to engage community members through their artistry, America’s best young artists can positively change the status of the arts in American society.
This agenda has been at the foundation of my time at Juilliard. I am gratified to report that I have seen more and more energized and talented students from each ensuing Juilliard class go out into society with hopes and dreams that go beyond the traditional professional endeavors that we have known in the previous century.
There should be no dividing line between artistic excellence and social consciousness. America’s artists of today must take on the challenge of synergistically applying these two elements if the art forms we embrace are to continue to flourish and to communicate the human values that emanate from them. #
Dr. Joseph Polisi is the president of the Juilliard School.