I cannot think of one aspect of life in Charleston, South Carolina, that is not affected, enriched, enlivened, or indebted to what we so cavalierly refer to as “the arts.”
Maybe if we called poetry and painting, music and dance, fiction and drama by their more proper name—plasma, life blood—we wouldn’t find ourselves fighting Governor Nikki Haley to keep her from ANNIHILATING funding for such inconsequential prettiness.
Maybe if we stripped all the aesthetically lovely aspects off our fabulous buildings, if we shuttered the Gibbes Museum and silenced the church bells clanging out their silly tunes and just simply threw the goddamn towel in on the kids at the arts-infused Sanders Clyde Elementary School—let ‘em go sell drugs and get shot and see if we care—then our sucky economy would miraculously rebound. Because it’s all about economic development—as if that happened in a colorless, shapeless, tuneless, creativity-less vacuum.
Who needs imagination? Who needs inspiration? Who needs hope and dreams and passion? Who needs to express heartache and loneliness, or to feel the depths of others’ joy and despair and know you are not alone? Who needs literature—that nonsense pastime? Hell, we just need lower taxes. Less government.
I say we ship Spoleto and the symphony off to Savannah, dredge and deepen their arts channels along with their port. They’ve got nice old buildings, a coast, and SCAD. I mean, who needs “art” in South Carolina when Savannah is only two hours away. Boeing won’t mind. Those techie companies we’re trying to lure will understand. We’ve got priorities: offshore drilling, better jails, jobs. (Hmmm, should someone tell Ms. Haley that the arts and creative industries are a leading growth cluster in the state’s economic development plan, that creative enterprise in the state engenders a core impact of $9.2 billion and 78,682 jobs and a full impact of $13.3 billion and 107,614 jobs, according to a 2008 study by the USC Darla Moore School of Business. Yes that Darla Moore, the one Haley sacked.)
If Governor Haley gets her way and ALL public funding for South Carolina arts (not a robust amount to start with, mind you) is dead and gone, it won’t be a pretty picture. Write your representatives. Send them a poem, a song, a photo, a video, a film, a chapter from your novel, a limerick, a recipe, a dream, a wish, an expression of who you are and who we all can be—as engaged citizens, enlightened humans, as a more resilient and compassionate community. We should SPEAK UP, fire up our imaginations, and state ever-so clearly that art is not optional. It is integral. It is us.