Fortunately, Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, recently set forth some provocative ideas for an insightful public dialogue on the tragic state of the performing arts in America.
As a musician, I concur with Kaiser that enlightened leadership and action, the development and implementation of bold and large-scale projects, and the recruitment and training of highly effective arts managers are critical measures that must be taken to ensure the growth, development and survival of the performing arts.
In the 1980s, I participated in the Pittsburgh Symphony's Youth Orchestra, studied at the Interlochen Music Festival and Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan, and attended the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Youth program in Lenox, Massachusetts. Working with Lorin Maazel's mother, Marie Maazel, in Pittsburgh and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, I have seen what creative energy and ideas in the performing-arts arena can accomplish for individuals. I recall the youthful enthusiasm, spontaneous exhilaration, artistic and intellectual fulfillment and the sense of self-discipline that occurred at each of these artistic havens.
ART ALONE ENDURES
Jacqueline Kennedy once said, ''All passes. Art alone endures.'' An eclectic, innovative, and urbane first lady, she advocated that we should pursue the noble quest of protecting and enhancing one of the truly unique forms of human expression -- the arts. While in the White House, she demonstrated an avid interest in sponsoring youth programs to encourage young people to study music, played an instrumental role in nurturing the development of a National Cultural Arts Center (now known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), and urged President Kennedy to create a national department of culture in America. Her still-viable idea would be a bold and important step forward for the evolution of the performing arts in the United States.
The creation of a culture department could help oversee the national endowments for the arts and humanities, assist colleges with instituting and preserving arts management programs; assist in the coordination of complex and myriad tasks that confront major artistic centers and symphonies such as the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and other renowned regional organizations, the Florida Philharmonic among them.
A culture department could work closely with major American music festival organizers -- such as those at Aspen and Interlochen, the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Spoleto Festival USA, and the Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts -- to encourage and assist young people, via corporate and privately sponsored scholarships, to study the performing arts.
The generous commitment of corporations, foundations, nonprofit groups, individual donors and others to invest time and resources in support of a department of culture would greatly benefit children and youth and provide the impetus for the kind of bold and creative action that the performing arts really need for continued growth and development in America.
Prominent organizations, such as The Ford Foundation and The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation, have demonstrated considerable interest in promoting and supporting arts organizations throughout the United States. For example, the Reynolds Foundation donated $100 million to the Kennedy Center to assist in building an education center on an eight-acre Plaza at the renowned performance center. The missing link is the political willingness to embrace, to encourage a forward-thinking enterprise capable of creating a cultural renaissance in America.
The creation of a culture department in America is not quixotic, even in these perilous times. In our multicultural society, the partnership between the government and corporations and individual philanthropy in sponsoring a department of culture would provide the engine for an infusion of creative, engaging, and innovative ideas that will inspire people to reach for something better. A culture department would provide an outlook as well as an outlet for the creative and talented energies of millions of people regardless of economic background or race. Artistic expressions would serve as a beacon of hope and promise in a world enveloped by skepticism and uncertainty.
The walk is at times a dimly lit path. It is up to each of us to seek our own light in order to find faith and sense of direction. Such illuminations of a great civilization can be achieved by our willingness to cultivate, to summon the reservoir of talent and individual ingenuity that resides within our people. In the American experience, we, as a nation, as a people, have shown that we can meet challenges head-on. Brave and passionate, steadfast and undeterred, we are a nation of pioneers, gifted with the priceless qualities of depth of personality and strength of character.
With these endowments, creating such a national department is simply a question of resolve, political willpower, entrepreneurial drive, and an unwavering commitment not only to America, but also to artistic excellence.