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Tuesday, February 28, 2017



Since word first leaked that Donald J. Trump wants to gut the National Endowments of the Arts and the Humanities, along with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, many commentators have focused on the economic impact of the arts on communities, cities and the nation as a whole. Statistics argue for the arts as a contributor to American prosperity. The arts give far more than what they take in government support. The arts, we repeatedly hear, drive economic development and employment on the local level and represent this nation before the world as one dedicated to innovation and excellence.

As a writer, and one devoted to the arts, I’m grateful for any persuasive advocacy. However, with so much energy invested in painting the arts’ material benefits--linking their worth to monetary usefulness and relative low maintenance--we tend to ignore the full extent of good that the arts provide any society. These benefits happen to be desperately needed right now as we face the ascendancy of Trump and his nationalist, white supremacist regime.

The Arts as Story

The arts seek ways--ever new and as ancient as humanity itself--to articulate and preserve the story of individual lives as well as diverse communities, cultures and nations. They remind us where we’ve come from, who we are, what we most value, what we have built, to what stars we aspire. For each of us and for all of us, they give abundant sustenance for the Hero’s Journey.

The Arts as Guide

The arts inform how we choose to live our lives, how we relate to our inner selves as well as to the world around us, how we engage with hard problems and join our many individual talents to solve them. They show us where we slipped up in the past so that we need not repeat these errors or, if we do, we can recognize them as such and choose differently next time. They stimulate our intuition and creative potential. They give us ideals to reach for, consolation when we fall short and energy to try again and again and again.

The Arts as Healer

The arts have consistently demonstrated outstanding power to heal--in body, mind, heart and soul--those who study and work through them as well as those who witness and receive them. In a nation with historic unhealed trauma, unacknowledged anger and deep, deep layers of denial, the arts offer ways to surface and express pain, to empathize and align others who suffer, to gather what each and all of us will need to cleanse our wounds and grow strong in the broken places.

The Arts as Change

The arts have the ability, if willed and well utilized, to speak truth to power. They are rousing instigators that can help us question and dismantle rather than accept injustice. Through their example, we see our situation more clearly as they capture reality in mirrors that may be playful and surprising, personally life-changing and revolutionary on a grander scale. They serve the creation of the world we desire.

The Arts as Joy

The arts bring joy by radically dispersing the hateful lies and shame thrown upon individuals and whole communities of people. They awaken a healthy sense of roots, of awe, of agency and the capacity for freedom and pleasure. They restore us to our true selves.

Of course, all of these sacred roles speak to the reason the arts have long been undervalued, even held suspect, in a society caught up in mass commercialism, escapism, fear of the Other and conservative fear of creativity itself. A minority of the US electorate has now empowered an insecure, vindictive man threatened and enraged not only by a free, newly revitalized press but by artists who dare criticize his policies and refuse to normalize his election and its aftermath.

There has never been a more crucial time for our people to affirm and activate the arts--and support artists engaged with the ancient and evergreen roles of Storyteller, Guide, Healer and Agent of Change and Joy. There’s more at stake than jobs and the tourist dollar. There’s a nation’s soul to be rescued.

(photo: D. Feller)

Eva Yaa Asantewaa

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