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Craven: Politics And The Arts

11/01/10 5:55PM By Jay Craven
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Portrait by Todd R. Lockwood
(HOST)  As the current political season comes to a close, filmmaker and Marlboro College teacher Jay Craven finds himself wondering why the arts rarely make it into campaign platforms.

(CRAVEN) I'm always surprised how candidates hardly ever mention the arts - despite the role they play in boosting education, tourism, economic development, property values, community-building, the visual landscape, professional recruitment, and quality of life.

Politicians all speak of jobs - arts employment requires few capital expenditures and it quickly cycles funds into the hands of our food and travel industries, newspapers, schools, electronic media, printers, designers, stage hands, office suppliers, downtown businesses - and artists.

Candidates say they want to retain more of our smart and talented young people - but they don't seem to understand the importance of dynamic cultural offerings that enhance young peoples' experience, fuel imaginations, provide engaging jobs, make the state a good place to raise kids, and ensure stimulating after-hours activity.

142 Northeast Kingdom students recently saw the Lyndonville dance performance by Momix - and a dozen more watched while earning good wages working back stage. "An amazing experience," said one. "Completely epic," said another. " In the row behind me, a teen-aged boy turned to his mother and exclaimed, "Today is the best day of my life."

The Boston Globe recently reported how our younger generation "Wi Fi," may be wired to each others' daily movements - but some are showing lower levels of empathy towards people.  For 100 Northeast Kingdom kids riveted to the Weston Playhouse's production of "Death of a Salesman" there was no empathy deficit, as they pondered the tragic story of Willy Loman's furtive quest for the American dream. "You would have loved to listen in on the chatter on the bus home," wrote a teacher, remarking how the characters' struggles deeply affected the kids.

So, what might a politician propose for the arts?  

How about the creation of a cabinet-level position to foster creative partnerships linking the arts to their natural allies in agriculture, tourism, education, public media, social service, public health, and community development?
Even a modest effort could increase cultural exchange with Quebec and the rest of New England.  It could generate new tax revenues through heightened cultural tourism.  Why can't Vermont cultivate what western Massachusetts enjoys, promoting its annual riches at Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow, and the Williamstown and Berkshire theater festivals?

Vermont supports a successful three-week Governor's Institute for the Arts. Why not establish a world-class high school for the arts, where kids can excel in music, theater, dance, filmmaking, visual art, writing, and circus arts?  A school could help unite existing stellar programs, incubate and share innovative curricula, arrange apprenticeships, and put student actors and dancers on the road to other schools and communities.

How about new ideas like an arts donation box on our tax returns to boost Vermont's embarrassingly low funding? The Vermont Arts Council may lose $300,000 from its modest National Endowment for the Arts grant because of our legislature's failure to match it. 

Vermont boasts a substantial arts industry that provides a decent living for more than 10,000 people.  There are many opportunities to amplify its impact.  Political candidates would do well to take notice.
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