Plugged In: Art is in all of us, should be in community, too

Photo by Shauna Thornton, courtesy of Art Space. Winners of the Alaska Emerging Artist Competition gather with Soldotna Memorial Day Public Art Festival organizers during the awards ceremony Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park. Front row left to right are Julie Drake, first place; Amy Kruse, second place; and Francine Long, third place. Back row left to right are Cam Choy, associate professor of art at Kenai Peninsula College; Joe Kashi, president of Art Space; and Nathan Nash, adjunct art professor at Kenai Peninsula College.

Photo by Shauna Thornton, courtesy of Art Space. Winners of the Alaska Emerging Artist Competition gather with Soldotna Memorial Day Public Art Festival organizers during the awards ceremony Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park. Front row left to right are Julie Drake, first place; Amy Kruse, second place; and Francine Long, third place. Back row left to right are Cam Choy, associate professor of art at Kenai Peninsula College; Joe Kashi, president of Art Space; and Nathan Nash, adjunct art professor at Kenai Peninsula College.

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

“Plugged In” is a technology-oriented section of this newspaper, largely focusing on photo gear and computing, with occasional forays into physics and engineering. There’s a flip side to all that technology.

MIT is generally considered to be among the most technologically focused places on earth. Its reputation for technical prowess is deserved, yet in order to graduate, every MIT student must pass more courses in the arts, music, humanities and writing, a total of 12 courses, than the nine required in calculus, physics and other core sciences. MIT believes that the creativity fostered by every student actually doing music, writing and the arts not only produces a better-educated, more-rounded graduate but also better scientists, engineers and programmers with outside-the-box thinking skills needed to make the scientific and technical breakthroughs crucial to our society and economic competitiveness.

It’s not only at elite universities that we find a strong positive connection between the arts and educational excellence. There’s a well-proven link between the arts and positive kindergarten through 12th-grade education outcomes.

A strong argument can be made that art is a fundamental aspect of human nature. Cave paintings date to the dawn of modern man. Anthropologists and archeologists find characteristic artwork in virtually every culture. Even the U.S. Marine Corps has combat artists who accompany Marines on their operations and create artwork while under hostile fire. Check out Marine Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 4606 and 4611.

As a matter of practical business, attractively designed products tend to command a higher price and more resilient market share. Think Apple, Sony, Gucci, etc.

By improving the attractiveness of their communities through a strong public art presence, economically distressed cities and towns, like Greenville, South Carolina, North Adams, Massachusetts, and Mendocino, California, have jump-started economies previously dependent on fading manufacturing and natural resource industries, and reviving declining property values. It’s not a great stretch to recognize that most people would prefer to live, work and raise their families in a visually appealing, interesting area rather than a dull, unattractive place.

Why, then, despite these proven positive links, does “art” often have a poor public reputation? Which may be, in fairness, at least partially deserved.

Too often, “art” establishments are neither democratic nor effectively part of the broader public cultural environment. Our current gallery-centered approach to displaying art may be unsuited to tight economic times. It’s costly to keep buildings in good repair and pay utilities, insurance, salaries and other basic operating costs. That requires traditional art organizations to devote much of their effort to raising money to keep the doors open, rather than directly furthering art, artists and direct community participation.

What’s needed are sustainable, low-cost methods that allow more people to develop and exhibit their personal creativity. While many of us do not have the skills to produce proficient drawings, paintings and sculptures, nearly everyone has some skills suitable for personal creative work. Some produce excellent quilts, fiber works or paper folding. Industrial fabricators already have the skills needed for metal sculpting, while fine woodworking is a common skill in our area. My brother, a machinist, uses his skills to produce finely wrought stained-glass window hangings. Nearly everyone with a recent, higher-end digital camera has the ability make technically good photos that can be properly printed by any good lab.

What’s missing? Ideally, we would have more highly visible public art brightening the community and encouraging voluntary community beautification by property owners. While Kaladi’s two Soldotna stores generously offer monthly exhibition space, additional no-cost exhibition space in heavily trafficked public areas would allow many more residents to display their work, something that’s always appreciated, even when unspoken.

There’s no lack among central peninsula residents of basic technical skills suited to individual creative outlets, but, there’s a distinct lack of affordable adult education available to the general public teaching how to use existing practical skills for personal creativity.

So, wrapping up next week, I’ll suggest some low-cost approaches addressing these community needs.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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