Monday, January 4, 2010

Early Sunday Morning

Jack the dog is incapable of resetting his internal clock when it’s vacation time, and so it was that I came to have the tv on at 5:45am on Sunday. I wasn’t sure whether to wake the household up laughing, throw tennis shoes at the screen, or take an antidepressant. 30 seconds of… “Starving artist sale at Holiday Inn at Crabtree Mall. Oil paintings as low as $19.”

Pity is not a friend of the arts. Such messages invoke dear friends and respected artists huddled on interstate exits trying to catch the eye of hurried drivers. And in the game of public funding, we will never win the “need” game, not in this economy. Not with education cut 10% and Health and Human Services cut 30%. Can you imagine the arts threatening to file a lawsuit against the state for lack of funding as is possible by the Mental Health sector?

A transformative event happened five years ago. ARTS North Carolina thought our job was to convince “others” of our public value. So we produced a still relevant dvd that asked citizens, “Why do you think the arts are important?” The work of art (dvd) that answered this question still has the power to move as it reminds us that we must first believe. Are we absolutely convinced beyond a shadow that what we do is essential, not just “nice”? Do we approach each day with a sense of urgency that what we have to say cannot wait? Are we compelled to tell others? Are our stories straight and our facts in order? Does our message center on what we bring to the world, not what the world should bring to us?

For those old enough to remember the culture wars of Jesse Helms and the NEA attack, there was one question/answer I will take to my grave. Why was the movement successful? How could vitriolic attacks on art gain such support and momentum? And one day, like a vision, it came to me on public radio. People are drawn to passion, and the extremes offer all the passion you can misuse in a lifetime.

So my New Year’s resolution? Bring on the naysayers. I’ll match you passion for passion and raise you one.

Karen Wells
ARTS North Carolina


  1. Thanks for this inspiring blog to start the new year! I've learned that one way to get someone to listen to what I have to say is to start with "I'm passionate about...." It's hard to naysay passion. Spread the good word, my friend! I pledge to do the same.

  2. Let's start a mutual admiration society, because you are doing fabulous work. I wrote the blog because I am on a lifelong mission to rid our arts industry of entitlement thinking.


  3. I think of this dvd's inspiring to see and hear so many people talk about the arts and the intricate way different threads have been woven into their personal fabric. Also inspiring to hear people talk about what art really is...and that it's everywhere! Grandma's quilt...the cello solo in church...the photographs and paintings hanging on our walls...the fieldtrips to the Theatre enjoyed by thousands of children... Agree. Be passionate, but more importantly - share it so others know how YOU feel. Perhaps they don't know what they're missing if they've not experienced some of this personally. Invite someone to join you on your next arts adventure!

  4. Karen, I agree with your comments completely. And I agree that entitlement is and should be a bad word for artists and for anyone whose life's work is in service to humankind. Our people and our artists have been told throughout history that we are fringe, insignificant, counterproductive, effete, or any number of terms that in effect lead to the marginalization of art and artists. Yet, when the worst forms of government emerge during a nation in crisis, the artists are always, always among the first ones they attack. We should remember that and wear it proudly - it means that our work is significant and that they know it. The question, as you so eloquently have indicated, is "do we believe what we do is valuable?" I do, and I believe it is also an answer to the ills our society faces. 4,000 years ago, Artistotle defined art as something that "entertains while educating". Far too often we seek to entertain without bothering with that troublesome other element of his equation. What he was trying to say is that entertainment is a great delivery system for education. In other words, if you want a smarter, better, more productive, happier society, then art is a great way to go about achieving it.


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