It’s exciting and scary to be present at a birth. I’m not thinking of the literal kind except as an unimpeachable source of metaphor for the birth of an idea: as with a living being, we look for wholeness and soundness, the fulfillment of hopes in a generous measure of new possibility.
For some time, I have been working with colleagues on a new idea, Cultural Recovery, a project to build and sustain a coalition of artists, cultural organizations and their allies in other realms of social action, education and organizing. They would join to promote the democratic interest in culture, including democratic cultural policies and substantial public investment in community development, education and community service through the arts. Its centerpiece would be culturalrecovery.net, an online center for information and organizing. While it would be home to a full range of initiatives to bring attention and resources to culture’s mobilizing power, its first targeted initiative would be a campaign to create a substantial, sustained public-sector investment in community service programs employing artists and cultural organizations as part of national recovery, WPA2.
We have just released a discussion paper that lays out the need, the idea and how it would unfold if indeed its birth is viable. We are asking people to read and consider the paper, and if they feel so moved, to lend their voices as endorsers of the idea, taking part in its implementation. Click here and follow the link to download the discussion paper. And let me know what you think!
As I have been pondering the need for cultural recovery, I’ve had that slightly unnerving experience of seeing it everywhere, but not knowing if others do too—”The Emperor’s New Clothes” in reverse. Just reading the paper becomes a little uncanny. Yesterday’s New York Times included two page-16 stories: one about college students unlocking the mysteries of their own families by collecting oral histories of their parents’ immigration, learning through stories what they’d never before understood; and another about unemployed workers using their time to make art.
I opened my email, and my friend had sent me a quote from Scientific American about “integrative science,” the scientific necessity of stories:
Data and theory are not enough. As primates, humans seek patterns and establish concepts to understand the world around us, and then we describe it. We are storytellers. If you cannot tell a good story about your data and theory—that is, if you cannot explain your observations, what view they are for or against and what service your efforts provide—then your science is incomplete.
And that’s just one tiny corner of one person’s day in the life of the culture. What music are you listening to right now to attune your spirit to the demands of the day? What story did you remember or invent to refresh your spirit as you walk to lunch or wash your clothes? What are you writing, painting, dancing, singing, recording? We have the capacity to create our world through naming, and from that seed has sprung everything human beings have made from the beginning of time. In our role as makers of culture, we make the world.
The moment may be near when policymakers in Washington gain this understanding too, recognizing that culture is integral to recovery, and that putting artists to work in recovery is a necessity, not a frill. This newborn idea, Cultural Recovery, could help a lot. Read it please, and tell me: What do you think?