“Please, sir, I want some more.”
This famous line from Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver,” connotes the heartbreaking image of a starving, dirty child desperately holding up a small, chipped bowl to a stern-faced man withholding the thin gruel.
It’s a powerful and compelling image and one that still exists in various iterations today across the world, including in parts of our own country.
I had a businessman tell me this year that people invest in vision and crisis. There’s hardly a more tragic picture than starving children because it represents some form of crisis, be it war, drought, poverty or more.
As a mother and a human being, I am moved deeply by the notion of children suffering, and my husband and I give to various local and international charities that work to offset hunger, poverty and homelessness.
So where and how do the arts fit into this matrix of vision and crisis?
As I often say, I can’t tell a donor that without their support three artists will go hungry today.
As far as I know, there’s no famous novel telling the tragic story of a starving artist, searching for something as basic as food and ultimately love.
But does that make the arts any less worthy of support? Do vision and crisis apply only to human or animal suffering? Can something as ephemeral as creative placemaking, cultural-preservation and economic infusion merit support?
I say it can, and I say it’s not an either-or kind of debate. It’s a yes-and kind of debate.
The arts — and I’m talking broadly here to include visual, performing, literary, craft and beyond — serve an incredibly important role in the metro.
In our community, we have excellent professional symphony, opera and ballet companies. We serve children through orchestras, choirs, creative-making classes and multiple theatre programs.
We have an accredited museum and many others that bring everyone from local artists to Picasso to us all, and in 2017, both Plains Art Museum and The Rourke Art Gallery and Museum will have free admission, providing unprecedented access to the arts in our community.
We have multiple performing opportunities for adults in theatre, choral and instrumental groups. We have an historic movie theater (surely the most photographed structure in the metro) and a mighty Wurlitzer organ, which, by the way, is often played by a teenager who is nationally ranked by the American Theatre Organ Society.
And don’t even get me started on the individual artists who make our community their home. I’ll simply say that we are blessed with an abundance of artists whose art extends far beyond our borders and whose value is often more appreciated outside the metro than in.
This all sounds great, doesn’t it?
Let me be clear, it IS great. The arts in the metro ARE great.
We have people playing music inside income-based daycares, homeless shelters and prisons because they live out the notion that the arts are for everyone.
We have new Americans working on a public mural that showcases some of the many cultures that are now becoming part of our gloriously diverse fabric.
We have collaborations happening all over the metro of organizations and artists working together to strengthen their individual missions together.
But you know what? I want some more.
Of all the fabulous organizations and artists I have talked about, I can honestly tell you that every single one of them needs more support — financial, word of mouth and attendance.
Every production, every concert, every art opening and reading should be packed with people.
Every popup and independent artist shop should have a hard time keeping locally-made stock on its shelves.
Why? Because we are blessed to have access to all of this in our community. Because each and every single arts organization, artist and arts-related business helps to make this community one that is drawing people to us.
That means employees, entrepreneurs, college students and retirees are paying taxes, spending money, putting their kids in our schools, opening new businesses, buying houses and more. All of this feeds our economy in myriad ways.
But it’s hard to do this important work on a nearly empty stomach, so I am asking you to change the image.
I am asking you to find the arts organizations that matter to you and be the joyful one, handing out big ladles of hot broth full of vegetables and meat. Write the end-of-year checks that will fatten up these arts organizations and give them the fuel they need to create even more.
You think the arts are good now? Just wait and see what they will do on fuller stomachs.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, December 26 2016, issue of the paper.