Can the Arts Be a Way Out? Or In?

Adam D. Weinberg: At least at the Whitney, I think of it very much as a place of art in real time, which means we are swimming in the river, at the same pace of the river, and we can’t even feel the movement of the river, in a way. It’s the idea of being surrounded by conflicting, complex, subtle and diverse ideas and visions of artists. And for me, you know, the politics of a museum is not simply the most overt notion of politics, but it’s really the fundamental question of asking people to consider the realities of the day that we’re in, and really forcing us to look at ourselves in the sense that it is a mirror.

As a museum, we create the context for artists to be the megaphones. It is not our job to say: “This is what we are specifically going out there [to do].” We are doing that through the artists we select, the programs that we produce, the context that we create. That becomes kind of the megaphone.

Studies have shown that the arts can impact young students’ cognitive development and that arts education can help students both academically and socially. But when times are lean, funding for classes in the arts is often the first to be siphoned off. What challenges do the new generation of artists face, and what forms of support have been created to mitigate them?

Amir Berbic, dean, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar; Alison Cole, art historian, author and editor, The Art Newspaper; Mariko Silver, president and chief executive, Henry Luce Foundation. Moderated by Jelena Trkulja, senior adviser for academic and cultural affairs, Qatar Museums.

Jelena Trkulja: If arts education is basically shaping the future of any society, how did you — when you were president [of Bennington College in Vermont] — promote the arts, and ensure that even those who did not have arts education before college could engage in the arts?

Mariko Silver: Well, I think ideally, you create any learning institution as a culture of imagination, a culture of creativity and a culture of making. Part of what I think too much higher education does is it pushes you only up into your head, only up into the mind — as though the realm of ideas lives only in the mind. But art is the way into our humanity, it’s the way into embodied experience, and without that, we’re impoverished, individually and collectively.

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