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Are the Arts Essential? grew out of a concern that the arts in the United States are less valued for ideas and less vitalized to advance policy actions and citizen aspirations than they could be. In the midst of a devastating pandemic, as theaters, art galleries and museums, dance stages and concert halls shuttered their doors indefinitely and institutional funding for entertainment and culture evaporated almost overnight, a cohort of highly acclaimed scholars, artists, cultural critics, and a journalist ponder an urgent question: Are the arts essential?

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Alberta Arthurs

Alberta Arthurs

Michael DiNiscia

Michael F. DiNiscia

Across twenty-five highly engaging essays, these luminaries join together to address this question and to share their own ideas, experiences, and ambitions for the arts. Darren Walker discusses the ideals of justice and fairness advanced through the arts; Mary Schmidt Campbell shows us how artists and cultural institutions helped New York overcome the economic crisis of the 1970s, bringing new investment and creativity to the city; Deborah Willis traces histories of oppression and disenfranchisement documented by photographers; and Oskar Eustis offers a brief history lesson on how theaters have built communities since the Golden Age of Athens. Other topics include the vibrancy and diversity of Muslim culture in America during a time of rising Islamophobia; the strengthening of the common good through the art and cultural heritages of indigenous communities; digital data aggregation informing and influencing new art forms; and the jazz lyricisms of a theater piece inspired by a composer’s two-month coma.

The book is the culmination of a multiyear project in which the Brademas Center gathered artists, professionals working in the field of arts and culture, funders who support the arts, and scholars who study aspects of the field to address the title question. A core mission of the Center, as John Brademas himself said, is to “bring together thinkers and doers.” The three gatherings at the heart of this project—at NYU Florence in 2018, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Pocantico Center in 2019, and online in 2020—made significant contributions to shaping the essays in this volume, leading to deeper arguments for the value of the arts in society than are commonly offered.

This project and book was made possible with the generous support of the Ford Foundation, the Laurie Tisch Illumination Fund, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

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Strengthening Society

Part I
Benefiting the Individual

Part II
Finding and Fostering Community

Part III
Engaging the Sciences

Part IV
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Recording and Sharing Our Histories

Part V