For those involved in the many disciplines of the Arts, we all love the arts in its various forms; visual, theatrical, literary, dance and musical arts. We form a community that exists with a hope for mutual support. And why wouldn’t we, we all see the importance of the arts. We all know that the ability to perceive the arts as more than simply objects is innately human. There are neurological and philosophical studies that have proven this beyond a doubt, and even UNESCO has articulated that the Arts are an expression of cultural freedom, which is a universal human right, so we even have both science and politics on our side when we say “the Arts are essential to our humanness”.
Nonetheless, the importance of the Arts in Community is often understated. I’ve heard on a number of occasions the argument that “the Arts create community, and community develops because of the Arts”, and this argument does us a disservice. It places an unrealistic expectation on the Arts to magically create a community simply by existing. Society is not an accident of the Arts. If we were to put a mural up on the side of the Royal Bank depicting a Nazi internment camp, we are not going develop into a community of oppressors of human rights. As a friend of mine said in his article about what the Arts are, the success of a society of a bygone era is usually judged by the diversity of their Arts, but that is because every society is consciously created. They are planned, and the Arts are an integral part of that plan.
James Graves, in his book "Cultural Democracy", explains to us exactly what Community is. “Any group of individuals who share something, anything, in common, and consider themselves to have some allegiance to each other as a result, forms a community.” The Arts are a Community in High River, as you no doubt agree. What about High River on the whole? What does every person who lives in High River have in common, and consider ourselves to have some allegiance to each other as a result?
The flood is no longer an appropriate answer, although it is still our best answer. “We are a community of flood survivors”. But not everyone in High River is. As people move in, move out, have kids, grow up, die, visit and depart, what will be their lasting impression of High River? After a while, it won’t be the flood nor will it be our resilient recovery, and then what will our community be?
I said earlier that the Arts are part of a plan to building a community. That’s because the Arts in a societal view serves a public purpose, and is the only discipline/industry that consistently does so. The Arts build social capital, the “stuff” of culture. Allow me to explain with musicking, because that is my chosen artistic discipline.
At one point in time we had an elitist view of what music was. It was an object, an artifact of historical or musical import. It was something to be enjoyed upon its own merits. It was even used as a tempering tool for society; one person in Saskatchewan explained that the purpose of boys bugle bands a century ago was to cure the boys of “slovenliness of speech”. To a certain extent, some of those views purvey. But music as an object doesn’t build social capital.
How we music builds social capital. Music is in fact an action, be it the creation of that artifact, the listening to it, the dancing to it, or the understanding of some intended message. Even more, some people music by distributing it, selling tickets at the door, or designing posters for events. What that actually means is that music is a verb, not a noun. It is not an object, but an action. We don’t make music. We music.
You can say the same of art. We don’t make art. We paint. We sculpt. We display. We art. You can say the same of theatre and dance. We don’t produce plays. We act. We design. We show. We move. We theate. We dance.
In each of these artistic verbs, we commune. We interact with one another as artists, with audiences, with the larger community. We share. We message. We politic and we express. We don’t always do it the same as one another, and that is good because it allows for communication between differing thoughts. It is through this communion with one another that culture lives, breathes, develops and thrives. This growth occurs through the Arts, so an area that has consistent support for artistic diversity can build social capital and become not just a place where people live, but become a community.
Consider that economically speaking, diversity and competition is good for a community. Consider that a community is also strong with people of different talents contributing to it. A community with the capacity for accumulating financial capital and human resources will be strong both in economy and talent. So too it is for social capital. As Graves says, “a society with a low capacity for accumulating social capital, one that stresses zero-sum games offering some members advantages at the expense of others, will be unstable and probably dangerous. Dynamic, progressive societies develop mechanisms to enhance the web of social capital.”
Communities are planned. The Arts are an integral part of that plan. If we are to consciously create communities, it must be about developing those mechanisms to enhance the web of social capital in High River. It cannot be simply about planning events. It must be about creating or enhancing systems and mechanisms that increase our capacity for accumulating social capital. It’s going to take more than artists to do that; business leaders, politicians, educators and other community leaders need to be in the conversation. They need to engage the entire community in it. That’s what the Our High River Community Café is going to be about on February 10, 2016.
If you want to be a part of it, come join us at the Wise Owl Café for Our High River’s Arts in Community event. Drop in sometime between 5 and 8 PM. Let’s find the sum of our specialties and come up with not just ideas, but solutions that we didn’t have before we walked in.
Let’s consciously create community through, with, and in the Arts.