Artistic Citizenship – Is It Valued, Who Will Teach It?

A couple months back, Arts Professional had an article by Jonathan Vaughan, Principal of Guildhall School of Music & Drama, asking if “artistic citizenship” could be taught.

Defining artistic citizenship, the academic David Elliott takes Aristotle’s concept of Praxis (‘to do’ or ‘to make’) and expands it to mean active reflection and action “dedicated to human well-being… the ethical care of others, and the positive empowerment and transformation of people and their everyday lives”.

Vaughan cites things like activism, critical thinking, disruption, civic responsibility, social value. Just as he comes around to mentioning a parallel with liberal arts education, I had a similar thought about liberal arts education having many of these same goals. The fact that I have been reading about the shrinking of liberal arts degree programs in colleges across the country made me question if these were qualities that were actually valued any more. There is certainly the ability to teach these skills, but does the will to instill these qualities still exist?

Vaughan asks an additional question about whether people would pursue an artistic curriculum focused on cultivating better citizenship over artistic excellence.

“Questions remain about how to include this training in an already busy, arguably overcrowded, curriculum. Where does it fit when the primary imperative of performance training must always be the production of outstanding performers who excel in their craft and artistry?

How can institutions avoid indoctrinating their students when introducing political or ideological concepts? Can the development of students’ independent critical thinking avoid that? And is the very concept of citizenship problematic or limiting to those it excludes?

To be clear, I don’t doubt for a moment that there are people who do want to acquire these skillsets in order to improve civil society. I just wonder if they will look to these institutions to provide this training as well as if the institutions, embroiled as they are in various levels of politics and internal inertia, would be prepared to provide the training students seek.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


3 thoughts on “Artistic Citizenship – Is It Valued, Who Will Teach It?”

  1. To my mind, this statement is less obvious than he is assuming: “the primary imperative of performance training must always be the production of outstanding performers who excel in their craft and artistry.” May I propose that the primary imperative might be “the creation of artists,” which is MORE than creating performers, and REQUIRES becoming artistic citizens, and REQUIRES reflection into WHY TO, not just HOW TO. In my opinion, arts education has become job training, and does so to the detriment of the art.

      • LOL. I’m predictable. I would say that, were I still teaching, I would probably bring this article to a faculty meeting for discussion. It seems as if it would be quite appropriate for a liberal arts curriculum such as the one I taught in, but even the liberal arts curriculum has become “professionalized” (by which I mean focused on creating employees rather than artists with agency). It is one reason why I am considering abandoning my book on starting a company. By the time people get through the undergraduate curriculum, they have be actively encouraged NOT to think of themselves in any way other than employees. It is very dispiriting.


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