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In the Mountains With Robert Redford

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No, I'm not Robert Redford's buddy. Yet that doesn't in any way diminish my respect and regard for him. Especially after spending several days at his Sundance Preserve where he hosted the second National Arts Policy Roundtable at Sundance of the Americans for the Arts organization. He was not only a gracious host to the Americans for the Arts, organizers of the event, but he shared with its participants his commitment to the importance of the arts in his life and of finding ways of making the arts central to the lives of all Americans. And he did so with passion and eloquence.

At the forefront of the discussions that lasted nearly two days, was the importance of arts to the future of the nation's competitiveness in a changing paradigm of global, economic, technical and social evolution and cultural change. That creativeness, or perhaps better understood, 'innovation,' is and will become a factor of singular significance to the quickly changing world of the 21st Century.

Under the visionary leadership of Robert L. Lynch, its CEO, a fundamental goal of the American for the Arts is the advocacy of arts education. Much of the focus of this gathering centered on the lack of arts and cultural engagement in our schools at virtually all levels. That this reality was impacting the creative capabilities of our workforce and risked our ability to compete effectively in a world where innovation critical thinking and its attendant attributes of flexibility, problem solving, innovation, entrepreneurship were not only growing exponentially in importance but were becoming key to commerce and success in a wired and in an ever flattening world. The discussions were fascinating and a comprehensive report will be issued in due course by the Americans for the Arts.

Much of the discussion surrounded "the arts" as a viable tool that would help our workforce be more productive and adapted to the exigencies of 21st century. Questions raised were how to disseminate and inculcate this message to hierarchal groups and to enlist their help. That is to help persuade government and educational institutions to introduce arts education into the curriculum of our schools from kindergarten through college. So that indeed, the arts and its attendant creativity could become a mainstay of our educational experience and thereby helping us as a society to embrace the arts on both a personal and national level.

During the course of the exchanges, to my mind perhaps the clearest and most succinct definition of the underlying theme was touched upon by Barbara Lawton, Lt. Governor of Wisconsin. Simply said and clearly understood: "Our knowledge helps us deal with the known; creativity helps us deal with the unknown." There is no need to go into a dissertation here on the avalanche of unknowns facing all of us as individuals and as a society in the years ahead.

An observation was made during the course of discussions as to how sad it was that so many had be won over to achieve something that should be inherent to all of us. That the dialogue we were having was perhaps unique, in that with most other other national communities, their national culture and the arts were second nature to each citizen, inculcated in their upbringing and education

A story was repeated at the conference of an especially revealing moment experienced by staff member of the Americans for the Arts, Randy Cohen, its VP . It is worthy of retelling. The Americans for the Arts were visited by a delegation of Russians on a fact finding mission, to learn about the methodology of support for our arts institutions. The Russian delegation was responsible for the fiscal well-being of myriad institutions ranging from the Bolshoi, to Moscow's and regional theaters and museums. With Russia's expanding cultural programs, money, as everywhere in the cultural world was a problem. Asked by one their hosts, what were the ticket prices to the concert halls, theaters and museums under their organizational umbrella? They responded with a touch of pride, "well, about the cost of a cup of coffee." Aha, was the almost automatic response, "why not raise your ticket prices, after all they seem very low compared to ours."

At the end of the table, a rather burly Russian stood up, placing the palms of his hands on the table, hunched forward, and intoned "You must understand, in Russia art is food for our soul. We would never do anything to keep it from our people." Hello America, hello Washington, hello state capitols. Are you listening!?


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