Despite threats to the humanities, public art spaces still bring communities together

The defunding of arts has been a decade-long trend.

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Despite threats to the humanities, public art spaces still bring communities together

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Statues glint in the afternoon sun, their sculpted limbs emerging out of blocks of bronze in the Rodin Sculpture Garden as visitors and artists dot the courtyard, some carefully contemplating the masterpieces, and others stopping by just long enough to snap a photo.

However, President Trump’s suggestion to cut funding for the arts might make public access to art spaces — like the Rodin Sculpture Garden — more difficult. And while the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities’ proposed budget for the next fiscal year increased, the devaluing and defunding of arts has been a decade-long trend with schools scrapping their arts programs in favor of STEM programs.

According to The 74, the number of elementary schools offering arts classes dropped from 20 percent to three percent in the years following the 2008 recession.  

Despite these deterrents, there is still a big push for the public to recognize the importance of art and how it does so much more than take up space. Aroon Seeda, a chaplain from Los Angeles, said art forces people to take “a pause moment.”

“Art plays important roles in people’s lives,” Seeda said. “It’s something that makes people reflect upon their lives and makes people unplug and rethink.”

At first glance, art may seem like an individually centered pursuit, but it has its own way of creating community said Brent Nakamoto, a painter and graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara.

“If you’re the person making the work, there is a very specific reason why you are doing that, and someone might come to see it for an entirely different reason,” Nakamoto said. “This openness means that many people can come to something for different reasons.”

In bringing individuals together, art opens up avenues for discussion that might have otherwise remained closed.

“Art can help to get people talking to each other,” Stanford University veterinarian Megan Albertelli said. “I know when I’m here at the museum with a group of people, we are talking about the sculptures, and what it means to us. It can really help to start conversations.”

Fiona Flaherty

In a time where it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to have discussions, art may be the thing that can help forge unexpected relationships. That’s what happened to Rhea Bouzeid, a visitor at the Anderson Collection at Stanford.

“I met this artist, who was driving me to school one day because I didn’t have anyone to take me to school,” Bouzeid said. “We became really good friends, and she is now teaching me art.”

As of late, America’s differences have been splitting it apart, all the way from Capitol Hill to the streets of San Francisco. Because art brings people of different minds together, it might help to span the great divide that has opened in America.

“I’ve realized how people that you might not have any similarities with can be really supportive of you,” Nakamoto said. “And that being together, making things, helping people make things, helping people to think creatively, and think bigger, you can really make powerful connections there, even with people who are very different than you.”