Creativity is crucial, not only for culture, but for our survival
This weekend is all about celebrating the arts here in the Grand Valley, marked by our wonderful annual Art & Jazz Festival. There’s live music and dance and fine arts everywhere you look.
Eager to get a sneak peek at this year’s new sculptures in Grand Junction’s nationally acclaimed Art on the Corner program, traditionally installed just before the festival, I called on Downtown Development Authority director Harry Weiss last week.
“We’re not installing them until sometime in June this year,” he told me.
What? June! Outrageous. He began to explain the reasons for the delayed installation, but I was annoyed. I interrupted to ask point-blank if the DDA is pulling back on the program.
“Pulling back? Not at all,” he replied. “In fact, we’re looking at how to take it from its ad hoc evolutionary roots to a more professionally managed program.”
Now he had my full attention; this sounds like a good thing. He explained that the DDA is launching a full top-down assessment of the program to “figure out what is the best way to manage the program.”
Our Art on the Corner has been the model for many national public arts programs, but some of those other communities are now ahead of us.
“DDA is an economic development organization,” Weiss explained. “Most successful public arts programs are managed by an arts organization — organizations that have the expertise to best manage, maintain and repair the sculptures as needed as well as to develop arts education and effective marketing programs. We can still fund it, but perhaps it could be better managed under an arts organization. We’re going to look at a variety of options.”
His innovative and sensible ideas for taking the program to the next level came so fast that I couldn’t write them all down. There will be “considerable community engagement” in the assessment process, he said, and the assessment should be completed within the year.
Weiss wondered whether the Grand Valley is ready to commit to being an arts destination. We have theater, a symphony, traveling Broadway musicals, poets, writers and artists. We have growing audiences. But we’re sorely lacking in venues.
“To be an arts destination, there has to be a bigger commitment than just festivals, wine and a few galleries,” he explained, but added that several new galleries have recently opened.
It’s no secret that I’m biased toward the arts, so of course I’d love to see an arts destination commitment from and for our community. Creativity represents not only beauty and freedom of expression, but innovation, progress and survival of our very species.
Of all the related species of Homo — Homo floresiensis, habilis, heidelbergensis, denisovans, neanderthalensis, sapiens — only we sapiens remain. The Neanderthals had bigger brains, but they didn’t progress the way we did.
“The Neanderthals devised neither visual art nor personal ornamentation. Oddly, throughout this static history, they had a larger brain than sapiens,” wrote biologist Edward O. Wilson in his book “The Social Conquest of Earth.” He writes that Neanderthal tools remained essentially unchanged for thousands and thousands of years despite the extreme challenges and opportunities presented in their environments, while sapiens, on the other hand, were highly creative.
The differences between our two species are clear, but scientists don’t know if the lack of Neanderthal creativity is the result of something missing in their DNA or a cultural agreement not to change anything. Maybe their larger brains remembered all too clearly the disasters of taming fire and determining which berries were poison.
Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe our sapiens brains are given to longer memories and “... an ability to construct scenarios and plan strategy in brief periods of time,” Wilson wrote. “A group with members who could read intentions and cooperate among themselves while predicting the actions of competing groups would have an enormous advantage ... the crossing over of a threshold level of cognitive ability that endowed Homo sapiens with a dramatically high capacity for culture.”
We are an innovative, culturally rich and complex species. We instinctively understand the importance of creativity when it comes to our very survival. Creativity is necessary for innovation. But in some people living today, geneticists have found small traces of Neanderthal DNA. Maybe they’re the ones who don’t understand the importance of the creative spirit. Maybe not. No matter.
Here’s to everyone in western Colorado who recognizes, supports, and champions the creative and cultural arts in our community.
Oh, and happy Mother’s Day!