I’m taking a break today from working on an article – well, actually, it will probably be a series of articles – on “the value of the arts.” I’ve been catching up on some blog and listserv reading about this topic (since I’m somewhat obsessed with it) so I guess it’s not technically procrastinating….
This advocacy question is a huge area for many working in the arts today, and although there are slightly different angles/issues within the church than in the larger arts community, the conversations tend to sound remarkably alike.
More on that soon.
But as part of my research I found two recent articles I wanted to suggest. They discuss one arena in which the arts’ value is being recognized. Arts leaders, as well as government officials and other community leaders, are mobilizing around the arts as powerful tools for community renewal.
The first article, “Cities are Banking on the Arts,” gives a very good overview of the history and current thinking in this area, and provides some great examples of how well these initiatives have worked.
The second article, “Arts economy rises on the southwest prairie,” is a smaller-scale example but really shows what one person can do even in the smallest town. This is not a movement limited to the city! Part of the story involves the “redemption” of a church building from the wrecking ball to creative use – something I absolutely love hearing about!
I’ll go ahead and preview what I’m working on: “Art as community renewal” is an example of an instrumental impact of the arts – i.e. that the arts are valuable because they are tools (or instruments) to achieve other goals. These city planners and arts leaders have learned that cultivating the arts in their community is one route toward accomplishing something that’s inherently important – safe and clean streets, economic vitality, social justice, and more.
But beyond the many proven instrumental benefits of the arts are questions about the intrinsic value of the arts, art for art’s sake, as a simple but powerful expression of humanity’s creative nature and dignity. That art is valuable because it – is.
This is obviously a much fuzzier rationale, the benefits of which are difficult if not impossible to describe and quantify in a grant application or program proposal. But, as children of a Creator who made the cedars of Lebanon for reasons beyond shade and wood*, perhaps it is upon the intrinsic value of the arts that we Christians should be directing more of our gaze and our efforts.
More on that soon.
*I can’t take credit for the tree analogy – it’s from Hans Rookmaaker, Art Needs No Justification.
Are you working in the arts for community renewal? If so, we’d love to hear more about your project and possibly include it as a case study. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.