Art and music are an essential part of life

Ben Scheelk

Dear artists and musicians of Marquette: never leave. The occasional empty auditoriums and vacant galleries are not negative reflections of your talent, but rather the harsh reality of an area where concerts can be “snowed-out,” even in the middle of April. Do not be discouraged if only a few show up on the big night, for what is important is not the number of people in the audience, but rather those who actually braved the elements to see you perform. And it only takes one person, one unexpecting sympathetic soul, to be moved by a performance in a way which will change the rest of their life.

This weekend, I was that person. I was deeply touched by a performance which only a handful attended at the Kaufman Auditorium on Saturday. But, nevertheless, the power and energy of the musicians, the noble enthusiasm of the small crowd, the swirling snow-choked wind outside — all became interwoven in a vibrant fabric of sensory experience and enthusiastic response.

It seems great messages are always conveyed to small groups.

Yet, the weather is not the only factor affecting ticket sales. If our youth’s cultural apathy is not enough to be concerned about, we are in danger of losing another important part of our audience: the federal government.  With battles raging over our current budget crisis on Capitol Hill, funding for the National Endowment of Arts has been caught in the crossfire. A variety of celebrities, including Kevin Spacey, have mounted the steps of Congress to fight for the preservation of the $167 million earmarked for the federal government’s art fund.

This money is crucial, because many programs depend on the government to match private donations. It is ridiculous that on this sum of money, paltry in comparison to many other spending items, rests the fate of the art scene in the United States, the foundation of our culture, the superstructure of our identity (the new F-35, by the way, will cost an average of $200 million per aircraft, not to mention the research and development that went into its design).

It has always been the bane of Marquette residents to be considered provincial. We have built theatres, organized concerts, arranged exhibitions, and have valiantly sought to bring big names and a diversity of performers to the city. Who really has the gall to accuse us of insularity?

Yet, at the same time, we continue to struggle to consistently attract sell-out crowds. Of course, the unpredictability of our local weather is always a source of tremendous anxiety for any organizer. Still, how often have you been to an incredible performance only to wonder, “Where are all of the students?”

We must reawaken within the younger generations a passion for the arts. We must convince them that a whole world of entertainment exists outside of violent video games, brainless comedies, and celebrity cults. We must open their eyes and their ears to the subtle nuances and creative brilliance to which great works of art and music aspire. Only then will we be able to rally the support to save the arts from the harshest austerity measures which will accompany the Government’s future efforts to reduce our nation’s debt.

It was not until I spent a semester in Chile, and then returned, did I come to realize this area’s distinct identity. Art and music are the vessels of our culture, and we must take care of them if they are to continue to face the brutal storms blowing off Lake Superior undaunted by the effect on ticket sales.

The music I heard Saturday night, with its syncopated rhythms, rising crescendos, intoxicating solos, and, of course, occasional improvisation, re-awakened within me a passion for live music which has lain dormant for the last few months as I have worked feverishly to graduate this spring. That night, I was reminded that musicians and artists are the soul of this community, the living, breathing ether that imbue an incredible richness and sophistication to our seemingly isolated city.

So, artists and musicians, even if you must play before an audience of empty seats, a concert hall filled with negative space, please, do not be discouraged. Just think of the lake as your theater, the trees, your audience and the swirling snow-choked winds—your applause.