"I would argue that counter-intuitively, and even counter-logically, the value of art turns not on the notion that it is necessary but rather the opposite: we can live without it, but we don’t want to."
-- Rocco Landesman
From the NEA's blog Art Works:
Rocco Delivers the Blashfield Address
May 20, 2011
Below is the full text of Rocco’s remarks.
“The Play’s the Thing”
2011 Blashfield Foundation Address
Delivered by NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman
Art is necessary because it is unnecessary. I will elaborate in a minute.
I have not been invited to give the Blashfield Address because I have made significant contributions to scholarship or have created remarkable works of art. To paraphrase Max Bialystock: I couldn’t—I was a Broadway producer.
Instead, I am here today because of my current position as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. So I will begin by stepping happily into my assigned role, which is to make the case that the arts—most especially the theatrical arts, of course—are vital, important, and in a word, necessary. On the trading floor, this is called “talking your book,” and it’s what I do almost every day. We have a motto at the NEA, which is a two-word sentence with three meanings (and I think this audience might appreciate a triple entendre): “Art Works.”
The term refers first to the works of art themselves—what we fund at the NEA. Secondly, to the way in which art works on people. That is, the experience of art. And finally it refers to art as work, an important part of our economy and communities.
I have especially emphasized this last part, and have been traveling the country to show how a cultural presence in a neighborhood impacts civic engagement, child welfare, and economic growth. Those are especially useful talking points with Congress during the budget process.
But I would conjecture that not one of us in this room has embarked on a career in the arts (or letters) because of data that shows that art in schools reduces truancy by 35 percent, or that art in a city jumpstarts economic development. Most of us who have made a career in the arts did so because at one point in our lives we had an experience with a work of art that was indelible. The career chose us. This was something we had to do.
But why? What is it about this activity that is so compelling? What makes it so irresistible? This is a question for anthropologists, and they’re not exactly sure.