, authorI grew up in a small farm town in northern Illinois,one much like Ferndale and of similar size. Our life andtimes as children was a matter of keeping cows out of the back yard, sharing one bicycle among many sibs, andturning every barn and cornfield into sets for ourintrigues of Cowboys & Indians or, later, I Spy. Obvi-ously life was much less mechanical back then —“online”referred only to what was hanging out to dry — and theentertainment that occupied us was mostly of our owndoing. There was selective TV but even that was stymiedin my early years when our set died for the second timeand Dad declared we could live without it. Stunning pro-nouncement, but he meant it and proved it by haulingin boxes of library books in its stead. Imagine the hor-ror!Despite our caterwauling, what came out of thisexperiment was a passel of creative thinkers with a deepappreciation for all things artistic. As I made my way through life, those many Muses inspired by Dad’s dra-conian mandate have proven my dearest and most loyalof companions. I think often of his prescience and smile.But appreciation for the arts goes only so far inhomes, schools, and communities strapped for dollarsto fund it and the prioritizing to keep it alive. If a budgetis available for the senior musical, excellent. If not, the-atrics are often lost to athletic extracurriculars. Whenfamilies need a new roof, ballet lessons twirl right outthe door. And community theater? Nice work if you canget it, but too often economics limits the exploration.Which is why I find it revelatory that Ferndale, nes-tled miles away from the nearest big city, as impacted by the economy as any, has doggedly maintained an ongo-ing repertory theater, public art in town greens, atten-tion for artists in galleries and shops and, as reported inthe May 3
, a museum that’s been awarded a$10,000 grant to produce a documentary. These thingsdon’t happen every day, they rarely happen concurrently in one small town, and they speak loudly to the creativespirit of the entire community.Why is it so important, art? Surely it’s nice to havea functioning theater, the tourists love the “artsy-craftsy”shops, and who doesn’t appreciate a beautiful piece of blacksmithing now and again? But, really, when the nutsand bolts of life hit us in all the ways they do, couldn’twe live without it?Of course we could. People, schools and communi-ties could
without art, but the richness and expan-siveness of life would be significantly diminished…aswould its often unconsidered benefits.It’s been well documented that the activity of artstimulates the brain and body in ways beyond what onemight imagine. David A. Sousa, international educationconsultant, wrote: “The arts play an important role inhuman development, enhancing the growth of cogni-tive, emotional, and psychomotor pathways. Neuro-science research reveals the impressive impact of artsinstruction, such as music, drawing and physical activ-ity, on students' cognitive, social and emotional devel-opment. Much of what young children do as play —singing, drawing, dancing — are natural forms of art.These art activities engage all the senses and wire thebrain for successful learning.”For both children and adults, art has proven a nat-ural component in mental and emotional development.Art therapy is now an established practice in the heal-ing of brain injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anda host of other social, emotional, and psychological dis-orders. It calms and engages Alzheimer sufferers, oftenbringing out an internalized patient more than any otherforms of interaction. These same healing/calming strate-gies are employed with children with a wide range of emotional issues from autism to extreme shyness. Artclearly brings out the best in people!Then there’s commerce. As Angus McCabe, SeniorResearch Fellow at the University of Birmingham, stated,
“Grassroots arts groups play a major role in local economies and beyond.”
Art attracts tourism (and allits ancillary commerce); it nets dollars to a theater boxoffice, to retail sales, to local artists. It’s win/win.But beyond commerce, learning, and healing, art’suniversal gift is its ability to lift the human spirit, toinspire, excite, entertain, and create commonality. Anartist creates either alone or in collaboration with oth-ers, but
with the audience — the viewers, listen-ers, appreciators, or readers involved. That equation isan essential component in art’s most basic, illuminatingrelationship.So while a town like Ferndale could be “just fine”without its art, it
be the poorer. Author Henry James once said, “It is art that makes life.” Think of thatthe next time your scruffy teen settles into a theater seatto find himself transported, if only for a moment, by music and narrative. Just by being there he’s fulfillinghis role as a collaborator in the art that makes life, inspired— whether he realizes it or not — to a deeper view of the nuts and bolts world around him.Don’t be surprised if you hear him singing “Don’tCry For Me Argentina” the next time he mows the lawn!
Writer, photographer, rock & roll vet and part-time Ferndale resident Lorraine Devon Wilke has built her eclectic career along many avenues of the creative arts.She is filling in for the next few months for Enterprise columnist Wendy Lestina. Check out Wilke’s blog at www.RockPaperMusic.com, as well as her regular page at The Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com/Lor-raine-Devon-Wilke); for links to her music, fine art pho-tography and career highlights, be sure to visit her site at www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.