Creating Creatives and Building Communities

Sistine_Chapel.pngThere is an interesting article in today’s (July 19th) Wall Street Journal (page D7). Titled “The Impoverishment of American Culture“, it’s a condensed version of the commencement speech given by Dana Gioia at Stanford University on June 17th.

Gioia notes that at the same time pop culture is narrowing (he points out that the Ed Sullivan Show used to feature classical musicians and jazz artists along with the still prevalent movie stars and pro athletes), school curriculums are shrinking. Under substantial, and apparently unending, financial pressure, schools are forced to reduce offerings and they usually start with the arts. He suggests that the result is a focus on producing graduates who are minimally competent entry level-workers and whose greatest extra-curricular experience and expertise may lie with the Xbox.

One of his concerns resulting from these trends is that in the global economic competition, the U. S. is not going to succeed through cheap labor and cheap raw materials, being the low-cost provider. Instead, he believes that our best chance is through supplying high-quality products, which require, in his words, “creativity, ingenuity, and innovation”.

The training for these abilities, he advocates, comes from those areas of our culture currently being squeezed or cut. Arts education, Gioia argues, is not about producing more artists; its purpose is to give all of our students the ability to think creatively.

He goes on to cite another benefit of arts education. Recent studies of American civic participation find that our nation is dividing into two distinctive behaviors. One group spends most of its time passively consuming electronic entertainment. The other group plays sports, volunteers in the community, and does charity work at three times the level of the first group.

The defining difference between the passive and active citizens isn’t income, geography, or education level. Instead, it depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts.

Gioia argues that “art awakens, enlarges, refines, and restores our humanity”. It also apparently builds our communities.


  1. Humans who are most creatively blessed will find their own way. Others
    may find some path later on that helps them realize their creativitiy.
    What will move the US forward is high technology and green machinery
    and other inventions that create a more energy efficient environment.

    Here’s a neat article, BC’s blog from South Africa:

    Oh, btw, around 11 am today I saw what looked to be a reporter with
    a cameraman sniffing around Bridge Square. I would have stopped to
    chat him up but I had my very loud collie with me in the car. 🙂


    July 19, 2007
  2. It should come as no surprise that I happen to agree with Dana Gioia regarding arts education. I believe in the power of art to affect lives positively and to improve minds. This is not only intuitive, but it is supported by mounds of statistical evidence that show a correlation between significant hands-on arts activity in early childhood and greater achievement in school and later in life. That our own State Arts Board director echoed Chairman Gioia’s beliefs in a recent interview indicates that our state is poised to move in a good direction about arts education:

    The Northfield Arts Guild, of course, has long been dedicated to arts education. Our artists have taught thousands of kids in the areas of dance, visual art, theater, and so on; we have involved hundreds of children in theater productions and art exhibitions; and we have organized hundreds of artist residencies in the schools (at least up until budget cuts canned the program a few years ago).

    Such programs are crucial to the future of our kids, and the Northfield Arts Guild remains dedicated to fostering them and growing them into the future. The hitch in all of this is the absolute requirement for us all to support programs and initiatives that engage kids in hands-on arts educational experiences. This means contributing, participating, and lending real support. To be a voice in the wilderness complaining that we need to provide better arts education for our kids is akin to futile lip service; to say that you donated $50 to a local arts organization or to volunteer to organize a fundraiser for the express purpose of providing more arts classes or to organize artist residencies in the schools is much more admirable.

    To find out how you can support the Arts Guild’s ongoing efforts to provide better arts educational experiences for Northfield youths, please check our website at, or visit the new Northfield Arts Guild Director’s Blog at

    July 20, 2007
  3. One thing I wish was different about this form of communication, as it
    pertains to building community and creating creatives, is the way no one
    really adds to ideas presented. Like my idea about creating a guide, no
    suggestion book to living life. No one said, that’s something to look into,
    I bet a pamphlet would be a good thing to try out first, or how about a
    video, where each person comes to the mic and makes a short statement that
    might inspire or help someone at risk, and so forth.

    There is no adding to, just either condemning, ignoring, or thanking. I’d
    like to see that change as a real first step to building community in
    a creative way.

    So, let me invite anyone to constructively add to any ideas I post. I
    won’t mind. I welcome it, in fact. In fact, I dare you! 🙂


    July 20, 2007
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    On MPR this week: The importance of reading (and not just Harry Potter)

    Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has nothing against the Harry Potter books, the last of which hits store shelves a minute past midnight Saturday. But Gioia argues we’d need a new Harry Potter every month to get kids reading as much as they should.

    July 21, 2007
  5. Paul Fried said:

    Dana Gioia is an interesting figure, and I agree with much of what he says, but he often leans traditionalist in his opinions about literature and art. He wrote a good article, the title of which was something like “Does Poetry Matter?”–published in the Atlantic Monthly a number of years ago, which created some buzz for a while. I met him in Chicago at a conference when he was on a panel discussion about poetry, and he later gave an interesting keynote address. He has done a lot of good, restoring the reputation of the National Endowment for the Arts, after various scandals when experimental and offensive projects received funding. One focus of his with the NEA was a good series of Shakespeare programs, bringing Shakespeare to small towns and military bases, having soldiers relfect on Macbeth and Hamlet (which, while traditional in one way, might be radical in another).

    If he stumbles, it’s in the direction of tradition and “high art.” On the pannel, he argued that too many poets get too many poems of questionable quality published, and that poets should have higher standards. This may be true. Or maybe the problem with poetry is elsewhere, and the lapses in quality come with the culture and human nature.

    But in his defense, he claimed that many poets of earlier generations (including William Stafford) had higher standards, so his argument was the often-repeated, nostalgic one that the “old days” were better, and that the younger generation is going down the tubes.

    This didn’t square with an interesting and challenging quote I remembered from Stafford, who often said (half-joking, half-serious) things like, “I never get writer’s block; I just lower my standards.” Stafford wrote many wonderful poems, but now and then, you’d find one in some obscure literary magazine that wasn’t so interesting or well-wrought, and it seemed Stafford was not anywhere near as careful in his judgements about what to send out to such small magazines as he sometimes was in choosing what went into his books.

    But Gioia was adamant that Stafford and his poetry were evidence in favor of his argument. And there’s no convincing a person about evidence if he’s already committed to his conclusions. Especially if he’s NEA Chair and has a lot of publishing titles and awards.

    July 21, 2007

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