I've been reflecting on several of the Ideas talks I heard during the International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Dancer Liz Lerman, who was in residence here during the past year, spoke about Art in a Democratic Society. Liz is an artist I've admired for many years. She has worked in communities throughout the country, engaging citizens of all ages, from all walks of life, in communicating stories of their lives and communities. In her talk, she pondered why a dance she performs on stage at the Kennedy Center in D.C. is more highly regarded than the dance she does with residents of a nursing home. She explained that her Dance Exchange strives to shift this way of thinking, elevating the importance of art created in and with community.
I think Liz is right on. While I love the opportunity to experience accomplished artists performing in a venue with professional lighting and sound, there is something profoundly powerful about art that is of the people-real people expressing themselves through singing or dancing. So why are the so-called community arts relegated to lesser status?
In another Ideas program, I heard Jude Kelly speak about the Creative Economy. Jude's comments echoed those of Liz as she lamented that culture has become "something you go to in the evening." Both Liz and Jude affirm the ability of art to tell real stories, to make meaning and create identity.
We hear alot of talk about the achievement gap between students of affluent school districts and those in poorer inner city districts. As the arts have become more professional, as arts organizations have morphed into institutions, have we perhaps created a cultural divide?