Art will never die. So why does it need philanthropy?
We wouldn't want to live without it, so how can we create art that's durable?
Elizabeth Alexander – poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, and arts activist – is president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation's largest funder in arts and culture, and humanities in higher education. Dr. Alexander has held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she taught for 15 years and chaired the African American Studies Department.
ELIZABETH ALEXANDER: I do not think that the arts are dependent on philanthropic efforts, which might sound to be at odds with what I do for a living but I think that what is remarkable about the arts is that you cannot kill them. They will not die. I think of this particularly with the art form that I come out of, poetry.
It actually is beautifully partnered by various social media because it can travel and be sent out in a way that fiction is a little bit trickier because fiction is a longer form. It simply takes longer to take it in. Poems on Instagram, on Twitter, there's a way that poems can move and social media is a great companion for that.
Poetry costs nothing. It is barely remunerated, and for thousands of years poetry has told us who people are, who civilizations are, who communities and tribes are. So I think that's part of what is kind of astonishing about the power of art is its durability. I think though that what philanthropy can do is encourage and enable and especially with other kinds of art forms that do have some costs involved. So if you think, for example, about public art projects. Public art projects need cities and zoning and materials and people to move large objects so that they can make these public artworks. That is something that I think philanthropy can do remarkable things about.
Measuring success in the arts is sometimes a tricky business because the influence and impact of the arts is sometimes felt in the immediate, right. So when you behold a great work of art, when you finish reading an extraordinary book, when you listen to a stirring piece of music, you have an immediate feeling. But then there is another question that is sometimes longer term and much more difficult to measure about why that matters, about how it makes its way through the world, about how it finds its durability.
So I think that what I want to work on with my colleagues is thinking about, is there a specialized way of thinking about impact with regard to the arts that again measures it on its own terms? There are some really interesting studies that, for example, look at economic development in neighborhoods that have a presence of artists who are working to make their own dynamic presence felt in their neighborhoods and that's actually good for economic development. So that might be one way we could think about it. But I don't want that to be the only way that we think about it because to me it comes down to the very simple question: Would you like us to live without art? And I think that when we understand that we would all be bereft without art and culture the question then becomes, how can we find not only the best but also the best that, again I'm thinking very much about which voices have not been heard as much?Which voices have not been supported as much and which voices help us understand the complexity of our humanity speaking specifically, you know our work is global but speaking particularly in the American context. What is the American story, and how do we listen to its many aspects?
- You cannot kill the arts. This is particularly true when you talk about poetry, which does well in a world of social media as its easy to digest in its short form.
- Measuring success in art can be tricky, though. Impact and influence can be felt immediately, so how does art find that everlasting durability?
- Philanthropy can encourage and enable art, and as a result, potentially lengthen its lifespan. If we can find ways to measure art in its own terms, we can effectively give a platform to new voices who complete the cultural picture.
- The rise and fall of the Medici family: how they created and lost their ... ›
- Is Philanthropy Driven by the Human Desire to Cheat Death? - Big ... ›
Who is to blame for the U.S.'s dismal college graduation rate? "Radical" educator Dennis Littky has a hunch.
- COVID-19 has magnified the challenges that underserved communities face with regard to higher education, such as widening social inequality and sky-high tuition.
- At College Unbound, where I am president, we get to know students individually to understand what motivates them, so they can build a curriculum based on goals they want to achieve.
- My teaching mantra: Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19.
What does it mean to "lead without authority"?
The planet that we are searching for is a little bit smaller and closer than we originally thought.
- Years ago, California Institute of Technology professor Konstantin Batygin was inspired to embark on a journey of discovering what lurked beyond Neptune. What he and his collaborator discovered was a strange field of debris.
- This field of debris exhibited a clustering of orbits, and something was keeping these orbits confined. The only plausible source would be the gravitational pull of an extra planet—Planet Nine.
- While Planet Nine hasn't been found directly, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. And Batygin is confident we'll return to a nine-planet solar system within the next decade.
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
Inbreeding leads to a problematically small gene pool.