The following article was written for my monthly column, "Art Happens," in the Las Cruces Bulletin. It was originally published in the April 8, 2011 issue, on page C20 of the Arts & Entertainment section.
In February of this year, the National Endowment for the Arts released the results of the Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPAs). Those results weren’t very surprising, but they did prove something that those of us who have made it our life’s work to advance the Arts have known for some time: there’s been “a steady decline in the rates of adult attendance at most ‘benchmark’ arts events—specifically, classical music and jazz concerts, musical and non-musical plays, opera, and ballet performances—since 1982.”
Much of what this study strives to show is that it is the decline of Arts education in schools that has led to this dismal state of affairs. Fewer art and music teachers in schools means fewer students being introduced to those finer things in life that John F. Kennedy said, call “forth creative genius from every sector of society, disregarding race or religion or wealth or color.” In light of the fact that the very same month this study was released, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to slash funding for the National Endowment for the Arts by $43 million and to terminate the Arts in Education programs at the U.S. Department of Education by late 2011, it doesn’t appear that this trend will be changing any time soon.
So, what can we do about it? Well, I don’t know about you, but my belief is that Arts education begins at home. Like good manners and the idea that all men are created equal, an appreciation for things that better the human condition through the exploration of beauty and emotion are an ongoing pursuit, not something that can be relegated to one-hour slots in an academic schedule. And certainly not something that ends when academics are left behind in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Stopping to smell the roses, or count the stars on a moonless night; a trip to the local Museum of Art or to see a neighbor’s child in a school play; the gift of a book, instead of the latest computer accessory; getting out to see a live performance, instead of watching the latest episode of Jersey Shore; these are the things that truly shape our view of the Arts. Even better, there’s no time limit. You can start right now!
As the manager of one of the finest Arts and Entertainment venues in Southern New Mexico, I am constantly amazed by the quality of the performances that regularly pass across my stage. In the past few months alone, we have been treated to a heartbreaking and thought-provoking study of the Holocaust through dance, a Jazz legend, an Irish fiddle master, an Environmental Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations, Julliard-trained classical musicians who have played the Vatican and royal palaces of the world and local performers who simply transcend the notion that greatness can only be found on Top 40 radio or in arena shows. Yes, all right here in Las Cruces.
The ticket price for each has been minimal and the attendance small, but the rewards have been many. To be told that an audience member was moved to tears by a performance, or that another feels he or she has been witness to genius, or that something important has been learned; these are the reasons I do what I do. Because Arts education never ends. It’s ongoing. It happens every time you or I step into an art gallery, a museum, a theatre or a performance hall. If you don’t leave that venue feeling that something has changed inside you, you have wasted your time. As amazing as YouTube can be in presenting imagery that can astound and bewilder, nothing beats actually being present, in the moment, while Art is being created out of thin air. Nothing.
The question is, how important is Art to you? In a time when newspapers are failing all over the country, because more and more people are getting their information from the Internet, how important is it to actually leave your home and experience a live performance when you’ve got the world at your fingertips and can see video clips of your favorite musical artist any time you want? Is that enough? Is there any reason to see a performance by an artist you’ve never heard of when you can be inundated by the images and exploits of Lady Gaga and, thus, be part of the national popularity trend?
If your answers to the above questions are “not very,” “not at all,” “yes” and “no,” then you, my friend, have no idea what you’ve been missing. Art is happening all around you, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. And, as has always been the case, if you’re getting all of your entertainment needs from one source, you’re only getting one small fraction of the bigger picture. Because when the latest American Idol has been forgotten, Lady Gaga has been abandoned in favor of the next big thing and Charlie Sheen is nothing more than a sad footnote in the annals of tabloid history, Truth, Beauty and Passion will still be lurking in the corners of our society, enriching the lives of those who stoop to engage.
The truth of the matter is, Arts education begins--and ends--with YOU.