Growing Up Artistically
I just finished reading Weird City: A Sense of Place and Creative Resistance in Austin, Texas by Joshua Long (University of Texas Press, 2010). Found it a somewhat thin but nonetheless engaging account of recent chapters in the ongoing culture war that makes living in Austin a unique experience. Not a ‘weird’ one, as some keep insisting. Any weirdness Austin could lay claim to was over long before someone thought of putting it on a bumper sticker.
But certainly we live in a city that understands the value of arts access for all its citizens, especially children. Of the 200+ nonprofit arts groups applying for funding through the city’s Cultural Arts Division, about sixty of them have an arts education component. That’s a whopping percentage, and it reflects the importance and value of reaching out to children. They are the art seeds of the next generation, waiting to bloom.
That’s why Austin can mount successful large-scale events like South by Southwest, Pecan Street Festival, ACL, and numerous others. So much of our talent is homegrown, as is our audience. Without childhood arts education and mentoring, that would just not be the case. Believe me on this. I grew up in Baytown Texas, where the arts education offerings were slim pickings. Somehow, the Baytown Humidity Fest never really caught on.
So Austin is fertile ground for groups like the AJW. Arts ed needs talented performers, receptive children, adequate funding. The first two we have in abundance; the last one is a little less assured. The AJW has held together for seventeen years now, though sometimes it feels like those old Mr. Magoo cartoons where he blindly steps off a highrise into open space, only to have a girder magically swing beneath his foot at the last instant.
We’re not alone, of course. Every arts organization has felt the pinch in the current economic climate. Those that serve children in the public schools are just a little more susceptible, because we may not have patrons or season subscribers like an opera, symphony, or ballet. Without city support, programs serving children would cease to be. And cities have plenty on their plates already.
But if we lose sight of the crucial importance of bringing art to children, then we might as well just kiss The Live Music Capitol of the World goodbye. To paraphrase Austin Arts Commission member Bruce Willenzik, “You can’t have a World Series without a Little League.” These world-class performers that pack the streets and the hotel rooms of our city on a regular basis had to come from somewhere.