Art and the Crisis of Imagination

Sometimes it feels like we’re living through one big dumpster fire. I could easily make the case that the world is a whole mess of intractable problems: Poverty, food insecurity, inequality, climate change. And add to that the fact that we’re seeing things crucial to the functioning of this country being contested in new and pernicious ways: Truth, citizenship, the extent to which some of us value democracy itself. We’ve tried just about everything: We protest; we form commissions; we write policy; we turn to technology; and in some cases we even throw money at these issues. But what really holds us back is lack of imagination, and the arts are critical fuel for that.

The thing we haven’t tried is a heavy investment in the arts and centering them in all of these conversations about these issues that affect us all. A few months back, I wrote that the arts should be considered essential services. Beyond that, there needs to be a massive investment into art experiences as entry points into civic dialogue, engagement and the rebuilding of the public sphere. The artists and arts professionals among us know that civic dialogue via the arts is a real thing. Back in 2005, Americans for the Arts published the results of its four-year Animating Democracy program that emphasized the following: The arts can be sparks for civic dialogue and the multiple perspectives around issues; it can be an invitation to bring forward often silenced or divergent viewpoints; it creates a space psychologically, experientially and intellectually that encourages reflection and discussion; and it can provide an alternate form of dialogue, as with dance, theater or performance art that can communicate beyond the possibilities of everyday language.

Imagination is exactly what we need if we’re going to design the robust futures that we deserve. It’s through the arts that we foreground empathy, feeling, and an understanding of other perspectives. And it’s only in that space can we find enduring solutions that will benefit us all.

Originally published at on June 14, 2021.




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Rob Fields

Rob Fields

Arts Leader | Marketer | Dot Connector | ENFP | My newsletter: #TheBlackFantastic. Subscribe here: Opinions: mine |

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