10/28/2011 10:59 am ET | Updated Dec 28, 2011

Art & Soul : Celebrating the American Legacy of the Arts -- and Ensuring Its Survival

With political activism dominating the headlines in both the US and abroad, it's worth noting the group of actors who, 25 years ago, boarded a train from New York to Washington, DC in an attempt to save the nearly extinct National Endowment for the Arts. During that journey, Christopher Reeve, Ron Silver, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin and Stephen Collins strategized about how to convince policymakers that no American citizen should live without the arts. Fortified with facts and figures, they set out to prove that the National Endowment for the Arts was indeed worth saving.
From that train ride and initial battle on Capitol Hill, The Creative Coalition -- a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization -- was born. Comprised of leaders in the arts and entertainment industry, we use the power and spotlight of those arenas to support issues of social importance, such as public funding for the arts in America, which is our number-one priority.

So why are the arts so important? Think about it: nearly every facet of our lives is affected by the arts and its absence in schools. In particular, this absence will eventually lead to a serious deficit in the overall education of our youth. Through the publication of Art & Soul: Stars Unite to Support and Celebrate the Arts, The Creative Coalition along with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Smith pays homage to the role of arts and culture in our country through a series of celebrity portraits and personal notes handwritten by many of the most famous names in the industry.

The Creative Coalition asked our members -- iconic, legendary and contemporary actors, writers, producers and directors -- to pinpoint a moment in time that the arts changed their lives. While the individual experiences vary greatly, the common denominator shared by all the participants in Art & Soul is that someone or something fostered an artistic sensibility in each of them. We all know young people who are interested in film, television, theater, or the visual arts. They may aspire to enter these fields professionally, but do not fully understand how to go about doing so and this is where Art & Soul serves as an inspiration to them. From the girl who is brimming with anticipation about seeing her first theatrical production to the boy who discovers his passion for painting, the arts flow deeply through our souls as both practitioners and as patrons.

Although the current economic downturn has prompted many in leadership positions to attack the arts as a frivolous indulgence, they forget the millions of Americans who earn their living and support their families through artistic endeavors and arts-related enterprises. In this instance, history should -- and must -- repeat itself in the model of the Works Progress Administration's Federal One Program which put thousands of artists, writers, actors and directors to work in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Their tremendous contributions still benefit us today. As we peruse the pages of Art & Soul, we are reminded of our past and the great American legacy the arts provide for future generations. We must ensure its survival.