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Writing

A Thousand Points of Light,
A Thousand Shades of Gray

by Jeff Gates

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While religious, political, and social tolerance is at the core of Americans' sense of their own cultural identity, we often practice just the opposite. Given the intricate nature of our world, are we prepared to acknowledge our lack of understanding and ask for explanations? Or are we to hide behind our ignorance by bestowing hero status upon our political and cultural leaders and asking them to tell us only what we want to hear?

Everything we do and everything we are revolve around issues of power and control. Most of the terrible events and problems in our society--crime, poverty, drug addiction, homelessness, and alcoholism to name a few--occur when we, personally and/or collectively, have lost control in our lives and the power to effect change. Rather than hiding behind slogans and our heros, we need to develop educational, social, and cultural programs which allow individuals to regain their personal power.

We can begin by acknowledging our society's propensity for seeking easy solutions. They don't exist. It is important to continually search for those gray shades of meaning. In order to combat stereotyping of artists we need to demystify the art process. This means talking about what we do in every community we inhabit. The Right will continue its attempt to eliminate government support for the arts as well as to narrow the definition of acceptable cultural practice. In order to make our case we must link increased support for cultural activities with the social and economic well being of this society. Art gives people power and control in their own lives. It teaches analytical skills as well as ways to conceptualize and be creative. These are important abilities to have even if one isn't going to be an artist. Through our activities and teachings we can pass this power on.

We need to hold those who speak for us accountable for what they say, while not being swayed by palatable and overly simplistic sound bites. As individuals we must begin to develop relationships with politicians who determine local and national policy. This means finding out where our legislators stand on art issues and letting them know our opinions as artists and voters. Begin to follow the voting record of your representatives in your local papers and call their offices frequently to get their official position. In order to circumvent the crisis attitude we often feel when another anti-art amendment erupts, develop a working relationship with these officials and their aids for art and culture. It then becomes easier and quicker to get their attention when you need it. The next time you write or phone they will know who you are. When you speak to them be prepared to discuss the issues. I have the facts, it is easier to make your case from an educated point of view.

We must learn to listen to others as well as develop our own voices. Otherwise, we will continue to give our power away and our society will continue to grow intolerant. Given the complicated problems our culture faces, we may not always be able to see clear and simple answers. But we can begin to redirect the dangerous and narrow path our society seems to be taking.

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© 1991 Jeff Gates. No reproduction in whole or in part may be used without prior consent of the author.


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