The Value of American Arts

Wynton Marsalis Sets New Standard During National Arts Advocacy Day

Updated 4/13/09 to include video of the lecture!

Legendary jazz trumpeter delivers soul-stirring Nancy Hanks address, calls on Congress to invest in America’s future by bailing out culture

“We have an embarrassment of artistic riches in trust. And we’re not collecting our inheritance.”

March 30, 2009 — Pulitzer Prize and Grammy® Award-winning musician, composer, educator and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis, joined Americans for the Arts this week in Washington, D.C. to urge Congress to provide more support for the arts to help restore America’s integrity through its culture. With keen observations and a moving, interwoven tale of American music, art and cultural identity, Marsalis delivered the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy during National Arts Advocacy Day on Monday night at the Kennedy Center – where he brought a packed-house of more than 2,000 to their feet for a tear-filled, 10-minute standing ovation.

Throughout the speech, Marsalis punctuated his tale of the American experience with illustrative musical performances by members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Chris Crenshaw, Victor Goines, Carlos Henriquez, Ali Jackson and Dan Nimmer.
On Tuesday, Marsalis testified, along with GRAMMY®-nominated singer-songwriter Josh Groban and GRAMMY®-Award winning vocalist and entertainer Linda Ronstadt, at a Congressional hearing entitled “The Arts = Jobs,” where each made the case for more funding for the arts to help sustain valuable programs during the recession and beyond.
“All around the world, music links generations old and young, and cultures near and far. So, it's critical for the nation to reevaluate its priorities during this financial crisis to ensure the best aspects of American culture aren't lost to younger generations because of scarce funding,” said Marsalis, a long-time advocate for the arts and international spokesman for music education.

Wynton Marsalis: 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy from Americans for the Arts on Vimeo.



“A financial inheritance can be accurately assessed in dollars, but what is the value of an artistic heritage? Who calculates the value of ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘Yankee Doodle’ or ‘Go Down Moses’? Those spirituals were the first body of identifiable, purely American musical art…all kinds of people from all over made one through tragedy.”

“If our political and economic systems don’t serve our cultural interests, how do we rebuild those systems when they are in distress or fail?”


“We want to embrace one another, but don’t know how. And the answer is not more education, but more substantive and more culturally-rooted education. The primary justification for the value of education is not some competition with other countries for technological jobs, or to win the so-called science race, or to beat anyone. Our arts demand and deserve that we recognize the life we have lived together.”

“Now the challenge of this generation is to find the frontier of our collective souls. And though it is a soul with a history of slavery and injustice and struggle, it is a soul with freedom and striving and triumph. And you can’t get past the truth of yourself.”

“Who will have the courage to teach the most heroic songs and stories of what we have done all over this land and demand that the best of who we are be the national story?”


“[Our] songs, dances, writings allow us to speak to one another across generations. They gave us an understanding of our commonality long before the DNA told us we are all part of one glorious procession.”

“At any point on the timeline of human history, there are tales to be told – of love and loss, glory and shame, profundity, and even profound stupidity, tales that deserve retelling, embellishing, and if need be, inventing from whole cloth. This is our story. This is our song. If well sung, it tells us who we are and where we belong.”


“Th[e] Constitution, the Bill of Rights, taught us how to negotiate our differences – the same way a good dance band adjusts to find the right tempo for each different room of dancers. To be effective, our founding fathers had to create a living document that could find the right tempo across the ages. And when the ink dried on the last signature, it was the Constitution that told us how to be…but it was left to the American arts to tell you who to be. And the who always affects the how.”

“Oh yes, this freedom had a fine political frame, but it was in need of a cultural engine. This new American way needed homegrown arts…to make us into one people…to teach us who we are.”


“The best of the American arts and the way they’ve been sung and swung provided human meaning to the questions posed by the Founding Fathers more than 150 years earlier. It told you to be yourself and love what made you, you. It told you to listen deeply to others and find the beauty of originality in them. And through swing, the most flexible rhythm ever played, it told you how to balance your individuality with the desires of the group. It told you we have a history, a depth, a tradition that requires skill and study but demands you apply those skills to search the frontiers of your soul. It told you that innovation and creativity hold hands with the tried and true.”

SPEECH TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE AT http://tinyurl.com/wyntonlecture (in PDF format)

For the latest on Wynton Marsalis or Jazz at Lincoln Center, visit www.wyntonmarsalis.org or www.jalc.org.

About Jazz at Lincoln Center
Jazz at Lincoln Center is dedicated to inspiring and growing audiences for jazz. With the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and a comprehensive array of guest artists, Jazz at Lincoln Center advances a unique vision for the continued development of the art of jazz by producing a year-round schedule of performance, education and broadcast events for audiences of all ages. These productions include concerts, national and international tours, residencies, yearly hall of fame inductions, weekly national radio and television programs, recordings, publications, an annual high school jazz band competition and festival, a band director academy, jazz appreciation curriculum for students, music publishing, children’s concerts, lectures, adult education courses, student and educator workshops and interactive websites. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, Chairman Lisa Schiff and Executive Director, Adrian Ellis, Jazz at Lincoln Center will produce nearly 3,000 events during its 2008-09 season in its home in New York City, Frederick P. Rose Hall, and around the world.

About Americans for the Arts

Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. With offices in Washington, DC, and New York City, it has a record of more than 40 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.

About the Nancy Hanks Lecture
The Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy is a leading national forum for arts policy intended to stimulate dialogue on policy and social issues affecting the arts. It is held each year in mid-March on the evening before Arts Advocacy Day at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The annual lecture is named for Nancy Hanks, former president of Americans for the Arts and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who devoted 15 years of her professional life to bringing the arts to prominent national consciousness. Past speakers have included Maya Angelou, Dr. Billy Taylor and Robert Redford.

Notes: Press Release courtesy of jalc.org. Audio of the lecture will hopefully be available soon at: http://www.artsusa.org/events/nancyhanks.asp

1 comment:

thepoetryman said...

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