but it bends towards prosperity. (bet you didn’t see that coming!)
Threats of global devastation should have been enough, but the common sense of developing renewable energy sources didn’t appeal to a lot of people until the short-term economics did. With fossil fuels costing more to produce than wind or solar energy within the next couple of years, if not already, and given a fair chance by government regulators, common sense around energy use just might prevail.
But common sense thinking around the economic boost that the arts can provide to a local economy? Americans for the Arts, a nearly 60-year old non-profit organization has put business minds to work conducting studies that say yes. Creating jobs, generating commerce, driving tourism – really? I’ve never put common sense, job creation, and the arts into the same sentence before. We’re not talking about blockbuster Broadway productions or Van Gogh exhibits either.
I spent a few days this week in upstate New York, where I attended a concert in one old mill town which has re-created itself by repurposing a factory space into a sprawling modern art museum. I watched the sunset in another old mill town seated next to a stunning (more so than the sunset even) performing arts center that describes itself as a place where the arts, sciences, and technology meet under one roof and breathe the same air. That one is located on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but it’s intended as a resource for the entire region, with a concert hall for the 21st century that looks like a floating wooden planet encased in glass.
Those are both relatively new investments in their respective communities. In contrast, there is a church nearby where old wealth had been invested over 100 years ago into building a glorious Tiffany-designed church. Today it stands as one of the best preserved examples of Tiffany’s artistry. The deep blues in the glass and graceful wooden carvings were built and conserved as a gift for future generations, as surely as these more recent arts centers have been. The arts are clearly a vital presence in these small towns that industry had once built and then jilted. Like cracks in the pavement where plants have pushed through, reminding us that nature always wins, this spirit of creativity seems to infuse the old and forgotten with tendrils of new energy.
Whether the conservation of the art in a once-flourishing church, or the emergence of creative communities in these previously forsaken mill towns, art and music feel like a life force that has broken through the cracks of abandonment. As any weekend gardener knows, vegetation coming up through cracks in your pavement is persistent. You can pour weed killer on those green shoots, but they’ll return somewhere else or in a stronger form that will resist your poison next time. Creativity can’t be ignored (though I’m not liking my weed analogy at this point!). More important to our bottom-line-loving world, the arts can apparently help drive an economic engine that brings new life to old places, even as they make hearts sing and bodies move and minds ponder.
For generations some people have put their wealth into art that would last far beyond them – as patrons of painters and musicians, and as builders of cathedrals and museums. How beautiful to see communities reawakening and reimagining art-filled futures in ways that just happen to make a lot of economic sense too.
PS After posting this I saw an article about the impact that funding for the arts by the state of Minnesota has had on the quality of life – and the economy – of small towns there. Read it here.
PPS The news keeps coming…an article about how the arts have helped Greece emerge from its financial disfunction: Athens Rising-The New York Times. One quote in particular spoke to me: “I think everybody became more creative after the crisis, more cooperative,” he said. Can our own country emerge from its own crisis of closed minds and cold hearts with more creativity and cooperation?
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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.
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