Closing Remarks, Creative Communities Exchange: June 7, 2013
Thank you, Julie [Richard, Executive Director, Maine Arts Commission], for that generous introduction. I also want to thank Alex Aldrich [Executive Director, Vermont Arts Council] for his companionship during the drive from Montpelier to Portland, and Rebecca Blunk [Executive Director, New England Foundation for the Arts] for inviting me to speak to you this afternoon. Rebecca asked me to say something “juicy and poetic” in 5-10 minutes, and I have learned over the years that life is richer and easier if you just follow Rebecca’s suggestions.
Here’s the juicy part. I was driving in Florida and I saw a sign that said “All the Orange Juice You Can Drink for 10 Cents!” So I stopped, plunked down my dime, drained the little glass and asked for another. The guy said, “You need to give me more money.” And I said, “But your sign said, ‘All the Orange Juice You Can Drink for 10 Cents!” He said, “That’s right! That’s all the orange juice you can drink for 10 cents!”
I do have three observations to share with you.
My first observation is that NEFA and the New England state arts agencies have been leaders in demonstrating the economic importance of the arts and cultural sector since before “creative economy” was part of this field’s vocabulary. It was in the 1970’s that NEFA became a leader in doing and teaching how to do economic impact studies. In the 1990’s, NEFA fostered purposeful dialogue with the region’s business and educational leaders and this led to the ground breaking partnership with the New England Council to describe and expand the region’s not-for-profit creative economy. In the new millennium, and in the light of creative class research and creative economic cluster research, NEFA broadened its own definitions and databases to reflect the scope and public benefits provided by creative occupations and industries. Now, if we reflect for a moment on the range of ideas and experiences we exchanged here in the past two days, we see brilliant ways in which our activities are structured to draw upon the synergies of not-for-profit, for-profit, amateur, real time and digital artistic experiences. Because that is what the most impactful creative community program strategies now do.
My second observation is that this NEFA network enables the six New England states and their state arts agencies to learn from each other and become more effective. The failures of each artist, each organization, each community, become what everyone learns and each success advances the artistic capacities of the entire region. Over the years, what was necessary to measure – the economic impact, the extent and benefits of the not-for-profit sector, has continued to be necessary, but is no longer sufficient to persuade the public and private sector decision makers to invest in the arts as they should. Your work together, through your state arts agencies and through NEFA will be essential to adapt the research, the partnerships and the advocacy methods that will enable New England to benefit fully from its creative communities.
My third observation is simply a reminder that our creative economy arguments alone will never be sufficient to realize the potential of public and private support for the arts. There are two reasons for this. The arts have much more to offer individuals, families and communities than even the ideas of creative economy and creative place making can contain. The poet e.e.cummings has said, “who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you.” Children learn everything through the symbol systems of numbers, words and sensory images. They are of equal importance. Reduce their access to any one of those three and many will find it very difficult to learn anything, and none will realize their real potential in school. Also, if we are to perpetuate democracy, our children must learn they have an individual voice, so does their neighbor, and the defining characteristic of a democracy is we all agree that the individual, who is sometimes in the majority, sometimes in the minority, and sometimes the dissenter, must be protected by all of us. In what classes, I ask you, does the child learn the dimension and power of his or her voice, vision, and imagination? Where do we learn the empathy that enables us to see and feel what another sees and feels, that enables us to persuade even as it enables us to compromise. We must see ourselves as together in a movement to convey the understanding that the public benefits of the creative economy come from what artist Marty Pottenger called yesterday the “flexible intelligence” and the sense of “possibility and hope” that we, as individuals, families and communities learn from broad, deep, diverse artistic experience.
I can follow Rebecca’s instruction to be both juicy and poetic because, fortunately, I do have a poem about creativity and community. Here it is. It’s title is
In Hungary, more than a hundred years ago
my great grandfather was a shoemaker
and he lived like a trapper in Idaho:
months for making, months for traveling, selling.
He must have dreamed of dwelling in one village
year-round, people coming to his house
to make their purchase. Which could never be.
When would people ever value shoes that way?
Would it take a special pain, a new level of duress?
But what could be of more importance
than imagining the shoe that’s worth a voyage to possess?
Think about the pair he made himself
to wear for half a year of pulling a cart
over what a road was then. He must have loved
every part that made his feet feel they could manage
where he was and get him through it all,
not wear out sole or heel, and walk him home.
Making each shoe individually
with his own hands from the toughest hides,
he must have felt the same
about the shoes he made to sell.
This was mine. Now it’s yours. Use it well.
Where quality resides is difficult to say;
materials, how pieces fit together,
care for people we will never know
have parts to play, but in the end
it’s not that difficult to tell the way
a work of art, a shoe, a city has been made.
Sometimes with objects made from clay
or leather, visions out of air, the great work
is declaring they’re not good enough:
this product is not done; it’s still in process;
that one we thought was finished is still rough,
move hell or heaven, its making might outlive us.
So, high among important tasks at hand
for starting off today or any day
is to remind ourselves we understand
our city is a poem—and what poetry
has to sell may not be new,
but must be constantly invented anyway.
Whatever life we cobble
will have its story to tell.
This was mine. Now it’s yours. Use it well.
Thank you for the great work you do and for the opportunity to participate in this wonderful conference.
Photo credit: Arthur Fink