Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Importance of the Arts – Is Art Just for the Privileged?

After enjoying a lovely piece of theater presented by the East West Players in Little Tokyo this past Wednesday evening, my wonderful friend, social media/communications/marketing/PR genius guru, Justin and I popped into a random mini 7-11 type market with sodas and chips on one side, condoms and sex gag gifts on the other and Boba behind the counter. We ordered some Boba and sat down to chat because ONE, we literally only had 20 minutes to scarf down our din din before the show and TWO, because we hadn't seen each other in what felt like ages and THREE, because the wonderful production of "3 Year Swim Club" sparked and inspired a fiery in depth conversation about society, different cultures, the arts and social status's. The kinds of convos that leave your head spinning and questioning long after they are over, hence the writing of this blog post at 2AM Thursday morning. (I was still so wired off the Boba frappchino I drank. Caffeine extremely affects me, transforming me into more of a hyper beast than I already am. I thought because it was Boba it wouldn’t be as strong – WRONG!)

The conversation cycled beautifully through various waves and tangents relating to art and society. It’s conversation like this that I truly value when I experience them with mature people. Where both individuals are truly listening and absorbing what the other one is saying with no judgments and responding like intelligent adults rather than defensive children.

We got to talking about the arts and how society usually views "artists" such as painters, writers, actors, poets, singers etc as poor, lazy, frou frou, silly vagrants who fool around and don’t do serious work. On the other end of the spectrum, lawyers and doctors are put on this high prestigious pedestal for everyone to admire, respect and never question or challenge. I’m by no means stereotyping the entire field of medicine or law. I’ve met many great doctors and lawyers (those official and those still pursuing degrees), but from my personal experience with both professions, holding a prestigious title or position does not automatically mean you work very hard, are very smart or actually competent at what you do. Yet we pay thousands and thousands of dollars to these individuals who we hold in such high esteem to save our lives physically and emotionally from death, jail or a ruined reputation because these things are important to us. But does that mean that these individuals are smarter because of their years of schooling or because they hold these positions? Sadly, this is not always the case. We assume that just because they are doctors and lawyers they must be smart, hard working and dedicated, but artists – they are and always will be a bunch of bohemians. (And though I’m using the profession of doctors and lawyers as the main example, this applies to most professions that are considered “real” jobs by society.)

Justin then made a controversial but good point how some people equate artists, specifically actors and singers, to being on the same level as prostitutes because all they have to offer or “sell” is their body. They are technically “selling” themselves as a product.  I responded by saying, "They have more than just their body, but their words, their voices, their presence and essence and vulnerability. They have the courage to get up on stage and share their humanity with an audience in order to tell and share a story. In order that an audience member might possibly be moved to experience catharsis." I have several friends, former theater majors, that discovered midway through college that though they loved theater, they were more passionate about something else. Yet they said they never regretted majoring in theater because it taught them to be human. I don’t know about you, but from experiencing first hand the difficulty of presenting good theater from my training as an actor, director, producer and writer, anyone who has the courage put themselves out there and share their humanity with me just in order that I might experience some catharsis, forget about my current state of being for a while or force me to re-examine my life or an issue in the world deserves as much recognition and monetary compensation as most doctors and lawyers receive.

We’ll (us as individuals and society, our government) pay GOOD money to save our physical lives or to preserve our rights but spend little to no money investing in the future of our children and their development or to expand our mental, creative or spiritual health by investing in the arts?

I work at a daycare where I literally get paid a pittance as a substitute teacher and this is a well established reputable daycare. Despite the fact that the teachers are paid better than most teachers at your average daycare, it is not even close to what they deserved to be paid because they are only helping to care for and shape the future generation of the world. They are helping inspire, nurture and guide the next generations of lawyers, doctors and heaven forbid – artists! This lack of low wages and investment in the arts and our children’s future does not come from the parents. I’m sure every parent and every person in the world would rather see their hard earned money go to funding more schools, better schools than war or other countless things our tax payers money is spent on. Then where does this disconnect between what we want as a society and what we are getting come from?

Arts programs are one of the FIRST things that are cut in schools because it is considered frivolous and expendable. They would never think to cut math or science or (gasp), sports programs because those are "real", important subjects. This is a tragedy. To think that the next generation of children might be raised in a environment where they are never exposed to the arts because it wasn’t "important" enough to allocate money for arts programs in their budget is introducing an entire generation of children to the world who will be less likely to dream, to create, to brainstorm and wander and explore until their hearts and imaginations have found just what it is they are looking for and what it is they want in their lives. Whether its be to be an artist or just to use art as a means of private self expression while they pursue a career in another field.

I read a little bit of this book from the Creative Resource Center while I was at Disney Consumer Products called “The Creative Brain” and it talked about how all human beings are creative and use creativity in their daily lives for problem solving, multi – tasking, etc. Basic human functions made easier and more fun by using their creativity. No longer can people use the argument that the arts programs will only benefit people who are "artists" or who want to be "artists". How can anyone know what he or she wants to become if they have never had the privilege to be exposed to it?

Then it comes down to it why is the majority of art (theatrical productions, art galleries/shows, music concerts, etc) in America for the elite? Why is art usually so expensive and why aren’t there more programs helping to make it available for all? This is an issue in our society and many parts of the world. It creates an unfair class system in more ways than one. I want to walk into the theater where I am not the only young person, or one more white person to add to the 90 % already there and not just there because I studied theater and the arts. I want to walk into a theater with the diversity of a London audience - diverse in age, socio economic status, race, gender etc. Where theater is so much a part of their culture it is just as cheap to buy a cup of coffee, as it is to see good show. I want to walk into a school and see children’s imagination being sparked through theater, painting, writing or spoken word. Where you can see in their eyes that they may have discovered their life’s passion because someone thought they were privileged enough to share it with them.

Justin then asked me, "Whose problem is it?" And I responded, "Everyones." People in this world usually tend to think that because it is a problem that is not directly (or at least they think is not directly) affecting their lives then it is not their problem. This is the tragedy I feel and one of the reasons there are still so many problems in the world. Still so much hunger, poverty and little to no education in certain areas of the world but it’s "not their problem." Problems that the world, our governments, and particular individuals collectively have the money to help remedy but instead they turn the other cheek.

I truly believe that one of main purposes of why I was put on this earth was to help, nurture and inspire others. Whether it be to inspire and help them find their voices as artist’s or as people in general. To nurture, mentor and guide friends, family members and random strangers to grow and become the most prosperous people that they can become. No matter how poor or little one has, you always have enough to give, to aid and to help out your fellow man even if in the smallest way. Whether it be your time volunteering at the organization, giving a homeless person a little spare money or your leftovers on the street because you do have change (even if they do not really look like they need it), to be there for a friend in need or to donate a million dollars to a non profit. It is our problem. Everyone everywhere should have the opportunity to be exposed to the arts from a young age and throughout their life no matter their social economic status.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said "I have a dream" and it sparked so much change and passion in the world and it will forever continue to do so until there is no more world left to affect. One line that encourages people to know that the sky is the limit when it comes to your life.To the basic rights that you deserve as humans on this earth. To the dreams you wish to accomplish. To the world you want – you dream to see.

I want to see a world where this class system with the arts is everyone’s problem. I want to see a world where every world problem is everyone’s problem. And the sooner everyone sees that it’s their problem and not someone elses the sooner we can start to change it collectively as a human race.

PREACH! I’m sure some of you are thinking. HA! I’m stepping off my soapbox and back onto the street with everyone else but I never stop believing this to be true and something that I will continue to fight to be remedied throughout the rest of my life.

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