Why The Arts Matter

September 23, 2015

Ever wonder what National Endowment for the Arts staff actually think about the arts? While not everyone at the agency is an artist (though we do boast quite a few!), one thing's for sure--we all share a deep and abiding appreciation and understanding of how vitally important the arts are to the diverse people and communities that call the U.S. home. To paraphrase what more than one staffer said when we asked them to explain why they value the arts so highly, the arts matter because they help us to understand how we matter. Here's more...

“The arts matter because I learn something about people and places I would have never known otherwise. The arts make my brain and my heart stretch to make room for newness. Sometimes, parts of me are displaced and replaced by wiser stuff. And that’s a fine thing.” – Victoria Hutter

“Art matters because it illustrates the human experience—the wonder of it, the bewilderment of it, the whimsy of it, and so much more. We would not be connected so deeply without the existence of art.” – Kathleen Dinsmore

“The arts matter because they give us a mutual space where we can talk to one another about the 

most important things to us. It can turn strangers into old friends with lots in common.” – Maryrose Flanigan

“The arts matter because art is meant to move people either on an intellectual or emotional level. Whether this is a book that stays with you days later, or a performance that moves you spiritually or a song that makes you look at the world around you in a different way. The purpose of art is to cause a reaction and with this purpose it can create a synergy of change; change in attitudes, perceptions, and thoughts.” – Catherine Brookes

“The arts matter because without them our strong emotions, our vital voices, our move-to-the-groove energy and necessary empathy and life-affirming connectedness and tendency toward complexity might all wither from disuse, maybe even destroy us through misuse. The arts matter because with them, we matter.” – Amy Stolls

“There is a quote by Vladimir Nabokov that reads, ‘There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones that is intrinsically artistic.’ I’ve kept this quotation on my desk for days now after seeing it used as an epigram to a James Lasdun poem and I have to confess, I can’t paraphrase what it means (which I would say is a sign of great art). But the sentence is beautiful and the cloud of unknowing it puts me in reminds me of why I do love art. Often with art I feel I’m talking with someone who knows something I don’t, something I’d like to know. Art stretches me, challenges me, makes me think and feel. I’m a curious person and want to know. Art is the place where huge concepts like love and war are distilled for us to reckon or small things like a flower is held up to all. And akin but different to Nabokov’s thought, things become right sized with great art. Money, power, status are so easily and quickly overvalued  and things like relationships, beliefs, or even happiness, the stuff of art that makes life worth living is devalued in our world that is constantly pushing us apart toward isolation. Art gives us a reality check as to what’s really going on and what could go on if we cooperated. As a society the place where imagination and knowledge meet is where we want to start.” – Sidney Smith

“The arts matter because we matter, and our stories matter. We are moving miracles, walking creators engaging in a cosmic dance. The art we express is timeless.” –Mohammed Sheriff

“The arts matter because they help us see the world from different perspectives. They give us empathy and help us understand people, places, periods of history, and issues with which we may otherwise be unfamiliar. They comfort us in grief and energize us in celebration. They are important because they can act as a catalyst for change…they can start a revolution! The arts ignite something in our brains that I can’t explain, but I know it’s essential for life.” – Jennie Terman

“The arts matter because they allow an individual a platform to express their unique creativity to/with the world.” – Monica Waters
 
“The arts matter because they allow us to express ourselves and illustrate the world around us in a different light, helping us to gain understanding, build communities, and give hope.” – Kelli Rogowski

“The arts matter because they are like a gift from one soul to another – whether it’s a joyful, simple gift like a child’s drawing, or a play or novel that makes you think and hurt and wish and feel, the arts help us understand ourselves and each other.” – Carrie Holbo 

"The arts matter because they offer a unique space for self affirmation and reflection.” – Carlos Arrien 

“The arts matter because creativity is an infinite and enduring resource, one to draw upon in both the most joyous and the most challenging of moments. The arts strengthen community bonds, create new means of connection and understanding, and offer a continuous, powerful, and resilient source of individual and collective identity.” – Sarah Burford

“The arts matter because they are the record of our civilization and the arrow pointing forward to our future.” – Greg Reiner

“Art matters because people matter, and arts events are one of the best ways to gather individuals and build communities around a shared experience.” – Eleanor Billington

“The arts matter to me because they allowed me to elevate myself out of the sad place I was in during my childhood. I was able to read fluently at four and had my first letter-to-the-editor published at age eight. Seeing my name in print was all it took to get me onto the path of becoming a journalist. I had no encouragement from my mother but she did buy me a mechanical typewriter. At 17, and still in high school, I was one of the youngest reporters at BILD newspaper. It was the money I made with that side gig that got me out of the public housing complex we lived in shortly after my 18th birthday and into my first own apartment.” -Katja von Schuttenbach

“The arts matter because they have the power to change lives. They have the power to heal our minds and our bodies through arts-in-healthcare programs, creative aging programs, and the creative arts therapies. They have the power to help incarcerated individuals grapple with complex emotions and lead more productive lives upon release. The have the power to shape identity beyond the labels people are given. They allow a person with a developmental disability to say, 'I’m an artist,' a prison inmate to say, 'I’m a writer,' and a person in a long-term care facility to say, 'I’m a poet.' The arts are transformative.” – Beth Bienvenu

“The arts matter because they allow you to experience different ways of seeing and thinking about life.” – Don Ball

“The arts matter because life is dull without perspective. All art, good and bad, made by an individual or a team, brings the perspective of an artist to others. It is so important to have art, to teach art, and to allow ourselves and our children to live with a national tradition of art, because the arts give us the tools and means for communicating about the way we see the world. Without the arts, we are confined to one world and one worldview; with the arts, we have the treasure of a million worlds and a million ways to see them.” – Daniel Fishman

“The arts matter because they are the one thing on this planet with the power to change a person's perspective, mood, assumptions, beliefs, and ideas; they can transform a place, represent a community, take you back in time, or move your forward into the future; help a person understand from where they came and where they are headed and grapple with the beauty and uncertainty of all that occurs in between–nothing else in the world has that kind of power and responsibility.” – Meg Brennan

“When my children are feeling sad or mad or confused, a song will lift their spirits. Whether we sing or they pick up an instrument and play, all is well again.” – Allison Hill

“The arts matter because it is our most expressive form of sharing.” – vEnessa Y Acham

“Art is, the works of our hands and feet, the thoughts and innovations coming from our mind, and the inspiration coming from our spirit and our soul. It is how we survive.” – Deborah Washington

“To me, the arts matter because they illuminate signals in the noise to help us navigate through life conscientiously, with a deeper understanding of ourselves in broader contexts.  Art matters because it teaches us why we matter.” – Bill O’Brien

“The arts matter because they encourage civility in the world. Living in London in my middle 20s, I spent a huge amount of time in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. In that crowded city, where people studiously avoid making eye contact on the streets, there was a notably more relaxed and friendly spirit in the park. The combination of open space and room to breathe, the flowers and green lawns and old, old trees, the choice of paths from Point A to Point B–experiencing these things together allowed people to let down their guard just a little bit, and occasionally nod and smile. Landscape design made that subtle shift in civility possible, and I will always remember it.” – Courtney Spearman

“The arts matter because they help you see what’s in between – they help you think twice. Notes, chords, images, and words float within you and have the power of surfacing at any moment, to soothe, distract, entertain, or give comic relief. That’s a lovely thing and yes, it matters.” – Wendy Clark

“The arts matter because they allow people to uniquely express themselves… without fear of giving a wrong answer.” – Lauren Tuzzolino

“The arts matter because they extend our lives. I'm not talking about years added–though certain artists, through their creations, can claim a type of immortality. Rather, the arts allow us fully to inhabit other personalities, perspectives, and states of perception. The arts thus elongate human experience. And while it can't be displayed on a standard chronology, who's to say this qualitative increase in life doesn't translate to a quantitative one?” – Sunil Iyengar

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- See more at: http://arts.gov/art-works/2015/why-arts-matter#sthash.ZXPHY1bx.dpuf