Vail Valley Art Guild: Why art needs to be accessible to everyone
Advocating for the arts isn’t a new thing; however, it seems that the arts are relatively low in the pecking order of importance these days.
Each year, more money goes to other areas, such as health, housing, energy and defense. While these areas are indeed important and worthy of tax dollars, they often are issues that receive support reactively to address issues that are already in a desperate state.
But what if there was an issue that could be addressed with the kind of support that would have a proactive, positive effect on multiple facets of society? If we look at any city or town in the world, it is likely that the areas of concentrated wealth will have more access to culture and, in contrast, areas of lower income will have fewer cultural opportunities.
Our mountain community is no different. Studies, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project, have shown that these areas of wealth tend to have higher levels of education, deal with less crime and have better overall health. Underserved areas have the opposite results.
This study took into account the number of nonprofits, for-profit cultural agencies, arts venues, resident artists, cultural participants and cultural assets in the boroughs of New York City. The findings were clear: There is a “14% decrease in cases of child abuse and neglect, an 18% decrease in the serious crime rate and an 18% increase in the number of students scoring at the highest level on standardized math and English tests” where these cultural assets were made available to underserved areas.
We are very fortunate to live in a place that offers so much natural beauty
and access to all of the recreational possibilities that come with it. But access to arts and culture is another thing altogether. While it’s true that there are galleries and performing arts centers located at our resort towns, these venues focus on and tend to serve our seasonal visitors and wealthier residents.
This, inadvertently, leaves our underserved and rural residents feeling alienated and without access to arts and culture. In a community that is two hours away from the museums of Denver and has few inviting or affordable cultural opportunities, it is vital that local nonprofits, arts leaders and governments step up and attempt to fill this void.
In order to bring arts and culture to underserved areas in our community,
people need to know that it’s needed — a problem unnoticed is a problem unsolved.
If no one knows that there is a need for culture in certain areas, then that culture may never exist. This is where our local nonprofits and cultural leaders must start to consider their plan of action. Groups such as the Vail Valley Theatre Company, Vail Jazz and the Vail Valley Art Guild need to push our local officials to address this lack of access to the arts for all of our community.
If our local towns and governments set aside funds and support for art programs our valley will feel the positive impact for years to come. Our valley is not New York City. But like the Big Apple, our valley’s underserved residents live side-by-side with our wealthiest and yet the gap
feels wider than most.
It is important to consider what specific forms of arts and culture should be
focused on. A recent survey found that a growing number of people felt that “there was little meaning or relevance in fine art for people living on low incomes.”
Works of public art, community arts programs and public museums had far more of a positive impact on society than traditional commercial exhibitions. We should focus on similar efforts if we want to make a real difference.
Endeavor to engage our seasonal workforce and lower-income families in community art programs. Give school children a venue for real creativity, bring in more sculptures and public installations, invite international artists and stage productions to our area — and, most important, make them accessible. No security gates, valet parking or dress codes.
So, what are we waiting for? Support your local arts organizations, support public art projects, support those who are trying to make a creative difference for our mountain community. If we can be proactive and support the arts in our community now, we can change lives for future generations.
To ignore the huge impact that arts and culture have on society is to ignore society itself. The arts matter, because with them, we matter.
Andrew Pranger is president of the Vail Valley Art Guild, which is dedicated to enriching lives by promoting and fostering artistic growth and building awareness of the visual arts in Eagle County. For more information or to help support the arts, visit: vailvalleyartguild.org.