Each year in northern California, a plethora of imaginative man-powered sculptures, taking shapes of fire breathing dragons or flying monsters, blast off in a three-day race through the Manila dunes in what is known as the Kinetic Grand Championship, or, "triathlon of the art world."
For an equally unexpected good time, travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Squonk Opera flips the classical art form on its head with performances of Night of the Living Dead: The Opera, GO Roadshow—a show involving a monster truck —and Pneumatica.
And meanwhile, in rural Vermont, the Vermont Performance Lab offers a residency for a contemporary dancer that’s looking to engage with a local community through a range of experimental spaces like a farmer’s grange hall.
All of these artistic endeavours are just a few of hundreds that demonstrate America’s vibrant culture and strong commitment toward promoting the arts throughout the country. One of the leaders supporting such contemporary creative initiatives is the time-honored National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
“These are people that are important to what America means,” says Don Ball, assistant director of public affairs at the NEA. “It’s America’s culture.”
The NEA is an independent body, funded by the US government, that seeks to increase participation in the arts by highlighting projects like the Kinetic Grand Championship, Squonk Opera and the Vermont Performance Lab. While its primary initiative is to provide financing to artists, the organization also spreads cultural awareness through a magazine and blog, presenting a snapshot of what today’s American art has to offer. In 2009, with digital content consumption readying its full-swing, the NEA started doing podcasts.
“It kind of came on the end of us deciding to go into social media altogether,” Ball tells The Creators Project. “One of the benefits of the podcasts is that they give a more in depth look at these artists or organizations that you wouldn’t necessarily get from just reading an article. You’re able to have an actual discussion.”
Over 250 podcasts of various disciplines—visual art, dance or sculpture, for example‚ and a range of subject matter now fill the NEA’s archives. Every Thursday, a new episode of a segment called "Art Works" is released with Josephine Reed as the host.
“People are able to connect much easier along various art and artists,” says Reed, who comes from a radio background. “It makes the art, in some ways, more accessible.”
A 2013 survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that social media was enhancing the arts based on a boost of performances, greater audience participation, and wider access to grants, particularly ones from the NEA. However, the presence of digital technology in the arts—a world traditionally labelled as highbrow—has also brought criticism.
“Like anything else it’s a two-edged sword,” Reed explains. “For instance, looking at a painting online is not quite the same as seeing it in person. But I think overall social media has made the arts so much more accessible so that it allows many more people to make connections that they may not have made otherwise.”
"Art Works" showcases the cultural activities happening within America’s urban and rural pockets. The voices heard and topics tackled may be diverse, but solidarity is found by stressing the positive impact the arts can have on a community and the importance of culture in developing a nation’s identity.
“I think people enjoy the arts more than they sometimes know,” says Ball. “People have an interest in other ways of thinking, which to a larger extent, is what art is about. I think a large segment of the population are interested in that kind of thing. It’s why they go to the movies. It’s why they listen to music. It’s why they go to performances. They want to learn more things and find out more about the world.”
Listen to one of the NEA’s podcasts here and find out more about the organization’s work through this link.