THE BLOG
06/24/2013 06:36 pm ET Updated Aug 24, 2013

The International Power and Potential of the Arts

While art and culture has always been integral to the Aspen mission, they have begun to "integrate the arts into society across the globe."

This year, the Institute is talking about the concept of the "citizen artist." The concept of the citizen artist is not new, but is an idea whose time has come to use a rather hackneyed phrase... an idea for a world being reborn, a powerful idea with the potential to create meaningful change.

Four years ago the Aspen Institute held one of their first Festival of Ideas Conferences about the role of art in society, and more importantly, art as a vehicle for shaping the larger discussion about what it means to be human, and what we can do -- or ought to be doing -- to make the world a better place.

Called "The International Power and Potential of the Arts," the panel featured Jeffry Brown of PBS, Dana Gioia former Chair of the National Endowment of the Arts, Dan Glickman of the Motion Picture Association of America, and playwright, and actor, Sarah Jones.

Describing that event, Aspen said simply:

"The arts are a crucial and underutilized tool in promoting peace, civic involvement, and cross-cultural understanding among the world's people and nations."

Dana Gioia lamented that the United States Information Agency (USIA), which housed the well-known Voice of America, was the U.S.'s only agency responsible for "international educational and cultural exchanges, broadcasting, and information programs." It had been
eliminated that year.

But, perhaps prophetically, he said, "there are many ways communities and individuals can speak to one another."

Maybe the citizen artists are doing what we could not do as a nation, particularly since the US government, as so many on that panel seemed to recognize, is so resented around the world.

Aha! The "citizen artist."

While not all artists embrace the idea that what they do makes the world a better place, many artists -- certainly the public artist -- see their work as a vehicle for people all over the world to express themselves. These are mostly artists who, in the best tradition, want to see change in the world, change in public perceptions or government attitudes and actions.

From the Berlin Wall separating East Germany from West Germany, to the "democracy wall" in Beijing, people have chosen public art to demonstrate some of their most poignant expressions, frustrations and concerns about the world. Equally importantly, as we rush headlong into an age of creativity and innovation, art -- all art -- gives a community a sense of place and an identity.

To art students at Boston University "the term citizen artist means something different to each person touched by an artist's work...citizen artists share a dedication to their craft, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a commitment to society."

The Aspen Institute wants to bring this concept to a whole new level.

Citizen artists, as they express it, are "individuals who recognize the need to take artistic practices beyond traditional settings, where they can serve needs and solve problems in realms including education, community building, diplomacy and health care." The commitment may manifest itself in a cause, a celebration, and a desire to see meaningful change in attitudes or actions.

Already, the world is so inextricably interconnected that cultural and economic isolationism is unthinkable. But more needs to done, and perhaps the most effective thing that can be done is to aggressively promote multicultural understanding and agreement across a wider social and political spectrum.

That's precisely why citizen artists have an edge in global affairs.

Art serves superbly as a universal language and as a means of understanding the history, culture, and values of other peoples.

As human beings -- building virtual bridges using technology, into unknown cultural territory -- mankind will, hopefully, know itself as citizens of a rich and truly global society. At least that's what Aspen seems to be saying.

The Institute has made it clear in their Beijing conference held earlier that:

"The arts are uniquely powerful as they remind everyone of what we all share as humans." Surely, there can be no more distilled expression of a culture than its works of art."

Clearly this is an auspicious beginning to create a sense of world community already reflective of the world economy in which we live and work.

This post is part of a collaboration between The Huffington Post and The Aspen Institute, in which a variety of thinkers, writers and experts will explore the most pressing issues of our time. For more posts from this partnership, click here. For more information on The Aspen Institute, click here.

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