“Patronising” the arts

January 13, 2011

I have an analogy I use with artists and arts organisations when we work on strategic planning.

I have friends who play golf. A lot of golf. They extol its merits and try to convince me to join them on the green. Invariably this fails as I don’t like golf, never have, and am unlikely to in the future – I simply ‘don’t get it’ and am not inclined to try. However their insistence persists – my life will be different! enhanced! they say – think of the exercise, the fresh air – I really don’t know what I’m missing. Well in fact I do but I simply don’t like golf and am a bit concerned about the underlying suggestion that there’s something wrong with the way I live my golf-less existence – as though I’m lacking in something. The reason I bring this up is that those of us who work in the arts are forever telling people that art is good for you, it should be available to all; participating in the arts will bring increased benefits etc etc….While all of that may be true – for some people the arts will be as relevant as golf is to me and we need to be careful that in our enthusiasm to spread the word we’re not inadvertently communicating the message that there is a ‘lack’ in people’s lives because they prefer to spend their time and money elsewhere. One of the most important things we can offer, regardless of what industry we work in, is permission for people to say ‘I don’t know’. Only in saying ‘I don’t know’ does the possibility of learning someting new or different emerge.

Creativity is not the preserve of the arts – we share that with many other occupations and endeavours so perhaps we should think wisely about how we encourage people to join us – rather than extolling the ‘health’ benefits of a good day out?

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