National Arts and Humanities month is a way for us to remember the power of art in society.
This is National Arts and Humanities Month, a designation intended to draw our attention to the role these elements play in our busy lives, both personal and public. The advocacy group Americans for the Arts launched the event in 1985 as National Arts Week, in part to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1993 it shifted to a month-long celebration.
Robert Lynch, the CEO and President of Americans for the Arts, says the special designation of October is “an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the positive impact the arts bring to our communities.”
Through its website, the organization provides materials and suggestions to help communities stage events to celebrate the arts this month and explore ways to increase the presence of art in cities and towns of every size. There’s even a sample proclamation that city councils can adopt to announce their participation. I wonder how many city councils even know about this.
Last month was the 54th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts, created in 1965 as a central—if often overlooked—element of LBJ’s “Great Society.” When he signed the bill creating the agency, President Lyndon Johnson said “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage, for it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation.”
Then, sounding like he was predicting how conversations about public education would, 50 years later, be dominated by the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) the president acknowledged “we in America have not always been kind to the artists and the scholars who are the creators and the keepers of our vision. Somehow, the scientists always seem to get the penthouse, while the arts and the humanities get the basement.”
Even with his expansive vision of national government power, Johnson knew it would take more than legislation from Washington DC to make a difference: “But these actions, and others soon to follow, cannot alone achieve our goals,” he said. “To produce true and lasting results, our States and our municipalities, our schools and our great private foundations, must join forces with us.”
Fifty years on however, it remains to be seen just how much those municipalities and schools are doing for the arts.
Every city can work to contribute to its “heightened quality of life.” There’s not one that can’t make public art a greater presence. It’s leadership and support from the people that can make it happen. And National Arts and Humanities Month is intended to remind each of us of that very thing.