Monday, January 12, 2015

On not treating cultural resources as capital

The PBS News Hour today had an interesting video story titled “Investing in America’s cultural capital,” which was an interview of the chairpersons of the National Endowment for the Arts (Julia Chu) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (William Adams—who has a PhD in philosophy).

Below, Part 1, I extract the passages from the interview which most interest me; then, Part 2 is a copy of my extended “Comment” online at the transcript, which is the motivation for this posting. Part 1 provides context.

My very short Part 3, “progressive pragmatism as grounded idealism,” links to Adams’ NEH policy speech, Nov. 2014 (whose mid-parts I recommend), which I discuss briefly. And I link to the new NEH “Common Good” project, which I want to discuss later.

My quotations from the interview indicate who is quoted. “Brown” is the interviewer. Also, the interview included video shots of President Lyndon Johnson when the Endowments were founded, so that’s the “LBJ” reference.

Part 1: from the interview

Brown: In 2012, for example, 120 million people, more than half the country’s adults, saw a show, attended a live performance, or viewed an art exhibition, together producing nearly $700 billion in economic activity, more than 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Adams: The big challenges we face as a country revolve, again, around our history, our culture, our ideas and values.

LBJ: …the artists and the scholars, who are the creators and the keepers of our vision.

Chu: [The arts] really are attached to all we do, everything from the economy to human development, education, and our ability to simply live a quality of life.

Adams: ...there are ways in which academic humanities have become too inward-looking and too inwardly focused and preoccupied with very professional concerns. I understand where that’s the case. And, sometimes, it’s essential to certain kinds of disciplines. But I think we have lost touch with a more public-facing understanding of the humanities and practice of the humanities. I think humanists have a lot to say to the challenges that we’re all facing.

Adams: I understand ... the need to be very, very careful with our resources and to justify those resources...[But] to lose this ... part of the investment the country’s made in culture, in the cultural capital of the country would be a huge mistake. So it’s making that argument in a compelling way that we have to do.

Chu: ...talking about our leverage opportunities....a very cost-effective way to use an agency...

Brown: Holding steady, but leveraging the power they do have to advance what are clearly passionately held ideals.

Part 2: My comments at the transcript

We deserve higher funding in the arts and humanities because the ultimte point of political life is to support and advance high quality of life, which is hallmarked by cultural flourishing.

To best make the argument for increased funding to humanities and arts, it’s “common good” to appreciate that high quality of life in Good society is why we have democracy.

Arts and humanities advance living comprehension of the question: What is the Good of a high quality of life? What is a “Good” society? Pursuing together the elusiveness of what that “Good” is advances us through the conversation, the shared journey—the Conversation of Humanity, some philosophers would say. Democracy serves to improve quality of life and to advance growth in quality of life.

It’s derivative that arts and humanities serve democratic interests, because the democratic interest just is to support and advance high quality of life in Good society. The primary appeal of public arts and humanities is not a better politic, though that’s vitally important. The primary appeal is cultural enrichment unto itself. Better politics for better culture.

That isn't primarily about resolving challenges, though that’s highly important. Facing challenges is only worthwhile relative to the Vision of what's on the other side. When the challenges are met, we want the enrichment that is made possible. The appeal of cultural flourishing makes the challenges worth addressing. When the challenges are met, we don’t want to just sit on the beach. It’s not leisure we basically want. It’s inspiration and enlightenment and joy. The appeal of enrichment and the joy of higher quality of life makes working for the common good worthwhile, thus effectively meeting challenges.

So, arguments for funding should “capitalize” on the reality that the joy of cultural life is primarily why we have a politic. If Congresspersons rightly appreciate the value of cultural life for their constituents, in accord with what the data on participation shows, then they will bolster their cherished position of power by associating themselves with greater appropriations for what constituents want in their lives. But also, cultural flourishing is good for business!—good for city development.

And by the way, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting so derserves higher funding. It is a great monument, a great creation of our society. PBS stations shouldn’t have to beg for funds so frequently. It’s an insult to democracy to have to beg for funding of cultural excellence.

Part 3: progressive pragmatism as grounded idealism

I would like to sometime discuss the main themes of the NEH’s “Common Good” project; so, I’m including link to that.

Also, here's William Adams' “Address to the National Federation of State Councils” for humanities. I recommend beginning at paragraph 11, after remarks about councils' activity; begin at: “In his contribution to a volume titled The Public Humanities (1983)....” Toward the end, he returns to directly addressing council members. Note, therefore, a movement of attention that parallels his message: from outward attention (audience) to inward attention (to ideas), then back outward. This is paralleled by the attention to ideas itself: from high ideals to broad, pragmatic accessibility. He ends on a note of “holding these ideas together,” relating to cultural leadership in the world and cultural leadership within America. Yet the appeal to holding well—holding Good?—pertains to all dyads here: outward facing and inward facing, heights and breadths, cultivation and leadership.