Wednesday, August 25, 2004

NEA chair

The alumni magazine of the university at which I used to work published an article about the recently appointed chair of the National Endowment for the Arts: "Mr. Gioia Goes to Washington." The magazine also published an interview with Mr. Gioia. Here is the opening question and his answer:
Q: In 1992’s Can Poetry Matter?, you challenged us to bring poetry back out of seclusion in academia. Have you noticed any progress in this?
A: I’m both encouraged and discouraged by the trends in American art. What I find most encouraging in poetry, and in some of the other arts, is the growing awareness that the vitality of culture depends on engaging a broad, mixed audience.

Most of the innovation in American poetry that’s happened over the past 10 years has happened outside the university. We have a renewal of interest in poetry and the other arts by non-professionals. We are also seeing a groundswell of community-based activities in the arts. This trend takes many forms. It ranges from bookstore readings to neighborhood book clubs to grassroots performance groups in theatre and music. People understand, at a deep, instinctive level, the power of art to build and refine community identity. This seems, to me, a wonderful and important trend.

The university has an extremely important part to play in all of the arts, but it is not a part that can be done alone. There needs to be a broader dialogue in society between artists, academics, bohemians and the general audience.

What I find discouraging is the continuing encroachment of the commercial, electronic media on American culture. Reading and other sorts of cultural activities are in decline as people spend more time with television, the Internet, iPods, DVDs — all of the electronic paraphernalia. I worry that the average American is becoming more of a passive consumer and less of an active and engaged individual.

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