The collection of revealing essays asks the question: are the arts essential? | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh

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Alberta Arthurs Photo: Flash Rosenberg

Crystal Truscott, Alberta Arthurs and Jeffrey Brown

In a test for Are the arts indispensable? (NYU Press) Ford Foundation President Darren Walker writes that the impact of art cannot be quantified because “you cannot measure the impact of empathy or love “.

Walker, who helped bolster the fortunes of Detroit’s arts community during that city’s economic crisis in the mid-2000s, argues that the arts are not only essential, “they are an example for all of our work”.

Alberta Arthurs, co-editor of Are the arts indispensable? with Michael F. DiNiscia, agrees that the arts often transcend mere entertainment.

“We miss the fact that the arts are concerned, in a very intimate and so important way, with the great issues of our time and the greatest aspirations that we have as a people,” says Arthurs. “We tend to put [the arts] aside or use them to appease us rather than to see common sense and the political positions and actions that the arts intend to inspire.

Arthurs will appear Thursday, May 12 in a conversation with Jeffrey Brown, PBS NewsHour’s chief arts, culture and society correspondent, and Cristal Truscott, playwright, director and founder of Progress Theater, as a guest of the Made Local series from Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures. .

The 25 trials of Are the arts indispensable? were organized by Arthurs, a senior fellow at New York University’s John Brademas Center, who served as president of the former Chatham College from 1977 to 1982. She solicited poets like Edwin Hirsch, artists like Mary Miss, artistic director Oskar Eustis, composer Tania Leon and choreographer and performer Elizabeth Streb for essays on what makes art essential.

“It was amazing to me that so few people turned me down,” Arthurs said. “I was hesitant to ask because they’re all busy people, but they responded immediately.”

The collected work of respondents appears as a model for why the arts are important. There are passionate pleas for the arts, measured analyzes and evidence-based dissertations that attempt to prove the intrinsic value of art.

In Eustis’s essay, he talks about a theater troupe that toured rural Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota with a production of Lynn Nottage’s play, Sweat . In their essay “Leading Institutional Change: New Thinking about Mission, Values, and Purpose,” American League of Orchestras CEO Jesse Rosen and Metropolitan Museum of Art CEO Daniel Weiss talk about the Louisiana Philharmonic, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, forced to play in small, intimate venues.

In either case, the ability to move art from a familiar to a new setting has proven to be providential for artists and audiences alike.

Arthurs believes that artists should not only make their work available, but offer explanations of why they create art.

“They have the idea that the work will speak for itself, if they do it and hang it up or mount it or put it in front of us in some other way, you’ll know why it’s there,” he says. she. “They very rarely do what they do in this book, which is why they do what they do.”

Arthurs adds that when artists are asked to talk about it, they do a “really good job”.

“I think the only time you read articles about the arts in our newspapers is when critics write about them,” she says. “We tell you if you have to see something or not, if the performance last night was good or could have been better. It’s not about how these things reflect the lives we lead and have aspirations for us. It’s just a matter of performance quality.

There are many telling nuggets throughout the book. Most people don’t know or have forgotten that Bell Laboratories in New Jersey and Xerox Parc Lab in California once employed artists-in-residence to add creativity to their science teams. Or that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office hired James Hough, who served 27 years for a murder he committed as a teenager, to serve as artist-in-residence.

Other artists share personal reflections. Photographer Deborah Willis cataloged her period of isolation during the pandemic through photos and mentioned the value of Emmett Till’s photographs and video footage of George Floyd. Angela Cox writes about the art of Indigenous peoples in “It’s Who We Are,” and composer Tania Leon tells the story of her journey from Cuba to the United States.

“I think a lot of the essays resonate with that kind of thinking about freeing art in the larger world,” Arthurs says. “Art can be a vehicle for that. I think this manifests itself in several ways.


Are the arts indispensable? 6 p.m. Thursday May 12. Carnegie Library Conference Room. 4400 Forbes Avenue, Oakland. Live streaming also available. Free with registration. pittsburghlectures.org

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