I’ve been mulling over my Gifts of the Muse write-up for the past few days, and have come up with a few more reflections on the implications that the document holds for advocacy and policymaking.
- I hinted at this one at the end of my summary, but here it is fleshed out a bit more: the fact that the arts’ instrumental benefits can be produced by other interventions is not, in and of itself, all that interesting or important. What really matters is what combinations of interventions produce the best results. No one would suggest that the arts are the only way to create jobs in a community, for example; but on the other hand it seems likely that a community that engages economic development initatives across several industries and populations will tend to have greater success than a community that focuses on only one. I mean, after all, one of the lessons of Gifts of the Muse is that people are different; if that’s the case, won’t having more choices and more possibilities end up serving more people more effectively?
- Just as individuals are not the same, communities are pretty different too. That would seem to suggest that arts-focused development and community-building strategies might be better suited to some places than others. I don’t think this necessarily has to do with the size of the region or whether it’s urban or rural; it’s more about building on community strengths–and if the arts don’t happen to be one of those, maybe it doesn’t make sense to push it too hard. (I’m not sure how much I really believe this though.)
- Finally, one of the most profound lessons I drew from the report is that the arts, in some ways, might really be kind of a red herring in this discussion. Csikszentmihalyi’s research on highly creative people suggests that the distinctive pleasure associated with the arts (identified by the authors as the primary intrinsic benefit) comes from the joy of creative work and expression, regardless of the form or medium in which that creativity appears. Frankly, our conception of “the arts” is rather artificial as it is, with the requisite question marks on the borders (does literature count? folk traditions? history museums?) and a pervasive uneasiness around commercial art forms like popular music and film, television, graphic design, etc. What should it matter if one feels truly alive while composing while another does so through nuclear physics or conducting market research or cooking? If the goal is to get the arts to be taken seriously in broader policy discussions, it seems to me that the creativity connection is crucial. And not just in the sense of drawing the line between the arts and creativity: I also mean advocating for supporting creativity itself, with the understanding that creativity includes, but is not limited to, the arts. This is really the premise for the creative economy movement worldwide. It seeks to take nonprofit arts organizations out of their shell as a distinct entity and instead showcase them in full collaboration and interaction with an entire extended family of related pursuits. It attempts to draw the connection between creative capacity and the ongoing advancement of the human race. To me, that argument is a winner.