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Lesson Plans

RE: Introductory remarks

From: Peg Blechman (blechman@ACCESS-BOARD.GOV)
Date: Fri May 26 2000 - 09:42:18 PDT

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    Saw this on the NEA web site, under Endowment news. Thought it
    might help,

    Remarks by Bill Ivey, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts
    America's Creative Legacy: An NEA Forum at Harvard
    Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
    Cultural Collision: America's Creative Center
    Feburary 17, 2000
    Despite the great accomplishments of your Arts Endowment, it is clear that
    over the past thirty-five years, those who care deeply about the importance
    of art to American society have been engaged in the nearly Sisyphean task of
    moving cultural concerns from the perimeter to the center of community and
    family life -- the task of placing art and art making in public policy. As
    Chairman Alexander has said, the arts are not yet "thoroughly integrated
    into our lives."
    Our struggle continues.
    And, there is irony here. Even as the Endowment's successes have never quite
    translated into an understanding of the role of creativity and cultural
    heritage in the vitality of our democratic experiment, even as "the Arts"
    have remained on the margins, something recreational, reported in the Style
    or Living section of the newspaper, these very same arts, and our federal
    investment in the arts, have been the battleground for sharp ideological
    infighting. The paintings, performances, music, and photographs that are
    collectively viewed as peripheral, as entertainment, have been, at times, a
    lightning rod attracting charged rhetoric surrounding religion, sexual
    identity, subversive political activity, youth violence.
    So, art is marginal, secondary, "a frill." Except when it's not.
    Art is not yet fully established in public policy, but we frame some of our
    deepest beliefs and debate our most pressing social concerns around art and
    art making.
    Now, there's more than the germ of a serious and valuable idea here. More
    than the hint of an important challenge in this ironic distance between the
    way our society devalues art in the abstract and how important it suddenly
    becomes when it gets under our skin.
    The serious and valuable idea, of course, is that political controversy
    about art can -- and should -- be taken as irrefutable evidence that what
    we're about is important. And, the equally clear challenge is to distill the
    energy that attaches to art when it irritates, and direct that energy toward
    centering music, painting, and dance in community and family life.
    Can we look to history for the underpinnings of an invigorated engagement in
    our creativity and cultural heritage? I don't think so.
    For Washington and some other founding fathers, an investment in culture
    --for example, Washington's dream of a national university -- could have
    become a triumph for America's newly created central government, but those
    dreams foundered on the shoals of states rights.
    Arts programs of the New Deal subsumed art beneath an agenda dedicated to
    worker relief, and our Depression-era commitment to culture buckled easily
    under the weight of economic recovery and partisan political attack. In
    fact, Michael Straight, Deputy Chairman to Nancy Hanks, argued that WPA arts
    programs ultimately "left a bitter legacy."
    In the 1960s, rhetoric surrounding the creation of the NEA extolled the
    overarching, universal value of the arts, while at the same time, advancing
    the American artist as a unique symbol of America's democratic freedoms. A
    solid argument, but in retrospect, we can see that Claiborne Pell, Sidney
    Yates, John Brademas, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, and others seized a
    wonderful, and perhaps unique, opportunity to bring a federal arts agency to
    For, as critic Michael Brenson, scholar Alan Levy and others have observed,
    East-West, Cold War conflict served as a vivid, if unacknowledged, backdrop
    to the construction of a federal investment in culture. In a Cold War
    wrestling match, art and art making mattered. What context, short of an
    international cultural war, could have placed pianist Van Cliburn's victory
    in the Moscow Tchaikovsky competition on the front page of virtually every
    newspaper in the nation? A victory in a piano competition!
    It's no accident that the notion of the artist as a unique symbol of our
    democracy faded with the fall of the Iron Curtain. And, it should surprise
    none of us that a decade long attack on the NEA began just as the Cold War
    ended. That carpet of support -- art and artists as democratic symbol, as a
    metaphor for democratic values -- was quietly slipped out from beneath our
    feet. And we took quite a fall.
    So, it's clear that part of our task in locating a firm foundation upon
    which to build an expanded investment in creativity and cultural heritage,
    is to try to place our argument outside what might be called "the tyranny of
    context" -- Washington's states rights-federalist debate, the New Deal's
    relief agenda, the artist as Cold War symbol.
    We can't even view American culture as a unified cultural stream.
    History, tracking the growing complexity of diversity of America's
    democracy, long ago rendered untenable the assertion formulated by Harvard
    scholars like F. O. Mattiessen, Perry Miller, and their students, that we
    could assemble a distinct national character out of our plural, regional
    heritage. But if we cannot possess a single cultural stream, perhaps we can,
    at least, identify a lasting metaphor.
    I'll note here something written, almost in passing, by Chairman John
    Frohnmayer in the months just after he left the Endowment. "...America may
    not have a culture at all, but only a great cultural process." Frohnmayer's
    observation takes us part way. He moves us from a search for a central,
    permanent cultural identity toward a metaphor that embraces change.
    And, I would assert that we do possess a defining metaphor. America has, in
    a sense, tilted Europe 90 degrees, laying out, side-by-side, races,
    nationalities, ethnicities, and artistic traditions that other societies
    position hierarchically, atop one another.
    Of course, our civil society hasn't fulfilled the ultimate political and
    social promise of this egalitarian dream. But the process of democracy has
    bequeathed a kind of "border culture," in which Americans live in the
    perpetual state of confrontation, transfer, and opportunity that define real
    and metaphorical boundaries.
    For more than two decades, folklorists and anthropologists, like Richard
    Bauman, Roger Abrahams, James Clifford, Amerigo Paredes, and others have
    mapped the landscape of border life. Focusing on geopolitical boundaries,
    like the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and great migrations, like the
    spread of African peoples throughout the Americas, these scholars have
    labeled borders as "society constructed by difference," an "environment of
    opportunity," a "region of intensification of commerce and social
    Borders are "contact zones" that provide "the constant reminder of our
    otherness." They are crucibles in which "crossing" and "mixing" facilitate a
    "struggle for survival" and "a new synthesis."
    And, if we add a third sense, a metaphorical or conceptual definition of
    "border," if we see the process of making culture, making society, in a
    democracy as essentially a borderland activity, then we can begin to advance
    art as central to the border process of conflict and recombination.
    Significantly, the language of border conflict is everywhere applied in
    discussions of American art. So, in a sense, we've already adopted the
    notion of border as metaphor for art making.
    Here's Peter Watrous, reviewing a Keith Jarrett CD:
    "The piano, in jazz, has always been the meeting ground between European and
    American musical practice."
    Bernard Holland, writing of Marc Blitzstein's opera, Regina:
    "The Broadway show, a cultural collision of East European Jewry and the
    descendents of African slaves, is fresh food packed with energy, just
    waiting for more upscale tastes."
    Paul Simon, writing about music and culture:
    "...Music is sometimes the only benign avenue of communication between
    "Meeting place," "cultural collision," "benign avenue." These "border words"
    could easily be drawn from Clifford, Abrahams, and Paredes.
    So, the border, our nation's perpetual "border lifestyle" -- which can be
    simultaneously seen as the central burden and the principal opportunity of
    our democracy -- this same central metaphor is employed, almost reflexively,
    to characterize the unique vitality of America's art and art making,
    America's cultural heritage and creativity. And, the metaphor can be
    extended or compressed to characterize the collision of artistic traditions,
    borderland collisions, facilitated by technologies, old and new, that force
    borrowing and accommodation, and give us jazz, film, modern dance, and
    musical theater.
    Borders -- geopolitical, cultural, and metaphorical.
    To me, it's an extraordinarily useful way of looking at our society: a
    useful way to place art at the center of the American experience, safe,
    perhaps, from the tyranny of context.
    If border, as metaphor for civil society, and art, as the currency of border
    exchange, together offer us a firm starting point for asserting the
    importance of a federal role, how do we proceed? How do we convert thought
    into action as we begin this century and move forward from this Endowment
    We must, of course, insure that the unique alliance that supports the
    Endowment -- artists, educators, arts organization boards, civic and
    political leaders, universities, entertainment executives -- remains strong
    and united.
    But, we must also target those segments of civil society in which art in
    public policy can make a real difference.
    I can think of three:
    First, in education -- the centrality of art to civil society, the
    importance of art to the establishment of a new, high-tech literacy, and the
    value of art as a vehicle for enhancing the brain skills of young people --
    insights and evidence must be marshaled to place art in its appropriate
    central position in our educational system.
    Second, we must address the needs of artists as a unique class of workers
    and citizens by conducting research on the career paths of artists, and by
    asserting the central role of artists as "ambassadors of the border,"
    bringing heritage and creativity to truly livable communities.
    And, finally, we must place art and art making at the heart of America's
    diplomacy. Joseph Nye has identified "soft power" in international
    relations: the ability to "get what we want through attraction rather than
    coercion." Art is the "soft power" of our diverse society. It can be a
    centerpiece of our diplomatic agenda.
    These tasks will not be easy.
    If art is going to be this important, this central to education, community,
    and diplomacy, we must engage other actors, other agendas. We must continue
    to move beyond the era of entitlement, in which the arts simply assumed a
    moral claim on the public wallet, toward an era of community service, in
    which support is earned.
    This is the right time to move ahead, to build upon the work that so many
    have completed in the past thirty-five years. A vision less dependent on
    context, and a program grounded in evidence and research will flourish
    together in a strong economy, a strong society. Both will flourish in a
    society that rallies wealth and technology to enable art and artists to
    resolve, perhaps for the first time, the borderland collision of cultures
    that is the burden and blessing of our democracy.
    Thank you.

    > --


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