The role played by the arts and humanities in our national life is the subject of celebration this month, which has been designated as America's first National Arts and Humanities Month by President Clinton. Marylanders will celebrate the occasion by proclamation of Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. The purpose of all the hoopla will be to spotlight the impact of arts and humanities on the lives of all Americans.
A project of the National Cultural Alliance, an umbrella group of 50 national arts and humanities organizations representing 23,000 cultural institutions in the U.S., the month will be marked by thousands of humanities and arts activities across the country, including book festivals, museum exhibits, music, theater and dance programs and scholarly conferences. These will coincide with the kick-off of a national campaign by the NCA and the Ad Council, a consortium of advertising agencies committed to public affairs, which has created a series of television and radio spots around the theme: "The arts and humanities. There's something in it for you."
What's in it for ordinary people was eloquently spelled out last year in a report by the Baltimore Community Foundation, which called for a renewed commitment to the arts by city and state leaders not only to protect the city's cultural legacy but as a way of overcoming the racial and economic divisions that threaten Baltimore's future as a good place to live and work. "What is at risk . . . is not just our cities, but our sense of nationhood as well," the authors concluded. "It is the central theme of this report that the spirit of community can be sustained most vitally through the universal language of the arts. . . The arts not only enrich a community, they are community."
Yet too often the arts are viewed as mere "luxuries" and inessential "frills," to be abandoned at the first hint of fiscal crisis. This is indeed a short-sighted view. Arts and arts education are especially useful in the development of youthful minds and characters. Young people in particular need constructive outlets through which they can channel the tumultuous and confusing emotions of childhood and adolescence. Over the long run, the nation will pay dearly for the cultural and spiritual impoverishment that results from neglecting the arts. Let us hope that this first national Arts and Humanities month will speed recognition of the essential role the arts play in a civil society.