Why are culture and the arts important? Most people who participate in artistic and cultural activities would say that these activities enhance the quality of their lives—they bring enjoyment, enrich perspectives, and stimulate the intellect.
But the arts can have broader impacts beyond the individual level. They can also fuel community, economic, and social development.
Framing Public Discussion
Because art is about crossing boundaries and seeing things in different ways, it can be a vehicle for framing public discussion and building connections.
Philosophy provides the ground rules for discussing the economic and social ethics of a developing country in Stephen Esquith's "Ethics and Development in Mali" study abroad class.
Yong Zhao is forming cultural connections in the arena of educational policy. Zhao, who researches and teaches Chinese language and culture, is a firm advocate of looking at educational systems around the world and taking the best ideas from each of them.
Preserving Cultural Lore and Traditions
The preservation, dissemination, and development of cultural lore and traditions is one major role of universities. MSU is often at the forefront of digital innovations for democratizing access to such information.
Ellen Cushman is partnering with the Cherokee Nation to preserve Native American technologies and practices for publication on the Web. The next generation follows closely behind, as engaged student Autumn Mitchell works to revitalize tribal language programs.
Mark Kornbluh's team at Mat rix has partnered with Marsha MacDowell's team at the MSU Museum and other institutions nationwide to develop an online quilt index and exhibition.
Voicing Workers' Experiences
Art can also be used as a voice for social awareness. John Beck and Yvonne Lockwood's exhibition of workers' culture and Rob Roznowski's Michigan auto industry performance project are two powerful examples.
Investing in Community Vitality
As the automotive industry scales down in Michigan, and alternative economic footings for the region are sought, cultural entrepreneurship (think "cool cities" initiatives) becomes more important.
The performing arts lend themselves particularly well to community development partnerships, and Rodney Whitaker's jazz studies program takes it to a new level, working with K-12 schools, city symphonies, and artist residencies.
Ed Mahoney has developed tools to measure the financial impact of such projects and provides advice for developing a cultural economy.
The ability to attract and retain creative human talent is a major key to economic growth. Communities are selling their "cultural vibrancy" to attract the most talented and brightest workers. MSU Museum director Kurt Dewhurst wraps up the issue with a thoughtful discussion of what we mean by cultural entrepreneurship and how the University can help to make it stronger, better, and more sustainable.
We hope you enjoy this issue of The Engaged Scholar Magazine. Our next issue will focus on natural resources, environmental issues, and the new bioeconomy. Also, please watch for our e-newsletter this fall.
Linda Chapel Jackson