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The arts have a crucial role to play Part 1 Between Grace and Fear

November 25, 2012

In most Western countries, the arts are having a hard time.  Especially in the current financial crisis, the arts are viewed as non-essential. And the funding that is available goes to areas that are seen as more urgent like education and healthcare (oh, and—football and huge sports spectacles like the Olympics!!!- we’re talking about billions here, of government, industrial, and private funds).

In Holland where I live,  most people find the arts irrelevant to their daily lives. One Dutch right-wing politician recently wrote off all of human art and culture as  ‘a leftist hobby’. This slogan was gleefully picked up by the media, and is indicative of a fundamental mistrust of the arts that is alive in a large segment of the population. Granted, the contemporary art business hasn’t done a lot to encourage trust.

For many of us in the arts sector, though,  the budget cuts aren’t what hurt the most,  it’s the open attitude of contempt toward the arts and artists underlying them.
And, as destructive to the arts as this, is the total absorption of art into the consumer system, so that art’s value has come to be defined exclusively in financial terms.

The consequence of these conditions is that the real value of art to a human society is lost, both in the sense of being lost, as well as negated.

But what is that intrinsic worth of art, what do the arts do that makes them valuable in themselves?

What are the arguments for declaring arts and artist’s right to exist, for supporting them morally and financially, and locating them in a central rather than marginal role in the lives of the community?

This has been a vital question for most my life as an artist. And recently my plea for valuing arts as essential tools for healing and positive change has gotten a real shot of support from the book, Between Grace and Fear, the role of the arts in a time of change, by William Cleveland and Patricia Shifferd.
It is a collection of 30 interviews with highly credentialed professionals including social theorists and scholars, philanthropists, scientists, theologians, artists, community development-, and community arts activists.

The people interviewed were asked what, if any role, the arts have in bringing about a just and sustainable society.
This series of posts attempts to present the main themes running through the interviews. I’ve divided them into the following categories:

  • Expanding the definition of ‘artist’
  • Organisations need to change but so do artists
  • How artists contribute to positive change
  • The arts and community building

to be continued

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3 Responses to “The arts have a crucial role to play Part 1 Between Grace and Fear”


  1. This is a conversation that is going on all over the world. The value of the arts. Thanks for bringing the book to our attention. A balanced view and approach is needed from both the artists as well as communities.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      hi Jane, thanks for stopping by. (Because I rarely sit down to surf other blogs, I don’t get around to yours enough, but I am always glad to pop around to High River Arts when I am reminded to. It is a quality blog, you’re doing really good and important work to support artists).

      Thanks for confirming the relevance of this topic, it informs my whole life and I hopefully will continue to get more ammunition together for an increasingly clear and convincing argument why the arts are not fringe, but essential to living a whole human life.


      • By finding ways to quantify the “value” of the arts (not so easily done), and sharing this information, progress can be made. When it can be shown in “votes” to local councils and/or economic benefits to communities or businesses, responses are improved! In today’s economic realities, the “arts” must fight to prove their worth with numbers and statistics. Keep up the good work!


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