Why Art Matters

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by Michael Moore


lorida. Texas. Puerto Rico. Mexico. The hurricanes and earthquakes that have ripped through these areas continue to send shockwaves across the nation and the world. The extraordinary effort that will be required to ameliorate the damage is almost unfathomable. It will be months and years before many of these places recover, and there’s a real fear that things will get worse before they get better: The specter of further crises caused by lack of infrastructure looms greater every day. Hurricane season remains in full swing, and even as I write this, Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas are facing yet again heavy rain and possible tropical storms.

Staring down so much devastation, creative endeavors can seem almost frivolous. And I will be the first to say that top priorities should always be safety and well being: protection from harm, medical care for injuries, a place to live, food to eat.

These are all things that make life possible.

But there are also things that make life worthwhile. Art is one of them, and it’s not a luxury, but an essential component of human existence.

Peter Tyas, the new executive director of Studio Channel Islands, understands this. He feels art — in all its myriad forms — occupies a vital place in the community, and therefore should be nurtured and supported. By the same token, he feels art should serve its community to some degree as well. In the conversation he had with writer Mark Storer, Tyas shares how he hopes to “use the power of the arts for social good,” whether that’s furthering education, helping people find their voice, aiding in recovery from trauma, inspiring social change or promoting justice.

Picking up a paintbrush, writing a story or composing a melody aren’t the same as erecting a house, providing clean water or building a new highway. But artistic endeavors nevertheless give us something we so desperately need right now, as the world reels from one natural disaster after another, from political discord and military conflict, in the face of threats to the environment, human rights, safety and prosperity. Appreciating art, and expressing ourselves through it, is tremendously therapeutic because it reaches deep inside of us to get at anger, sadness, fear, joy, hope, love —all the things that make us human.

Creativity constructs a safe space for the soul, feeds the imagination, and paves a road toward healing. In these uncertain times, it seems to me that the arts are more necessary to us than ever.


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