Top Of Your Pyramid Is The Bottom Of Someone Else’s

Hat tip to Vu Le at NonProfitAF for posting a link on social media to an essay on Medium comparing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need to the Blackfeet Nation’s similar concept.  Maslow had lived among the Blackfeet in Alberta, Canada for six weeks when he was developing his theories. If you read the article the question of whether he appropriated the concept without crediting the Blackfeet is a complicated one.

What immediately appealed to me was the point that while Maslow’s hierarchy ends with self-actualization, that is where the Blackfeet model begins.  To a great degree it is the difference between an individually focused society and a communal one. The assumption seems to be that the community will provide the food, shelter, clothing and safety needs that provide the base of Maslow’s model and therefore you start life working on the self-actualization part and then one moves on to contributing to the welfare and perpetuity of the culture.

The Blackfoot model describes the inverse of Maslow’s Hierarchy:

1. Self-actualization. Where Maslow’s hierarchy ends with self-actualization, the Blackfoot model begins here. In their view, we are each born into the world as a spark of divinity, with a great purpose embedded in us. That means that we arrive on earth self-actualized.
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4. Community Actualization. In tending to our basic needs and safety, the tribe equips us to manifest our sacred purpose, designing a model of education that supports us in expressing our gifts. Community actualization describes the Blackfoot goal that each member of the tribe manifest their purpose and have their basic needs met.
5. Cultural Perpetuity. Each member of the tribe will one day be gone. So passing on their knowledge of how to achieve community actualization and harmony with the land and other peoples gives rise to an endurance of the Blackfoot way of life, or cultural perpetuity.

The big reason this appealed to me is that it aligns with a post I wrote last May, Creativity Is Not The Last Thing People Need

As I wrote then:

It should be noted that despite the popularity of this model, there is no scientific data to back it and studies have found that different cultures prioritize needs differently.

I mention these criticisms of Maslow’s hierarchy because it is easy to look at this pyramid and get the impression that creativity has to wait until all these other needs are met. This reinforces the idea that arts and culture are a luxury that should yield before all the necessities have been addressed. I think we all know there will always be something else that needs to be solved if you subscribe to that thinking.

When I wrote that post, I had linked to the Wikipedia article on Maslow’s hierarchy which notes the Blackfeet influence but I didn’t know enough about it at the time to understand the differences in world view to apply it.  I certainly can’t make any definitive statements about how expressions of creativity might be viewed and valued in a Blackfeet society, but from the little bit that discussed in the Medium article it seems it would be viewed as more integral to everyone’s basic identity and capacity vs. a gift bestowed/possessed by a chosen few.

What Impact Can Guaranteed Basic Income Have On Art?

In case you missed it, somethings to keep an eye on over the next two years or so are the guaranteed income program for artists that have been established in St. Paul and San Francisco.  The NY Times reported on these efforts today. In San Francisco, 130 artists will receive $1000 for the next six months from the city  In St. Paul, Springboard for the Arts will be providing $500 to 25 artists over the next 18 months.

An article on MinnPost has more details about the St. Paul program:

Springboard’s pilot program will provide direct, no-strings-attached cash support to artists affected by the pandemic. It will explore the impact of guaranteed income on artists, culture bearers and creative workers at a neighborhood level. And “it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate and advocate nationally that culture makers need to be included in the work to make our economy more equitable and just,” Springboard Executive Director Laura Zabel said in a statement.

Recipients will be selected at random from an eligible pool of artists who have received support from Springboard’s Emergency Relief Fund. At least 75 percent will be Black, Native and/or people of color.

Just last month the results studying the first year of Stockton, CA efforts at providing $500/month to 125 residents for 24 months were released. According to the NPR story,

Among the key findings outlined in a 25-page white paper are that the unconditional cash reduced the month-to-month income fluctuations that households face, increased recipients’ full-time employment by 12 percentage points and decreased their measurable feelings of anxiety and depression, compared with their control-group counterparts.

The study also found that by alleviating financial hardship, the guaranteed income created “new opportunities for self-determination, choice, goal-setting, and risk-taking.”

Obviously, it will be interesting to see what the results of providing creatives with a basic guaranteed income over a period of time. One obvious positive benefit would be if it encouraged the same risk-taking that it did with participants in Stockton’s program, though with artistic choices moreso than life decisions.

I am sure there will be some unanticipated outcomes as well. Stockton’s program was described as having a ripple effect because it general improved and removed pressure from the lives of those the income recipients depended for food and other necessities.

Cause And Effect Are Not Siloed, Should Education About Them Be?

Over on The Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Hayot suggests that humanities subjects have a marketing problem.  Because students are oriented on the utility of degree programs to career development, it is easy to understand what the goals of degrees like accounting, business management, chemistry and physical therapy are but less clear in regard to history and literature outside of teaching those subjects.

Since I often rail against measuring the value of the arts in terms of utility, I was put a little on guard as I started reading further.  Hayot’s idea is to reorganize subject matter and reframe content more in terms of social problems that need consideration and addressing which is often what the performing and visual arts practice expresses.

One way to put such a change in place would be to reorganize the existing curriculum into sets of four-course modules. Such modules could come in two types. Skill modules would focus on practices: language learning, writing and speaking, historical, cultural, and social analysis. Theme modules would focus on topics: social justice, migration studies, the problem of God, translation, journalism, wealth and inequality, conflict, ideas of beauty, television, society and technology, and the like.

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They would also need to convey to students that just because modules on issues like sex and sexuality or Latinx studies or Chinese history exist does not mean that they wouldn’t overlap with, say, material in your discussion of human environments or social justice. (You don’t want a curriculum to imply that the study of sexuality or African Americans happens over here, while the study of history “in general” happens over there.)

There is a lot of detail about his proposal in the article that I obviously can’t depict here without cutting and pasting super extensively. What he suggests bears some consideration because it more directly addresses the oft expressed concept that the skills you gain in humanities degree programs can be applied in myriad professions because of the overlap and interrelations between these topics. Hayot is basically calling for the silos of degree programs to be broken down significantly.

If we want to teach students that human life is not organized into disciplines, then we should not organize our curricula into disciplines. If we want to teach students to see historical connections across differing conditions of global power, we should not organize our literature departments exclusively around modern languages, whose effect is to reproduce over and over again the knowledge and aesthetic work produced in a period of European dominance.

Hayot lists a number of benefits he sees in this approach. Among those that appeared to respond most with the complaints of detractors of humanities degrees have made:

• Appealing immediately to students’ actual interests, or, in other words, meeting students where they are, in current historical conditions, rather than lamenting their lack of interest in traditional humanities majors. .. our job is to teach them, by hook or by crook, not to lament their resistance to being taught.

[…]

• Not forcing students into majors because they need a credential — the modules serve as the credential and communicate far more clearly than major titles a set of interests, skills, and expertise (to employers and parents as well).

[…]

• Encouraging comparison in geographic, linguistic, and historical modes, … You couldn’t teach someone about poverty or justice or technology without using examples that cross space, language, and time. This has the advantage of moving geographic and linguistic breadth away from being an “angle” that one takes on a topic and toward being a necessary precondition of humanist knowledge.

This may seem unrelated to performing and visual arts which can have a clearer path of progression from degree to practice than some humanities, but art doesn’t happen in a vacuum and people whose education has been aligned in these terms are probably going to be more likely to appreciate the value of creative expression across different cultures.

Gershwin As The Soundtrack For Labor Protest

Artsjournal.com linked to a story about Oakland Symphony’s tradition of social justice in the experiences and programs it has offered. One of the things that popped out at me though was in line with my post yesterday about learning more about the emotional associations people had with classical music.

Hatano, the Oakland symphony’s executive director, said that she gets goosebumps thinking about one of Huerta’s choices for the Playlist series, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Huerta recalled listening to the piece on record as a child. Later, when she protested with grape farmers in New York as an adult, she heard the piece playing in the back of her mind, like a heroic soundtrack for her day.

This stuck out to me because most of the time when people talk about why they enjoy classical music, it tends toward relaxing and sublime imagery like the example given yesterday about sitting in a chair by the lake.

However, Huerta talks about “Rhapsody in Blue” in the context of a heroic theme for a labor protest. And really, that is sort the way a large segment of the population has experienced classical music–as the soundtrack for movies. The most recognizable and memorable are likely those that accompany moments of high energy and dramatic tension whether it is Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna,” anything by Wagner and Beethoven “Symphony No. 5” for movies with explosions and high stakes encounters with villains; or everything that Carl Stalling put in Looney Tune cartoons.

While there are often efforts to remind people that they are familiar with all this music already, if only on a subliminal level, thanks to movie and television scores, I don’t know that I have ever heard anyone say it pops into their head as background theme for their daily lives.

It made me think that if you can find people who can talk about having that experience, it might create a stronger positive association with classical music with people.  Since we are all the heroes of our own stories to some extent, recognizing that the music under girding the most dramatic and exciting movie moments could also be appropriate for scoring your personal narrative might improve the perceived accessibility of the genre.

In the last few years of posting, I have often talked about how surveys have revealed that people want to see themselves and their stories depicted on stage. Reflecting the stories of the community on stage may not be the easiest thing for 80 orchestra musicians to accomplish. However, if people begin thinking of classical music concerts as a place where music that has a resonance with the events of their lives, that may make a big difference.

To be clear, people already obviously use music in this way. Pretty much everyone has blasted music that energizes them when they are getting ready to go out and strut their stuff.

But if you have people saying that “Ride of the Valkyries” or “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” depending on the conditions, was running through their minds as they deftly navigated a busy subway station in order to get to work on time, that reframes a daily routine as a bit more magical and special.

Drawing a connection between music with which people are widely, if not unconsciously aware of, and the mundane moments of their lives may help make the genre feel more relatable and accessible than it had before.

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