Ben Cameron: “Why Must We in the Arts Exist Today?”

Ben Cameron

by Ben Cameron

We must begin by asking, why must we  exist today? Because we have a building is not enough. Because we have a history and awards and a reputation is not enough. What is it in the world—in an external world—that mandates the flourishing of the arts in our communities today?

I expect the artist to do more than engage in expression—I expect the artist to refine that expression through discipline, craft, patience, listening—to essentially think more deeply, feel more deeply, express more deeply and to lead me more deeply into unexplored terrain where I have yet to wander. I believe the arts invite us to access, not the easiest or most facile parts of ourselves, but the best parts, the deepest parts, the deepest emotions, the most generous impulses, and yet at times the most urgent fears. ”When you meet your life in a great poem, it becomes expanded, extended, clarified, magnified, deepened in color, deepened in feeling,” says poet Jane Hirschfield. ”Aren’t we enlarged by the scale of what we are able to desire?” writes poet Mark Doty—a question that invites the reverse: aren’t we diminished by the scale of the easy with which we content ourselves? In the arts, we not only ask for more: we demand more—more of one another, more of ourselves.

In essence, we must recognize and celebrate the role of the arts in the search for common meaning.

Many of us did not choose this work; it chose us. But when we choose to answer that call, what we really do is, we honor the past, we commemorate the present, we shape and we change the future in a way that does honor to all and violence to none. I don’t care how much opponents may try to shame us from that path. For those of us who are spiritually inclined, it is God’s work we do.

A thrilling and inspiring talk on The Power of the Arts by Ben Cameron

Ben Cameron assumed his current position as Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York, NY, in 2006. Previously, he served for more than 8 years as the Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national service organization for the American nonprofit professional theater, significantly expanding its programs, membership base and grantmaking activities.

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