Today is apparently the day that Culture Stops.

Except it won’t.

I basically agree with their mission:

Culture Stops! is a citizen-driven, peaceful day of action by individuals and organizations in the creative sector across the United States who share the simple belief that the power of creative thought is the lifeblood of democracy.

The idea behind it is simple.

On Thursday, March 10th, 2011, Culture Stops! will ask you to imagine a world where writers put down their pens and artists put down their paints. Where architects stop designing our cities and poets, dancers and sculptors stop teaching our children. Where our national landmarks fall into decay. Where debate is no longer fostered in our universities, or on our radio dials. Where our symphony halls fall silent and our libraries go dark. Where our collective history is left unmade and unwritten.

We come together to call attention to the deep and widespread cuts, proposed by Congress and the President to federal funding for the arts and humanities, heritage and preservation, arts education and a host of related federal programs that quietly fuel the creative sector. We understand and accept that our country’s economic crisis demands shared sacrifice, but we see these cuts as uneven and disproportionate. We believe that Congress needs to apply reductions fairly and evenly Рbut that it must not balance the federal budget at the expense of the millions of people who add critical vitality to American life. The issue is not only an economic one, but also a moral one. Arts and culture feeds the minds and fuels the souls of Americans. Seriously weakening these creative forces seriously weakens our country.

Our day of action will put a face to the millions of individuals, for-profit companies, non profit organizations and institutions who fuel and sustain the creative sector and are the backbone of America ingenuity.

They also have a handy list of ways you can participate in the day, icons and avatars to download with phrases like “I’m an artist. I matter.” and variations for all sorts of creative professions.


The thing is, you can’t stop culture. These actions aren’t going to affect anyone but the people already paying attention to you. All you’re really doing is preaching to the choir. Unless you can close your eyes & ears, stop breathing in scents, stop talking and stop thinking, you’re going to see art and culture. It does not stop.

More to the point, the people they’re trying to reach, the people who want to make these specific cuts, if they notice at all, the first thing they’ll say is, “Good, they stopped!” Make no mistake, this is not about cutting the budget, saving money or preserving vital programs. Check out this comparison of budget cuts and tax breaks and then ask why they want to whittle the NEA down to $120+ million. Or eliminate the CPB entirely, which was only $422 million in 2010 and whose budget supplements funding for arts programming and education elsewhere. That’s nothing compared to the numbers in that article.

This is not about money, it’s about exclusion.

If you look at the Culture Stops participation page, it includes helpful ideas like “Put a sign on the door that says ‘due to funding cuts there is no more creativity and thus nothing for you to see here.'” Or suggesting museums cover a major piece of art or shut down a gallery, maybe turn off lights in a wing. Or theatre companies taking a 5-10 minute break in the middle of performance–but not an intermission–and explaining the reason behind the break. Or libraries covering up sections of the stacks, tucking flyers into books getting checked out.

Do you see a theme there? All of these tactics will affect the general public, and they’re all exclusionary. They cut people off from art, holding it behind a curtain and making it seem like a luxury item. They give it a capital A and hold it hostage. In the end, most people will go to the next option, whether it’s another store, another movie, probably their computer. Why?

Because we’re surrounded by art in every second of every day of our lives.

You can say, “I’m creative. I matter.” till you’re blue in the face. It doesn’t mean anything to me unless you justify it with your creativity. It’s not a tactic that would work in dating–and neither is the silent treatment, for that matter–so why would it work here? Do we really want to make it more difficult for people to participate in our arts, even if only for a day?

Let’s connect the arts to peoples’ everyday lives and, in so doing, include them in this world of art and culture. Every item we use, every building we set foot in, every thing in our lives was designed by someone. Every story we read or hear or see has been crafted. And anything we see or touch can be telling a story whether we realize it or not, even, as Seth Godin points out, a shampoo bottle.

I look at the glass and gleaming curves of the new Arena Stage, and I see transparency, illumination. I see curtains made of light. I see fluidity and possibility. From one angle, it almost looks like the prow of a ship pointing forward, ready to take me to new worlds, new cultures, new stories. All things considered, it’s ironic that it points almost directly at the Capitol building…

At first sight, that was the story I saw in this design. You can ask Molly Smith if I read it correctly.

Every moment of every person’s everyday life is infused with art and culture and story.

And we all take it for granted.

I keep hearing the refrain, “How can we make the arts relevant?” We don’t have to, they already are. Let’s point that fact out. First, let’s put away the capital A, fold up the velvet ropes and let everyone in. Now, look at the world around you. See the art in the everyday and illustrate that fact wherever you can. Show us your art while you’re at it.

It’s what we do with the 360 Storytelling events. People come to tell stories, others come to watch. “Oh, I couldn’t do that, I don’t perform.” Within two or three stories, that’s the person who says, “Would it be okay if I told one?” And those people come back for more, they bring friends, they come to our shows to see what stories we can tell with sets and costumes and more than a six minute running time. We unlock their creativity, their art, we give them a taste of what we do reflexively, and they love it.

We include everyone and show that we all matter.

One last thought. The government can cut all the funding they want, but it’s not going to make art and culture stop. Whether I’m funded or not, I’m still going to make my art, write my stories, share my work. I can’t not. And I know I’m not alone in that.

So I would urge you to stop preaching to the choir, we’ve heard it all before. Take your art and shout it from the rooftops. Better yet, take it to the streets where we can all share it together. Turn and preach with the choir, all pointed forward, aimed at the Capitol. Drown them in a raging, tempest-tost sea of art and culture and story, a sea we navigate daily by blind luck and dead reckoning.

Show them why we matter.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go work on a play. What are you going to make today?

  • March 10, 2011
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