History shows that art in all forms has the ability to create new connections, catalyze movements, and transcend barriers that divide us. Art has the ability to transcend the ego, the rational mind and habitual reactions and to touch directly the feelings and essence of an individual. The arts can be an agent of change and can help us create a thriving world, so why aren’t they encouraged more? Why is artistic expression so undervalued in mainstream society?
The answer seems to lie in the current power structure. Artistic expression challenges the status quo and threatens prevailing power dynamics. The state school system, established by the controlling elite, was intentionally set up with little focus and encouragement of the arts. Schools were designed to create good workers, not balanced whole-systems thinkers in touch with their deeper selves through artistic expression. Society suffers as a result.
Many forms of art are suppressed. For example, talented Hip Hop artists with positive messages struggle to get their music out because corporate music labels won’t sign them. The only rap and hip hop music that is given a chance has lyrics that are violent, misogynistic, homophobic, etc. This reinforces negative stereotypes of people of color. To learn more about this, check out our “Follow the Money” story. To see how we can transform this dynamic, see the opportunity below.
Opportunity: Art in All Forms Can Literally Change the World
“In these times, we can hardly afford not to be political with our art.”
- Alice Walker, Poet, Novelist
There is tremendous opportunity for humanity to promote and use the arts to consciously evolve and create resilient communities:
The arts can be a powerful aid in revolution. The Mexican Mural Renaissance, from the 1920s-1960s, allowed people of all classes and races to get in touch with their indigenous history and learn more about political and social issues. American folk and rock music also played a significant role in the Vietnam anti-war movement. We can similarly use the arts today to make revolutionary movements more effective and reach more people.
The arts can be healing. An innovative organization called Barefoot Artists uses the arts to help restore traumatized, poor communities around the world. In a small village in post-genocide Rwanda, they helped reconstruct a mass grave and transform it from a sad, simple concrete foundation with a sagging roof to a beautiful, colorful memorial where people would come together, honor the dead, and hold ceremonies. Projects such as these can help us heal wounds and reconcile the past, which is key to moving forward to a thriving future.
The arts can improve communities. The City Repair Project in Portland, Oregon is a good example of people getting together and using the arts to create new spaces and transform their neighborhoods. They paint intersections, build benches, put up neighborhood bulletin boards, and more. This has helped create not only nicer neighborhoods, but new and lasting friendships.
The arts can unite people by giving voice to feelings that are shared and can communicate where rational dialogue can be thwarted. For example, a mural in Watts, Los Angeles that illustrated suppression in the neighborhood, helped bond the community in a way that an article in a newspaper couldn't.
These are just some of the transformative powers of the arts. If we simply create more space for artistic expression to occur – whether in our own personal lives, schools, neighborhoods, or communities – then we can grow and create closer, stronger, healthier, more vibrant and beautiful communities.
What Can I Do?
Initiate a Community Placemaking Project
See what people are doing in Portland, Oregon to get some ideas, then get together with your neighbors and come up with a plan to transform your community using the arts.
Explore the Arts on Your Own
What interests you? Set aside time to creatively express yourself and see what emerges.
 See Vietnam: The Music of Protest by Steve Schifferes. BBC News. May 1, 2005.