Friday, September 16, 2011

Cultural Infrastructure Key to Economic Growth

Most people think of roads and bridges when they hear the word “infrastructure” in reference to federal funding, but one economist quotes social activist Arlene Goldbard to draw attention to the equal importance of investments in cultural and social infrastructure. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the importance of supporting the arts, public spaces and cultural institutions in leading the country out of the Great Depression, Goldbard once said, and that lesson should not be forgotten as the current administration decides how to stimulate growth through infrastructure spending. For more on this continue reading the following article from Economist’s View.

Via Ecological Headstand:

"Infrastructure has another meaning, too," Sandwichman: Arlene Goldbard points out the not-so-obvious to those who misplaced concreteness makes them see only roads and bridges where public support of culture -- books, plays, paintings, sculpture, dance performance, concerts and cultural workshops -- would employ far more people, more creatively with less capital intensity.

Cultural infrastructure, social infrastructure: these describe the institutions, customs, ways of communicating, expressions of caring, celebrations, ceremonies, and public spaces that enable people to feel seen and to know they are welcome in their own communities. Cultural infrastructure is the aggregate of innumerable public and private actions, of many threads weaving the social fabric we share. When it becomes badly frayed—when foreclosures, homelessness, long-term joblessness are epidemic, when countless families are forced to relocate to find work, when bleeding-edge gentrification become commonplace, when scapegoating rises and ordinary Americans are unable or unwilling to cross lines of color or class—when the social fabric is as shredded as it has become after decades of me-first corporate-driven politics, mending it is clearly a public sector responsibility. Who else’s should it be?

Three-quarters of a century ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal drove public-sector interventions that helped to pull us out of the Great Depression. Roads and bridges, parks and ampitheatres were built, to be sure. But the largest single New Deal intervention was Federal One, comprising five massive cultural programs that put jobless Americans to work. They made plays that helped us face the issues we had to resolve and images that reminded people of a history of struggle and cooperation that built their communities. They created enterprises that brought exciting innovative design into the public sphere; taught children to make music so that access to beauty and meaning did not become an attribute of privilege, but was recognized as a human right; and preserved living history as a reservoir of resilience we could draw on to face the future.

FDR understood that shoring up physical infrastructure wouldn’t save us without comparable investment in cultural infrastructure. People wouldn’t have faith in the future, they wouldn’t be willing to spend their hard-earned dollars, they wouldn’t be aligned with national goals for recovery, unless they had meaningful, personal connections to our collective story. Unless they felt connected and saw their own actions as helping. Demonstrably, he was right.

This article was republished with permission from Economist's View.

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