A recent article in Huffington Post quotes Wayne Brady, star of Chicago’s production of the musical Hamilton, saying “fight for the arts,” referencing reports that the Trump Administration might completely defund the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. But this got me thinking – why should Trump support the arts?
We often blindly accept art as being good for us, similar to eating vegetables and exercising. But the benefits of eating kale and running have the backing of immense scientific research. With all this access to information, we (*ahem* the federal government) can choose to spend time and money on things that are most soundly proven to be good. Art's benefits are difficult to measure, but maybe it's just as essential to human prosperity.
I have a thought.
A few months ago, I visited the Newseum in D.C., which I discovered has the largest display of unaltered parts of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. I had seen the wall before in photos, but nothing in detail. Upon descending the escalator to the lowest level and entering the exhibit, I was greeted by a radiant display of graffiti. I thought, How beautiful! People in Cold War-era Berlin were so passionate. I took a bunch of photos. And then I walked around to the back. This is the side-by-side view of the two:
My hair stood on end. My heart sank. I felt bleak, hopeless, and uncomfortable. And then my brain processed what I was experiencing. People in West Berlin were free. People in East Berlin were not. The museum could’ve put this up against a wall and only showed the colorful side (in reality, the blank side faced a dead zone between the two areas), but I understood the contrast the display was emphasizing. For that brief moment, I stepped into the East Berliners' shoes. I’d heard that those people were oppressed, but until I stood on both sides of the wall, I didn’t really get it. Now my heart hurts for people I’ll never meet, and while this display wasn’t created as art, it has taken on artistic quality – an abstract taste of human experience.
Empathy is key to tolerance and understanding. Art is not a commodity. It is a vital resource in facilitating this understanding, for sharing the stories of triumphs and struggles amongst communities of different demographics and political tendencies through the universal language of human emotion. Peace, prosperity, unity, productivity, responsibility, safety…are these what we want? Then we must be seeking ways to inspire people to empathize with each other.
President Trump – America will not prosper by keeping people out or denying them rights or building a wall. But you can provide people opportunities to see the humanity in one another, and that is something we can unite around.
This is the role art was born to play. So please don't kill it.
Dear everybody: share your stories about how art has opened your mind to be more accepting, understanding, cooperative–any way that it has made you a better human. Also, please sign the petitions to defend the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities at the links listed below: