The University Record, May 6, 1998

Arts, humanities necessary fuel for human imagination

By Jane R. Elgass

Third graders cover Clinton's addressWe must make room for the arts and humanities as essential ingredients to fuel the human imagination, Hillary Rodham Clinton told a Hill Auditorium crowd of 4,000 members of the University and surrounding community on April 28.

"There is very little space left for culture," she said, "culture that is essential to human imagination."

Rapid advances in technology and telecommunication make it possible to keep in touch with the entire world and have more information at hand, Clinton said, but those advances also allow some of us to retreat into anonymity.

Our ancestors, who first drew images on cave walls and who first carved figurines, found the special human trait--imagination--that allows us to share experiences. Too often, she noted, we assume that the arts and humanities are for the elite, privileged few, but in truth, arts and humanities cut across social and economic classes.

Art is more than aesthetic presentation, Clinton continued, remembering her experience in viewing Picasso's "Guernica" for the first time. That viewing "taught me about the human condition" in ways other approaches could not.

"Everyone has to have an experience like that," she said. "We have to make sure that the arts and humanities are available in every school and community."

Clinton is disheartened when she hears that support of the arts is considered a luxury. "I believe it is a necessity," she said, citing an experience she had listening to young authors at a "poetry slam."

The children read works they had written "that made my heart leap," she said. The poems expressed the youngsters' pride, their joys, their pain, but the poetry "enabled them to put the pain and anger on paper, not act it out." It also left the young people with a "sense of accomplishment and purpose in life," Clinton noted.

Her address was the closing program of the University's celebration of the Year of Humanities and Arts (YoHA), launched last fall during President Lee C. Bollinger's inauguration.

Clinton hopes that through discussions and activities initiated by such efforts as YoHA and through the White House Millennium Program, we will be able to "take arts and humanities to places where they're not normally seen." Disturbed by cutbacks made by art museums and the removal of arts programs in the schools, Clinton said her hope for the millennium is to "put art back in all schools."

"Together we can honor our past and imagine our future," Clinton said in conclusion. "We must place the arts and humanities front and center in order to make America a more perfect union."