Nourishing the Arts – personal and public capital

Ms Lorraine Thornquist, Director of Creative Arts

“…the life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose- and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.”—John F Kennedy. (35th US President (1961-63), 1917-1963)

In his World Theatre Day message (27 March 2012), actor John Malkovich went to the heart of the matter of the role of the Arts: it is about framing the question ‘how do we live?’(Malkovich, 2012). Artistic nourishment is fundamental to our humanness, not only for us as the artist, but also for our interactions with the Arts as audience and in the utilisation of our creative skills, derived from the study of the Arts, which inform our personal and professional lives. How is this nourishment channeled and who ensures that it is not only available but clearly articulated and delivered?

As an integral part of our public lives, the Arts are guided by government policies and funding parameters. The Arts have always been part of this School’s learning framework, a situation which will be further validated by the introduction of the Australian Curriculum. In the second half of this year, the Arts curriculum will enter the consultation phase prior to revision and final publication, the date of which is yet to be announced. What is clearly stated is that the Arts will be mandated from Kindergarten through to Year 8 with a compulsory minimum number of hours of teaching and learning. The wording of the Australian Curriculum document describes this as a “learning entitlement”, a significant substantiation of the importance of the Arts nourishing our lives from an early age.

There is a significant body of research to tell us that Arts programmes in schools contribute much to not only academic achievement but also to social and emotional development in forming creative and productive citizens and collective citizenship. Learning in the Arts is not linear and lock step. It is a process of evolving, of acknowledging a need and a mindset for flexibility, of developing complex and critical thinking and evaluation skills. It is a learning that demands diversity of approach, attention to the moment as well as imagining and realising the outcome. It teaches communicating for understanding and visits a range of life issues in a guided yet challenging framework.

David Skorton, President of Cornell University and himself a physician and biomedical scientist, insists that the Arts, “… far from being mere adornments to educational development, easy to dismiss as nonessential in tight economic times, these disciplines nurture our creative instincts. ”  (2010). Unfortunately we live in an era of measurement where success tends to be rated in statistics and monetary value. The enrichment that the Arts bestow upon our lives, beyond pleasure, is hard to or statistically represent on a scale. If Paul Cézanne’s painting The Card Players sold recently for $250 million, this new record of a price on an art work does not necessarily reflect its intrinsic value as part of our cultural heritage.

At a political level, this post-modern world of consumption and commodity lends itself to the notion that the Arts and their concomitant industries are the way of the future, with tangible social and economic value. Nations claim status via cultural capitals, with cities competing for the title and through governments writing cultural policies. Australia is at the point of publishing its own National Cultural Policy. The intent is to nourish the Arts and to embed artistic achievements and endeavours into every strata of our society. A national policy can engender respect and confidence from within and without our society. It contributes to our image, to exploring ways of developing social cohesion and shows the public face of support for artists and the artistic. It fosters the belief in cultural literacy. On the other hand, the Arts are also expected to deliver economic returns and while this could raise some scepticism of how the two notions of nourishing the Arts and portraying the Arts as economic tools can share the same landscape, for many nations, the Arts are indeed a major resource and export commodity where both parties can be nourished.

But it is not enough to have a national policy, as important a platform as this is for funding and promoting the Arts. Society has a further obligation to the Arts through the public philanthropic support of artists and arts institutions, be they art museums, orchestras or theatre. The Arts do not simply belong to governments or even artistic bodies nor should they rise and fall on the whims or management of either. Endowments alongside government funding complete the reciprocal relationship of the Arts, where all parties are nourished and rewarded, socially, spiritually, economically.  In recent times we have seen in Australia how larger philanthropy has come out of the closet with some prominent leaders of industry and entrepreneurs going on record as donors in a bid to make this practice more common.

When Richard Tognetti of the Australian Chamber Orchestra plays his $10 million violin, gifted to him by an unnamed philanthropist, we all are enriched:  artist, audience, orchestra, all of us sharing the pleasure and privilege of a performance enhanced by generosity. In turn, realms of government policy and funding can see the potential of social and economic benefits which can touch not just the “big-ticket” players in the artistic process but can promote the cause of those emerging artists and artistic industries and reach parts of society hitherto outside the sphere of artistic experience.

To encourage the philanthropist, the entrepreneur, the bureaucrat, the artist, and importantly all of us who constitute the audience in a variety of ways, formation in the Arts must be part of a lifelong and life-wide learning, beginning in our schools. This is where the appreciation and the application to the Arts can be nurtured and the mind and the brain prepared for the intricacies of thought and feeling that are the journey in the Arts.

It’s also important to understand that the Arts are not nourishment only unto themselves. For the imperatives of innovation in our present and future world, our students will be relying on a richly nourished and flourishing capacity for imagination, for different ways of seeing and creating. Nobody doubts that our students need a full and multi-layered experiential education to meet their challenges of employability in the twenty-first century where the professional landscape is in constant flux.

For Ken Robinson (2008), the power of imagination is the source of all human achievement from the most personal to the Arts and also to the realms of scientific research and economic productivity. The Arts in education are the key to this flourishing and nourishing of imagination and the possibility for innovation in the professional lives of our students. Strategic collaborations and partnerships between government, businesses, foundations and education can inspire individual and collective engagement, and be instrumental in evolving the next generation of artists and creative entrepreneurs.

The Arts are fundamental to understanding life and our lives in particular. They take us into other people’s experiences, opening our eyes to viewpoints and mindscapes we might never have known. It is this process of what Azar Nafisi (2004) defines as “dehabitualization” of discovering the magic in what another person might consider mundane, that unfolds new perspectives and curiosity. Ken Robinson talks about this concept as challenging what we take for granted, having the capacity and the courage to step out of our comfort zone.  We have an obligation as educators and as a society to develop social and emotional intelligence in our students to give them the advantage of adaptive thinking in the new age. What better place to start than the Arts?

Historically, the Arts are recognised as having been the first forms of communication and they have never abandoned this role.  From mankind’s earliest history the Arts have been the storytelling, the aesthetic of who we are, why we are here.There is an international, trans-cultural understanding of the language of the Arts. They explore and yet transcend difference and do not necessarily require a translator. Engaging with the Arts is not a one-way street. This is about exchange of ideas and perspectives of addressing the pluralistic and the non-linear in the collapsing boundaries of the 21st century world.

There is no such thing as a society without the Arts. Censoring them as happens in some societies, be it art, theatre or music, may only give them wider power and draws us more fully into our human story. The Arts not only unify us in our humanness but in the newly evolving and rapidly changing worlds of work, they weave a link through all of our knowledge disciplines and skills. Furthermore, as Saul Bellow reminds us, a culture that has lost its poetry and its soul is a culture that faces death (The Dean’s December 1982). Nourishing the arts is everyone’s business.


Bellow, S., (1982), The Dean’s December. Penguin Books.New York Johnson, L.,(2006), Valuing the arts: theorising and realising cultural capital in an Australian city. Geographical Research Volume 44, Issue 3, pages 296–309, September 2006.

Lehrer, J., ( 2012), Imagine —The Science of Creativity. Text Publishing Melbourne.


Malkovich, J., (2012 March 27), World Theatre Day Message. Retrieved March 28 2012 from

Nafisi, A., (2004), The Republic of the Imagination. 2004. Retrieved 01 June 2012 from


Robinson, K., (2006), The Power of the Imaginative Mind. Retrieved 04 June 2012 from


Skorton, D. J., (2011), The Arts Are Essential. Edutopia.  Retrieved 31 May 2012 from


Smith, F., (2012), Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best. Edutopia. Retrieved 31 May 2012 from


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