Art, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

July 6, 2015

morris arts giralda farms

This blog post won’t appear until after Fourth of July celebrations are over, but it will be interesting to look back and see what role the arts played in festivities ranging from public events to those in your own backyard.


From displaying the U.S. flag (thank you, Betsy!) to the amazing pyrotechnic displays now synched with audio play lists and live performances, to kids performing Sousa on parade, artistic creativity and practice permeate community gatherings of all shapes and sizes.

Perhaps you attended the annual Giralda Farms concert of the NJ Symphony Orchestra presented by Morris Arts just before Independence Day and heard American classics, or you watched A Capitol Fourth on PBS and heard performances by the National Symphony Orchestra and Lang Lang in front of the U.S. Capitol. Maybe you’ve seen the creatively and patriotically costumed patrons in the stands cheering on the U.S. Womens’ Soccer Team, or maybe you simply created a fabulous red, white and blue dessert for a family picnic.

It’s reasonable to assume that we can all agree that the arts are important to healthy and vibrant communities throughout our nation. Art’s footprints and fingerprints are everywhere from public art (including historic memorials) to creative design (architecture, interior and product design) to helping our military veterans come to terms with post combat life back home. In fact, they are central to our everyday lives.

Why then is it still difficult to corral voters to remind their elected officials that art is an essential part of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and deserve wholehearted support? If we can all back the statement that “the earth without art is just eh,” then why is it still often the last element on the food chain to be addressed as a critical need, and rhetoric in response to demand for increased public art support leaves patronage to those who can afford high ticket prices?

Many categorize this reluctance to speak out for the arts (when not in crisis) to a disdain for the current nature of politics. Others don’t feel their voice can make a difference and rise above the noise (or drone) of a state lagging in economic recovery. The bottom line, however, is that unless arts supporters persevere and insist their leaders recognize that arts and culture are important to life and community through robust commitments at all levels, we are destined to accept afterthoughts, remain on the back burner and perpetuate stereotypes that we regularly fight — a state in the shadows of two major urban centers sometimes only recognized globally by the coarseness of reality television.

What can you do to be an actively engaged arts supporter?

Exercise your rights as a voter in the booth. Find out how your elected officials stand on the arts. (Visit the last survey for U.S. Congress candidates on the ArtPride website and stay tuned for survey responses from N.J. Assembly candidates up for election in November).

And above all, don’t be afraid to engage them in a conversation about the arts in your community. They won’t bite — actually, they welcome the discussion on how art makes towns lively and you may be surprised to discover about how much they know about the arts where you live. Listen to their concerns, respect their priorities, remind them that the arts build pride, and help them see how the arts are part of the solution.

Where can you go to do ALL of this? Visit the ArtPride NJ web site. Check out the videos of how “Art Matters” to economic development in towns throughout our state. Sign up as part of a team to visit your NJ state legislators and deliver a message that the arts are as important to you as food, water and air. Make sure you receive action alerts about legislation and policy matters that affect the arts (next week the US Dept. of Interior appropriations bill will come under consideration including the National Endowment for the Arts).

Take a first step and remember that standing up for the arts is patriotic, too.

Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey. Miller is a regular contributor of the Dodge Blog.