>There’s been some buzz that President-Elect Obama wants to establish an Art Corps — sort of a Peace Corps for the arts within the United States.
The idea is a great one — but with a huge flaw that perpetuates the idea that artists don’t need to make a living.
I get ahead of myself.
The Art Corps doesn’t exist yet, but there’s talk that visual and performing artists would be recruited to volunteer their time in schools and communities to fill the gaps left when arts are eliminated from budgets because of funding emergencies. Now certainly is the time for that. From what I’ve seen first-hand, arts education in our schools is just awful. It seems that too many teachers are uninspired, overwhelmed, or don’t care anymore. And why should they care? There’s no money, and art and music are considered “electives” — fun courses. They don’t really mean anything, do they?
Some arts teachers are bad artists themselves, or don’t bother to continue to work on their craft. I’m still seething over a teacher my daughter had who “corrected” the students’ sculptures if she didn’t like some of the elements! That’s appalling! The students went home defeated, not accomplished.
We need more art and music — from working visual and performing artists — in our schools and communities at all levels. In fact, I would be first in line to sign up.
So where’s the flaw in this plan? Asking artists and musicians to volunteer — again — continues the myth that art is not a worthy profession, able to sustain a family. There was an opinion poll released recently that suggested that 90 percent of people polled supported art and wanted art in their lives, but only about 10 percent of those people valued artists — they thought art was not a valued profession. In other words, they wanted the result but not the people that create it.
Art isn’t something artists do in their spare time — or it shouldn’t be. Art isn’t frivolous. It’s a driving passion. Art and music add to the quality of our lives. Art enriches, inspires, entertains, bemuses and makes us think. Art makes us grow. Art saves lives.
Then why delegate it to spare time, trust-funders or people who are supported by a spouse with a good job? Why do we assume that artists should be “starving?” Artists are asked to volunteer our time and energy and talent — and the fruits of those efforts — a lot! And we do — a lot.
I’ve worked in schools, hospitals and community settings for little or no money. I’ve seen children and adults discover the joy of creation, and revel in accomplish they didn’t know was possible. I watched students surprise their teachers with work that the teachers thought was impossible from these ” bad kids.” I’ve seen very sick kids smile with pride, forgetting their pain for a moment.
Art saves lives. It’s not frivolous. In a school, it’s as important as math. In a hospital, it’s as vital as the right treatment. In our community, it’s as useful as good streets.
I think the Art Corps is a great idea. But while we’re at it, let’s remember validate the work of the volunteers who will be going into the schools and communities. Let’s add those artists’ works to our public collections, commission visual and performing work from them that we pay for, and elevate their status in our communities.
Working visual and performing artists are vital contributors to our humanity. Let’s treat them like we believe it.