If Anything, Measure of Arts & Culture Should Be Civil Societal, Not Economic Impact

Lest you think Carter Gillies and I are lone voices arguing against the use of economic impact of  arts and culture as a measure of their value to society, in March the Global Education and Skills Forum had a panel address the question “Will We Still Need The Arts & Humanities in 2030?”

A member of the panel, British philosopher, Dr. Julian Baggini addressed the issue of using economic impact as a metric of the value of arts and culture in very familiar terms:

“…they don’t need defending in terms of anything else. And I think what happens is, we get sucked into a kind of debate in which we are always having to justify the Arts and Humanities in terms set by a more utilitarian agenda.”

He goes on to talk about how he was involved with a project which was studying the benefits of active participation in arts and culture for physical and psychological well-being.

Then he cautions that even framing the arts in terms of their health benefits or ability to stimulate important neurological centers in the brain represents a trap because it doesn’t allow for the arts to have value in and of itself. This framework uses health benefits to justify the existence of arts and culture.

He says the ultimate goal should be the creation of a more civilized society. In that context, economic growth and technology are instruments toward the goal rather than being the goals.

That is to say, economic growth should be evaluated for its contribution toward civilized society alongside arts, culture, science and technology rather than positioning those things as subservient to economic growth.


(around the 38:00 mark if it doesn’t start there)


When “Go Play In The Street!” Is Meant To Encourage

Via CityLab is a NY Times story about how the Boyle Heights community in Los Angeles has recently hosted a “play street.” The program, which apparently started in London, shuts down a street to provide kids with a place to play.

A quick glance on the web shows that both NYC and Seattle have similar programs. I am sure there are more cities participating. They both have some good best practices guidelines.

NYC has put together a listing of organizations that will go to play street events in different parts of the city to provide a whole range of services from dance class, bike lessons, double-dutch workshops, healthy cooking demonstrations, music lessons, etc, etc.  Programs like this are a great opportunity for an arts and culture organizations to make themselves more accessible to the community–including talking with people to learn about how to become more accessible to them.

You may have read in the news that residents of Boyle Heights have been actively opposing galleries which opened in the neighborhood, seeing galleries as harbingers of gentrification which will eventually displace them. A few galleries have decided to close as a result.

The tension between both wanting and fearing improvements to the neighborhood is evident in the NY Times article.

“There’s a difference between making something beautiful to sell it and making it useful,” said Leonardo Vilchis, co-director of Union de Vecinos. “So the question is, can we make this place more livable for people living here now?”

With tensions about gentrification running high, the community’s decision to embrace the play street concept was not a casual one.


The residents chose Fickett Street with the intention of providing a safe space not just for children but for the community, said Chelina Odbert, KDI’s co-founder and executive director.

“What a play street is not is a replacement for permanent parks,” she said. “But it bridges the gap in a way that’s really needed.”

Even before I read the line about play streets not being a replacement for a park, I was hoping the city didn’t see closing off a street for play an acceptable substitute for a park. There is a lot of conversation about neighborhood which are food deserts, but there are probably a lot of social benefit deserts for things like play out there as well.

In the last couple years a small herd of boys has started ranging across the lawns of the neighborhood acting out various scenarios. I made it clear to their parents that I had no objection to picking up nerf darts when I mowed and having their “dead” bodies strewn across my lawn because it meant that they weren’t inside watching TV or playing video games. (In fact, as I write this, there are kids hiding behind my house.)

Provided there are sufficient traffic controls to make it safe, it would be a good sign if neighborhoods exercised their communal will to create an environment where kids can safely play in the streets without overt barriers.

The Books Are Due Back In Four Weeks. The Painting, Next Year

Back in February I wrote about how the Akron Art Museum and Akron-Summit County Public Library were teaming up to lend art to local residents. At the time, the only other similar program I was aware of was at Oberlin College. At the time, someone wrote and said their local libraries had been doing that for a long time as well.

Sure enough, a piece appeared on Hyperallergic about 10 days ago listing or linking to visual art lending programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver,  Braddock Carnegie Library,  Minneapolis Art Lending Library , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams College, Kenyon College, University of Minnesota, Harvard, University of Chicago, University of California, Berkley.

I am sure there are quite a few more.

Many of those listed have been lending art for decades. The University of Minnesota appears to be the oldest having started in 1934.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver initiated their program, which started with commissioning 25 pieces by 20 artists, with the intent of showing Denver residents the importance of artists by allowing them to take the works home.

Some of the older programs have started to investigate the impact and motivation for borrowing the art.

MIT’s Student Loan Art Collection has existed since 1969, and in a recent lending session, 975 people entered a lottery for 600 artworks. Demand also exceeded supply when the University of Chicago revived its lending library after a 30-year hiatus.


This year, both MIT and the University of Chicago created surveys that aimed to determine whether students who borrowed art also became patrons of cultural events and spaces. (The results aren’t in yet.) Of the MCA in Denver, Lerner said that some borrowers may have a previous interest in particular artists, but he expects others to start “following” the artists whose work they borrow. At the MCA’s library launch event, 21 out of 28 borrowers told me that they didn’t know any of the participating artists. Several lottery entrants said they were participating because they wanted to hang original art in their home for free.

When the University of Chicago set about reviving their program, they assembled “a student-staffed Collections and Acquisition committee” to help make the collection more inclusive and diverse.

I am going to try to keep my eyes open for any news about the results of MIT and University of Chicago’s study. The fact that demand exceeds supply at nearly every one of these programs and the institutions need to run lotteries indicates there is definitely an interest.

Whether this interest overcomes a perceptual/time/physical barriers to visiting a museum/gallery will be of interest to me. People may fully embrace the opportunity to enjoy an art work in their home, but still consider museums a place other people go.

The Road To Creative Enlightenment Is Paved With Cardboard

I have written before about the visual arts fair I started about two years ago to provide an opportunity for students and artists in the community to sell their work and get experiencing talking about it with people who don’t share their vocabulary.

Two weeks ago we had the fifth iteration of the event and we think it was easily the best one we have had thus far. We have experimented with the time and date a little bit. It appears that Spring is more popular than Fall in terms of artists having the time and material to participate.

We had so many applicants, that we decided to expand into a new area of the building. Previously, we had been concerns that if one or two people were placed into the overflow area that was slightly apart from the main area, they would feel slighted. Having reached a certain critical mass, we had the numbers to better populate that area. Additionally, a recent re-lamping project provided much better illumination.

A year ago we started placing art works in area businesses prior to the art fair event. We posting pictures daily on social media so people could find the artworks and at the very least generate good will for the business.  This year we saw an increase in participation by both artists and businesses. In one case, I ended up placing a work in a business on the other side of the county 45 minutes away.

Based on this alone, I would feel like we were making progress toward a goal of helping people recognize their capacity to be creative in line with the effort to build public will for arts and culture with which I am involved.

However…once again I partnered with my frequent collaborators, The Creative Cult who designed a “creative journey” visitors to the arts fair could embark upon. The journey took people along the fringes of the art fair and across three floors of the building in an attempt to find the guru who would provide the answer to creativity.

Here is a map of the odyssey

Participants were placed in the role of subjects of a tyrant who suppressed creativity. In order to escape, each party had to construct an item from a pile of supplies that would help them escape the walls of their prison. People made everything from drills to ray guns to bombs.

The next station was a field of strange flowers. When people touched the flower, they were overcome with the image of a monster. They had to draw the monster which was preventing them from being creative that day (which could be anything from lack of confidence to obligations) and a weapon with which they would slay the monster.

Next they ascended to a chasm guarded by a troll who asked riddles. The bridge was made of broken planks–but the only safe path was to step in the empty spaces rather than on the actual planks.

On the other side, they met “Steve” a guy playing video games and surrounded by half finished drawings. He never completes anything due to lack of confidence and commitment. There is always a last touch that needs to be added. There is a puzzle that needs to be solved to open the door at the top of the next level where they meet the guru face to face.

As to what the guru tells our intrepid questors, well that is for them to know.

Among the benefits I saw in this whole endeavor was that attendees were offered an alternative hands on creative activity in which they could participate at the visual art fair. If you were feeling uncertain about how to react to what you saw on display on the artists’ tables or how to interact with the creators, you could always run over and check out the crazy guys leading people around the building.

Days later when I had a little follow up conversation with one of the Creative Cult members, he remarked on how freeing the act of roleplaying was. A particularly shy member of their collaborative had fearless jumped in with both feet because he equated the whole activity as playing a Dungeons and Dragons character rather than himself leading a group of strangers.

As someone in the performing arts, this benefit of roleplay has long been apparent to me, but for people who identify themselves primary as visual artists, this was something of a revelation for them.

As they got excited about the prospect of adding roleplay to their toolbox, I started to consider how the resurgent popularity of games like Dungeons and Dragons might be employed to the benefit of arts and culture organizations.

The Creative Cult guys made a recap video of the experience that can be viewed on Facebook. I am having some problems getting it to embed successfully.


Discover the secret of creativity.Vern Riffe After Dark 5….VICTORIOUS FULL RECAP!!!!

Posted by Creative Cult Lives – cmar on Friday, April 20, 2018


There is a conspiracy to keep your creativity in a box Photo credit: Carla Bentley