Ebola, The Arts, and the culture of fear in the United States

America lives in fear.  Our current nightmare is the Ebola virus.  Last week, ISIS.  Before that, Ferguson.  Each newsworthy event seemingly moves faster than the last.  Meanwhile, back in reality, many of the things that have made our country great are being threatened—and nobody seems to care.

Boring things like our nation’s infrastructure, education system, and yes – the arts – fall by the wayside when more urgent and newsworthy subjects like Ebola come into focus.  To be clear, Ebola is scary—especially for health care workers working on the front line.  But the current threat of the deadly virus is relatively small in this country.

The Obama administration’s appointment of an Ebola Czar is the latest governmental attempt to quell our fears, drawing our attention towards a singular human being to save us.  The media has been all over this newsworthy crisis.  Ratings are up.  Money is made—until the next “crisis” comes along. The Ebola Czar is a point person put in place to calm fears and show that there are steps being made by our government to solve a problem.  What if this whole Czar thing is really about shining a light on the biggest problems our country faces?  Perhaps we should all be calling upon the Obama administration to appoint an Arts Czar, effective immediately.

An Arts Czar makes good sense.  The lack of arts in schools or the closing of a local orchestra is actually a cultural epidemic of national importance.  Based on the work of some of our previous Czars, an Arts Czar could work to make us scared to death about the state of the arts.

Perhaps we need to raise the level of discourse in a way that incites fear into the discussion. Our “look at me, look at me” antics don’t seem to be cutting it in the 24 hour news cycle so I propose that we raise the bar in regards to our talking points.  Here’s what it might look like if we simply exchange “Ebola” with “Arts” or “Lack of Arts Funding” in the headlines, followed by a short description of a proposed article:

  • “Connecticut Family Sues Over School’s Lack of Arts Funding”
    • Citing a recent Wall Street Journal article as evidence proving that the arts help children have higher IQ’s, do better on tests, and, close the achievement gap, a Connecticut Family has decided to sue their local school district for their decision to withhold sequential arts learning experiences for their child.
      Source: ABC News
  • “Obama pledges support for Arts workers”
    • Today the Obama Administration announced further financial support of the country’s arts and culture sector, which amounts to about 3.2 percent ($504 billion) of the country’s GDP.  Artists are an unmistakable economic driver for communities across the country and the Obama administration is incredibly committed to making certain the arts continue to fuel our recovering economy.
      Original Source: USA Today

It is the sensationalized nature of our news cycle that drives people to watch, click, and share content that is truly troublesome.  I’m guessing that many of you clicked on this story because of the title.  I’m ok with that, I guess.  The challenge for all of us pursuing a career in the arts is to figure out how to get the attention of news outlets, news feeds, and people in positions to make decisions that benefit our field.

With this in mind, I want to hear from you.  How do we create a national call for an Arts Czar?  Would that even make a difference? Finally, who is doing great work out there pleading the case for a national movement in the arts?

Published by Nate Zeisler

Nathaniel Zeisler is passionate about supporting and developing the careers of artists and artistically minded entrepreneurs. Serving as the Director of Community Engagement and Adult Studies at the Colburn School, Zeisler is working to build a program that offers a menu of services and training to world-class artists who seek sustainable careers, through engagement activities in Southern California. In 2004, Nathaniel founded the Envision Chamber Consort; an organization dedicated to presenting music as a form of contemporary communication. Continuing to pursue connections between the business and arts communities, Zeisler co-founded and led Arts Enterprise, an organization that helps students find sustainable careers in their chosen field. Additionally, Dr. Zeisler served as the assistant professor of bassoon and professor of entrepreneurship at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. As a musician, Nate served as the principal bassoonist of the Ann Arbor Symphony and performed as second bassoonist with the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit. Nathaniel earned his doctorate of musical arts and master’s degree in bassoon performance from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s degree in choral and instrumental education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

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