Al Young is a man of letters – a prolific poet, author and screenwriter, whose works have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone , and the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. The 66 year-old Bay area resident is still early in his term as poet laureate. But already he’s realizing he doesn’t have to rely on letters alone to make the case for arts support. Bottom line numbers work pretty well too.
“If nothing else, funding the arts is good business.”
Young cites as an example the cultural renaissance engineered in his home state of Mississippi over the past several years.
“One of the ways of pulling Mississippi out of some of its fiscal gloom was to re-evaluate its resources. You have the Blues, you have literature, you had Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, Eudora Welty. And it’s the arts that have made Mississippi a prime tourist target. People come from all over the world to attend the Faulkner Festival, the Richard Wright Festival, the Delta Blues Festival. And they have hundreds of events they present every year.”
Of course for more than a month now the entire nation’s attention has been focused on the Gulf Coast region. Young says the impact that the arts and artists have on our lives can be even more meaningful in the wake of tragedy.
“If you look at New Orleans and remember one of the stories of recent days that caught everyone’s imagination, it was the rescue of Fats Domino from that 3rd floor balcony in the 9th Ward, he and his wife, water had filled the whole house and they were out there when the boat came to rescue them. Fats Domino is an artist. And he stands for New Orleans in the same way that Dr. John does, Louis Armstrong, Irma Thomas, Al Hirt, zyedeco in general, jazz. We’re talking culture, culture is what we’re really loved and remembered for. Not our money. Not our political power.”
California culture is at the core of Arts Day -- created 5 years ago to demonstrate the impact the arts have on education, the economy, and the health and vitality of the state’s civic life. Artists and performers enrich California, says Young, and we can all benefit by sharing in their approach to life.
"In a society that’s concerned largely with getting, when you shift your agenda to giving, then amazing things start to happen. And these artists, by and large, really give of themselves. And society is all the richer for it."
Poet Laureate Al Young will perform at noon today during California Arts Day on the West Steps of the Capitol. Actress Annette Bening and Director of the California Arts Council, Muriel Johnson will also speak. We have links to more information at our website… capradio dot org slash arts. As a preview, here is Al Young reciting one of his recently composed works.
(poem by Al Young)