“There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo da Vinci. The age of Elizabeth also the age of Shakespeare. And the New Frontier for which I campaign in public life, can also be a New Frontier for American art.”
— John F. Kennedy, in response to a letter sent by Miss Theodate Johnson, Publisher of Musical America, to the two presidential candidates requesting their views on music in relation to the Federal Government and domestic world affairs. (9/13/1960)
In 1960, John F. Kennedy was running for office on a platform of renewal. Amid Cold War tensions, a patriotic race to outer space, the dramatic increase of access to information thanks to the ubiquity of television, and a national, roiling conversation around civil rights, the young politician promised innovation, energy, and freedom. Not unlike this modern moment in time, intensive conversation around the role of different elements of society in relation to one another dominated the scene.
Progress in the arts runs in parallel with the health of public life.
I’ve been reflecting on this quote and I think that it’s possible JFK didn’t go far enough in his statement. I think it might be that there’s a virtuous circle, wherein progress in the arts and the health of the artistic community actually enables — and in times of great crisis creates — social progress. That when artists are embraced and the public has broad access to the arts, there are steps taken towards more equality and peace in public life.
Look at the evidence.
The arts have been a driver of social change throughout history. A television show featured a bi-racial couple when it was still technically illegal in many places and unofficially unacceptable in most others. An opera forces us to look at the realities and nuance of racism and police brutality through the perspective of the family of a victim — whose father is a cop. A nearly 200 year old symphony is still used as a rallying cry for revolutions. The more connected we are through technology, the more examples there are of art leading public sentiment and social progress.
It’s not possible to talk about progress without acknowledging the disparity in the arts itself.
Diversity at the upper echelons of the field is abysmal and only 25% of composers are minorities and women. The existing infrastructure — like most systems in the world — reinforce the status quo. One of the goals of Sparrow Live is to put the power to perform back into the hands of artists, removing the traditional “middle man” from the equation. In service to the field, in support of artists of all backgrounds and levels, let’s continue to find new ways to lead from the bottom up, subverting and circumventing existing power structures and traditional means of selecting talent. Let’s democratize the arts — and create a better, more vibrant and equitable community both for ourselves and future generations.
Democratize the arts. Let this be our moment.
This post can also be found on Medium