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Why Art Matters

Posted on November 27, 2018 by Ellen Placey Wadey

 “When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgement.” President John F. Kennedy’s tribute to Robert Frost

A world of increasing power imbalances and oppositional viewpoints has caused some people to wonder what—if anything—can art bring to bear? Some question whether art matters as much in this intensified world. Some have even chosen to cut off or reduce their support for art in favor of social or political issues, but it’s a false dichotomy and potentially short-sighted choice. The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation believes that it is precisely because of our present circumstances that we need to support a diversity of artistic expression now more than ever.

Art and culture have always been our conscience, our teacher, our historian, and our inspiration. Since the time of ancient peoples, art has been the method by which we have recorded our lives and sought the truth. Through drawing, storytelling, performance, and music, we have documented more than a passing of time but have given voice to how we lived, why we mattered, what we learned, what brought us hope, and what broke our hearts.

In the history of oppression, those who sought control did not stop at physical, economic, or geographic imprisonment of other people. They further tried to enslave people by stripping them of their languages, their traditions, and their art. They rounded up and imprisoned the political leaders, the philosophers, and the artists. They raided and despoiled the museums and shrines. Yet no matter how dire the physical circumstances, oppressed people have always continued to create and make because they found solace, dignity, and hope in song, in secreted cultural traditions passed down to them and then to their children, in the balm of imagination.

Art is an avenue—sometimes the only avenue—for those forced to the margins to be seen and heard. Unlike the streamlined equation of win or lose, art brings any and every kind of person into the arena and invites us to imagine ourselves as someone of a different gender, different time, different race, different world.

Art urges us to dream beyond any present fear. It offers us an oasis of beauty and joy where we can rest, heal, laugh and cry so that when we are ready, we can charge back into the challenge of our imperfect humanity.

This is why the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation champions and supports 170 arts organizations in the Chicago region and 35 in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. We believe that artists and the arts organizations who nurture them are not a luxury but a necessity and deserving of our sustaining support. Arts help us to better know ourselves as a people who can learn from history, who are able to empathize and engage with those from different experiences, and who can imagine a world beyond our present circumstances. In a most vital way, art matters.

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Read more about our artistic vitality strategy


KUDOS for a great piece!  It says everything succinctly!

— Alaka Wali November 27, 2018

Art Matters! Artivism matters! Thank you for supporting our artivism work for the past 5 years!
And for sharing our photo smile

Vershawn Sanders-Ward November 27, 2018

Wonderful article! Is it OK to share with our Pops’ supporters? Thanks for believing in the Pops!

Darrell Edwards November 28, 2018

This is a wonderful piece.  It’s hard to pinpoint why the arts are important. 

I always like this quote from Leonard Bernstein:  “The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed…because people are changed by art - enriched, ennobled, encouraged - they then act in a way that may affect the course of events…by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.”
-Leonard #Bernstein (John Gruen interview in Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1972)

Jan Feldman November 28, 2018

Thanks so much for giving voice to women’s untold & empowering stories!  And especially for this beautifully written, inspiring piece!

Julie Proudfoot November 28, 2018

Art is essential and central to humanity and human-ness; thanks for understanding, articulating, and supporting this.

— Kay LaSota November 28, 2018

Yes! Thank you Ellen and Susan and GDDF. Art Matters so much right now—as it has always done in times of division and discord—in order to express all our truths, beautiful and ugly, and so all perspectives can hear others and listen carefully to our own wondrous but imperfect humanity. Thank you for this. Upwards and onwards.

Nick Sandys November 28, 2018

Thank you!  The need to support the arts is so beautifully and passionately articulated in your article.  And the Donnelley Fdn demonstrates this commitment in so many ways.

Sandy Shinner November 28, 2018

Thank you for your unwavering dedication in a time when funding for the arts is often the first on the chopping block. The Donnelley Foundation’s sustaining support of an ever diverse landscape of arts organizations is both inspiring and necessary.

— Julia Rhoads November 28, 2018

Thank you for these touching words of wisdom! Sometimes I sip of the Koolaid and start to doubt the importance of art. You so eloquently remind me today that art is necessary—essential.

— Craig November 29, 2018

Beautifully stated.  Very powerful articulation of that which is hard to quantify.
Many thanks!

— Jerry Adelmann November 29, 2018

Thank you dear lady, for encouraging loud voices in the face of those who wish to silence artists.

— Cathy Byrne November 30, 2018

Ellen, what a delight to rediscover you here. Beautiful piece, beautifully written. So important to be reminded of the crucial place of the arts in our lives since the beginning of time.

Susan Messer December 12, 2018

Thank you for writing this and thank you for sharing it!

Cynthia Bergquist Krainc December 14, 2018

Thank you for sharing this powerful piece. Another quote that has recently come to mind is from Winston Churchill. When he was asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort, he replied: “THEN WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR?”

Juan Dies December 18, 2018

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