Bridges, Translations and Change: The Arts as Infrastructure in 21st Century America

By William Cleveland, Director CSA&C

This is the first section of the four part essay that gave rise to the establishment of the Center for the Study of Art and Community in 1992. While some of what follows is dated, we feel strongly that the basic issues, ideas, and values are more relevant today than when they were written. Click on the following to view the other sections.

Part 2: The Context
Part 3: Six Arguments in Support of the Arts in America
Part 4: Strategies: Bridges, Translations and Change

Part 1: Introduction

The arts in America are at a crossroads. As the nation contends with its neglected infrastructure, a stumbling economy and a world in transition, priorities are rapidly shifting. The pressures of self-interest, always a strong force in this country, are building as our resource and leadership deficits become more obvious. Hard times mean hard choices, and increasingly America is saying no to its cultural resources. By continuing down this road, the cultural community stands to lose a great deal more, both economically and politically. This is a great loss for America.

The U.S. stands on the edge of a new frontier--a world both at home and abroad, that is in flux and out of balance. This dynamic environment will need more than a strong will and muscle to come to terms with its problems and contending forces. The new frontier is a complex global society that will demand the power of the imagination and the forces of regeneration to meet its challenges.

For America's artists and cultural institutions this is a time of great opportunity. We can offer more than a colorful banner and a theme song in support of this quest. We bring our untapped capacities as bridge builders, translators and problem solvers. We bring the language and technology of transformation. To rise to this challenge, though, we must ourselves rediscover and reinvest in the transformative power and spiritual integrity of our work.

What follows is my contribution to the ongoing discussion of the future of the arts in 21st Century America. All too often discussions of this sort are carried on as though the arts were not connected to the world beyond the studio or the stage. In my opinion, this separation is both a cause and a by-product of the marginalization of the arts in America. With this in mind, I begin with a brief overview of America on the verge of the 21st Century. This is followed by a discussion of the current state of the arts and

Go to Part 2: The Context