Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Valley of Light" By Linda Sommer

What Art Does

Today is the 27th annual National Arts Advocacy Day, the only national event that brings together a broad cross section of America's cultural and civic organizations. These arts advocates represent a united effort to tell Capitol Hill how important the arts are to our communities, how much arts education means to our children, and how the arts improve our daily lives. It inspired me to share a recent story of how the arts impacted me.

I lost my father three weeks ago, and even though I was back to work, I was having trouble seeing people. At meetings and on phone calls, everyone wanted to tell me how sorry they were, and though it was comforting, it was also very painful.  Anyone who has dealt with a death knows that each person that remembers it to you cauterizes the wound; it’s part of the healing, but it really hurts.

I was avoiding just such an exchange; people gathering for a meeting at the York Art Association and all of them wanting to give their consolations and; buying some time,  I was slowly ambling through the gallery pretending to be engrossed in the show when something happened. A painting by an artist named Linda Sommer reached out from its place on the gallery wall among many others, wrapped its hands around my heart, and squeezed. Tears welled in my eyes as I stood transfixed in front of it; watching the dark brown and gray paint turn to cream and ivory at the top of the canvas. It was like watching my father’s spirit rise up from the darkness into the light.  The piece was titled; “Valley of Light” and I had to have it. I purchased the work, and walked into the meeting feeling buoyed by the condolences rather than burdened; it comforted me in a way that nothing before or since has been able to do.

When the arts have this power to grab us, to hold our hearts and squeeze them in a way that is very personal and profound, why do we feel that we have to justify its existence with other reasons? Why must every arts organization feel compelled to hold up the economic impact of the arts in their community as a reason for their importance? Why must we talk about the arts in the education of children and youth development as to why the arts matter?

I don’t disagree that these are very critical roles for the arts. As this article in the Wall Street Journal points out, arts and culture ARE a strong driver of economic impact; the arts contributed $504 billion to U.S. economic output in 2011, or 3.2% of gross domestic product. And yes, the arts are an integral part of education; a 2012 report from the National Endowment for the Arts, entitled “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth,” concluded that students “who have arts-rich experiences in school do better across-the-board academically, and they also become more active and engaged citizens, voting, volunteering, and generally participating at higher rates than their peers.”   These are important reasons to support the arts, and we should talk about them.

But none of that mattered when my heart was hurting and I was missing my dad. I didn’t care what the arts do for our economy or for education; I just wanted something to make me feel better. The painting I found by Linda Sommer did that for me. And that’s why I bought it.  I wasn’t trying to better the economy, I didn’t plan to use it as a teaching experience; I just felt I needed it to begin healing. That is what art does; it heals, it helps, it raises deep feelings that are hard to describe and completely personal, and we should celebrate it for that as much if not more so than for its economic and educational benefits.

Do you have a story to share about when an arts experience reached out to your heart and moved you? Then make sure to tell members of Congress by sharing your story of what art does for you on our Facebook page or on Twitter and tag it #AAD14 in honor of Arts Advocacy Day 2014.

P.S. If you’d like to see the painting; “Valley of Light” in person, join me at YorkArts one-night only art show “Art In Residence-Black and White Night” at the Bon-Ton Corporate Center on Saturday, April 26th. You can get your tickets here.