“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” A quote from Albert Einstein may seem counterproductive when talking about the arts, but the man was a champion for creativity. As arts funding continues to drop at local, college and national levels, we are reminded why we need to be champions too.
It was a cloudy day around 2 p.m. on May 3, when Quinnipiac University’s quad started bustling with students. Early afternoon classes were over. The brick sidewalks were usually neat and clean, but today they were smudged with bits of colored chalk, imprints of shoes in no particular pattern.
Approaching the library steps, these smudges got more frequent, and became leftovers from a very creative and empowering “flash mob.” The words read “Love The Arts” and “Make Art Not War.” An hour or so before, students surrounded the spot singing, dancing and acting out plays– a spontaneous and peaceful protest in response to recent national budget cut claims that would eliminate arts funding. The chalk could easily fade, but the message was here to stay.
The Trump presidency has been a threat to many issues in America. Women’s rights, immigrant rights, and science have all taken a hit from executive orders and bills passing through Congress. So when the administration announced cuts that essentially eliminate funds for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, it came with no surprise, but much sadness and anger. The future is blurry, as new creatives will lose their resources, education and even some hope.
Kevin Daly, a professional playwright and director of the theater program at Quinnipiac, was one of many professors present that afternoon at the protest. As a playwright, he strives to write a full-length play every year; some comedies, others dramas, and 16 in total since he started writing in 2003. His plays tell stories of good people who have to make tough decisions, much like Sarah Ruhl or August Wilson.
As a professor, he encourages his students that pursuing a career in the arts can be a passionate and practical pursuit. “Creativity is a distinguishing aspect of being human,” Daly said. “There are plenty of us who recognize the need to incorporate creativity into our everyday lives, and certainly the arts provide one of the best outlets for creativity.”
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, in 2016 there were almost two million full-time artists and five million art-related jobs in the United States. The Pew Research Center said that these jobs added $742 billion into the national economy, rising from $698 billion in 2012. They produced about 4 percent of our products, the largest contributors being broadcasting, film, and publishing. The opportunity is seemingly there, and growing. However, it takes an education.
“You could move into the city and pursue a career without a college education,” Daly said. Think about our favorite actresses and actors: Emma Stone, Amy Adams, Ryan Gosling and Robert Downey Jr. all didn’t attend college and made it big-time in Hollywood. Award-winning Oscar film La La Land told the story of an aspiring actress and jazz musician who moved to Los Angeles to follow their dream. The narrative is feasible, but like a star in the NBA or NFL, not everybody can do it.
“In order to pursue a career in the arts you need to mature as a person and an artist,” Daly continued. “A true liberal education can offer the stimuli to mature a person – it teaches empathy, critical thinking, and logic.”
Tenneh Sillah (left), a theater student at Quinnipiac, argues that at a liberal arts school not all take the arts seriously. “At an art school people understand the power of the arts and understand the hard work that comes with it,” she said.
Compared to BFA programs at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City, or Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Sillah’s BA program only allows her to dedicate about a third of her education to theater. However, she has written plays that have had Broadway premieres and been a part of two improvisational groups during her time at the university. Being a part of the theater program has been life changing.
“The arts is a spiritual experience for me,” Sillah said. “The thing about art, that many don’t understand, is that great art comes from the authentic self.” She learned to love herself, found confidence and began to view the world in a different way – an opportunity that should be available to all.
As of 2016, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded $5.8 million through 194 grants to support lifelong arts education, especially from pre-K to 12th grade. About half of this money went to arts education in high-poverty neighborhoods. For those kids, the arts can be an opportunity to find a passion.
In response to cuts in arts funding, Sillah was furious. “Why do people continue to put art in the backseat as if art isn’t the one thing that helps them exist in this world?” She wasn’t alone.
Kelsey Hassett (center), a marketing student at Quinnipiac is part of the acapella group on campus and taken various singing courses, and recently improv with Daly. She likes the amount of opportunities Quinnipiac offers her to get involved in arts programs, even without prior experience; but is “inexplicably angry” that this could be different for future talent looking to break into the industry.
“If we cut the funding, we cut ourselves off from becoming unique individuals who bring incredible ideas to the forefront of our community,” Hassett said. The arts have given us our celebrities and culture. Hassett named Andy Warhol, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg and Michael Jackson; all figures who have shaped music, painting and film, as we know it.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the arts, entertainment and recreation industries would grow just under one percent from 2004 to 2024, the national average being around the same amount. In 2014, just over two million of the 151 million Americans in the work force were a part of these industries. This percentage will grow as two and a quarter million jobs out of the 160 million in the workforce will be available for these industries in 2024. Planting seeds for success early is crucial.
During a weekend in New York City for the New Play Festival, Hassett and a group of students went to the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, originally founded by comedian and actress, Amy Poehler. Hassett was called on stage to perform a few songs.
“There is nothing like the thrill of producing or creating your own work and being so immensely proud of it once you show it to the world.” This feeling bonds individuals in the industry. They understand the sheer joy of being inspired and making something, and continue to support one another. The support keeps the arts alive and hopeful.
“Despite public funding for arts programs across the country being cut, I am optimistic that arts-minded, passionate people will come together to make the future of the arts bright,” Hassett said.
Daly agrees. He recalls the history of the Middle Ages, when there was no theater. Life wasn’t vibrant or enlightening until Classical Greek and Roman culture came about and the tradition began. “I think the arts make life worth living,” Daly said. “When you remove education and funding, you risk entering back into that type of [Middle Ages] society.”
For a society who strives for progress, it is hard to believe moving backward is possible. Our progress came with a sense of art. Innovation needed imagination; science needed a vision; our culture continues to need creativity. It is coincidental that our history is filled with protest art, but now we need to protest the continuation of art.
“We just need to find people who push our vision forward and inspire us as they push their own vision forward,” Sillah said. “We just need to continue to create.”
A lack of funding will not finish the arts; it will abandon it. So we must be our own champions, and create on.
Love always, Marisa