A Vibrant Cultural Engine: Art for Life’s Sake
Sociologists tell us that societies are powered by three engines: politics, economics, and culture. The political engine gives us structure and is responsible for stability and security. The economic engine, through trade, puts food on the table and a roof over our heads. And the cultural engine encompasses who we are, how we feel, and the things that give our lives meaning.
The currency of politics is the distribution of power. The currency of economics is the creation of wealth. Is there a currency of culture? I think it’s trust. Through the arts and culture, we gain perspective and the capacity for empathy and humility.
My favorite version of a vibrant society has all three engines firing on all cylinders, and a populace energized, fulfilled and engaged. Sometimes these engines have strong borders. But I want to suggest that societies run better when the engines not only fire on all cylinders but also intersect. As in nature, creativity in human society happens at the intersections.
Musicians spend years learning technique, but the point of art is always to transcend technique. We do so in order to seek out truths in a way that gives meaning and sustenance to individuals and communities—that’s art for life’s sake.
Citizen Artistry: Toward Something Greater than Ourselves
How can we share our planet among so many people with so many competing interests? What role can the arts, culture, and humanities play in finding solutions to our global dilemmas? What possible skills do musicians have to address the pressing needs that we encounter in our own neighborhoods?
To start, artists are taught to be simultaneously attentive to the biggest possible picture and the smallest detail. Everything we practice in music—or any of the performing arts—involves four qualities necessary for success in the 21st century: collaboration, flexibility, imagination, and innovation.
At Silkroad, we work to inspire passion-driven learning through the arts. We have partnered with Harvard Graduate School of Education to create an annual institute for teachers from all over the world who want to work collaboratively, across disciplines, to make their teaching memorable. And we have started a partnership with Harvard Business School to encourage artists and entrepreneurs to develop their passion for culture.
We believe that by connecting performance, education, and entrepreneurship, we can encourage new models of making art for life’s sake, for all our sakes.
The Edge Effect: Who Am I, and How Do I Fit in the World?
In ecology, where two ecosystems meet, such as the forest and the savannah, the point of intersection is the site of “edge effect.” In that transition zone, because of the influence the two ecological communities have on each other, you find the greatest diversity of life, as well as the greatest number of new life forms.
The edge, where those of varied backgrounds come together, is a region of less structure, more diversity, and more possibility. The edge is a time and place of transformation and movement. Through collaborating and developing flexible thinking, going back and forth between our center and our edges, we find a way to welcome change and make new ideas safe.
How do we make our ideas reality? Each one of us can and will make a difference if we work at the edge where creativity and innovation flourish.