What role do arts and artists play in the current world?

In light of current events, I’ve been driven to think about the mission statements and core values of many arts organizations that I know. Expectedly, many, including line upon line’s, involve some altruistic words dealing with the nurturing and betterment of human society. However, I was particularly struck by how many more make mention of forging human bonds or making a deep connection with audiences. To me, this is a heavy rule to claim we adhere to. But, based on how often it is claimed, I’m convinced that it is a (fairly) general belief. I can’t help but think about how a lot of us are saying these things, knowing full well the majority of our audiences will consist of those who already know what they’re getting— more or less, like-minded individuals. Though deep connections are certainly being made, if we’re truly concerned with the way our world regards the arts, I can’t ignore that more could be done.

As artists, we’ve tended to do a great job of building our close-knit communities and support systems with those who share our interest and passions. It is essential for our existence. While looking for growth, however, we’re always thinking of ways to make connections with those who don’t necessarily share our passions and beliefs. I feel that this is where a great conversation can be had. I look around at the current climate of negative news, heated arguments, and frequent character-bashing, and I feel there have to be other ways for getting our points across. This is where I started thinking about what I do as an artist, and how I could see art serving as a positive influence on the community. 

To be clear, I am aware that there are a large number of artists that loudly advocate for social awareness or change, challenge the status quo, and powerfully promote the coming together of minds and beliefs in their work. They are often amazing, but I believe that these people/organizations are more of the exceptions in our field and that a large number of us are what I consider to be more even-keeled and “working class.” This thought has actually caused me a lot of personal turmoil recently. Can I— someone who has always done “arts-for-arts-sake” type work— actually have a meaningful voice in society in a similar way to that of the aforementioned type of artist. The answer I have been able to synthesize is undoubtedly, “yes,” even if for no other reason than that it has to be.

In figuring out how to really reach those we haven’t yet— how to constructively show people our side of an issue— how to convince the government not to cut funding that aids all artists and their supporters, I find that the answer is not complex. We absolutely have to go do what we love doing for as many people as we can. Forging the kind of connections that we claim to strive for will not fully happen if we’re confined to the concert halls, art museums, and classrooms. Though this is where many of us formed our most crucial bonds as we start our careers, we have to strive to get out. Professionals, students, teachers, enthusiasts or any other arts contributor should seek the places where our line of work doesn’t frequent.

Then, in the conversations that arise, explain to people how you relate to your work and why you believe in it enough to give it your life, instead of dismissing the mundane questions some ask as proof that they “don’t get it” and aren’t on your level. Most arts organizations already have some kind of outreach program meant to perform this very act, and I’ll be the first to admit it hasn't been my favorite part of being in line upon line. But, it has dawned on me that this is an extremely important avenue for us to do our most convincing work and demonstrate the words we proclaim in our mission statement.

This is certainly not to say that our current circles of supporters, fans, friends, and colleagues are in any way less important. Chances are if you’re reading this, you fall into this category, and for line upon line, you have played a huge role in getting us to the point we are now. No doubt, you’ll be instrumental in where we go in the future. It’s because of this that I feel we can all take part in activating the arts as a constructive force for good in the world. Regardless of what type of role we see ourselves in, whether we’re enthusiasts, supporters, or the actual artists, we should all feel able to spread the word about the art we love as a vehicle for bringing people and ideas together.

In closing, I don’t want to give off the misconception that I am somehow unbiased or above all the negativity we’re constantly seeing these days. I take sides and struggle everyday to understand those with contrasting views. I am alarmed that people with influence and power are making serious threats to my line of work, not to mention the countless other threats currently being made on things far more important than me. However, I don’t see myself personally gaining much from the constant one-upmanship-style of argument that I often see, when I know people on the other side clearly feel just as strongly about their reasoning. Instead, I try to see my own detriment for not understanding the views opposite of mine. My tendency is not to berate with contrary reasoning, but to share the things that make me feel certain ways. Because, as artists, sharing is at the core of what we do.

Cullen Faulk