Thursday, October 6, 2011

National Arts & Humanities Month in Rural America

Last week I had the honor of sharing the mission of The Art of the Rural with a number of local and national arts leaders on a conference call organized by Americans For The Arts and chaired by Theresa Cameron and Mitch Menchaca. On this call I also learned President Obama was set to declare October National Arts & Humanities Month

Americans For The Arts is offering up a number of online features to help citizens from across the country engage in this conversation and even facilitate dialogues in their own communities. The organization has designed an attractive and user-friendly map program to illustrate where and when NAHM events are taking place across the country. Here is the embedded map, though following the link above will open a full page of resources:

Americans For The Arts also offers a suite of resources for folks to create and publicize their own events -- and this information can be accessed here. The Creative Conversation stands at the heart of this community dialogue; these gathering seeks to "elevate the profile of the arts in America," but on a local, place-specific context by "connecting the cultural sector with the business community and political leadership." 

This month comes at an important juncture: we have read the feedback report from the White House Rural Council, considered the NEA's report on value of Creative Placemaking in rural America, and encountered a increasingly vocal cultural discussion on the distribution of wealth and media access sparked by the Occupy Wall Street protests. Regardless of our readers' political or philosophical views of any of the above, it's hard to deny that we are in a living in a moment that needs Creative Conversations more than ever.

Much more information on National Arts & Humanities Month is available on the organization's extraordinary ARTSblog. Below I will reprint a significant excerpt from President Obama's declaration:
Norman Rockwell’s magazine covers are classic and recognizable portrayals of American life. A longtime advocate of tolerance, Rockwell was criticized by some for a painting now hanging steps from the Oval Office — The Problem We All Live With. Inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges, this painting depicts a young girl being escorted to her newly-integrated school by United States Marshals. Today, the portrait remains a symbol of our Nation’s struggle for racial equality.
Like Rockwell’s painting, art in all its forms often challenges us to consider new perspectives and to rethink how we see the world. This image still moves us with its simple poignancy, capturing a moment in American history that changed us forever. This is the power of the arts and humanities — they speak to our condition and affirm our desire for something more and something better. Great works of literature, theater, dance, fine art, and music reach us through a universal language that unites us regardless of background, gender, race, or creed.
Millions of Americans earn a living in the arts and humanities, and the non-profit and for-profit arts industries are important parts of both our cultural heritage and our economy. The First Lady and I have been proud to honor this work by displaying American art at the White House and by hosting music, dance, poetry, and film performances and screenings. The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, along with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services continues to recognize the skill and creativity of American artists, historians, and philosophers while helping educate and inspire our children through the power of the arts and humanities.
We must recognize the contributions of the arts and humanities not only by supporting the artists of today, but also by giving opportunities to the creative thinkers of tomorrow. Educators across our country are opening young minds, fostering innovation, and developing imaginations through arts education. Through their work, they are empowering our Nation’s students with the ability to meet the challenges of a global marketplace. It is a well-rounded education for our children that will fuel our efforts to lead in a new economy where critical and creative thinking will be the keys to success.
Today, the arts and humanities continue to break social and political barriers. Throughout our history, American hopes and aspirations have been captured in the arts, from the songs of enslaved Americans yearning for freedom to the films that grace our screens today. This month, we celebrate the enlightenment and insight we have gained from the arts and humanities, and we recommit to supporting expression that challenges our assumptions, sparks our curiosity, and continues to drive us toward a more perfect union.