Watts: We must not let the arts fade away

With the 20th anniversary of the Des Moines Arts Festival kicking into full swing this weekend in the Western Gateway Park downtown I was reminded of a recent experience — the kind that you wish you could share with everyone you know.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s annual Women Helping Women luncheon on May 19 was one of those instances. The luncheon honored Pamela Bass-Bookey, founding President of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation and her unmatched influence on the arts in Des Moines.

While we cannot transport you to back to the luncheon we can bring Pam’s comments to you. It seems a fitting way to set the tone for the weekend full of arts that lies ahead, and the continued support of the unending number of artistic stories we have the opportunity to tell.

The speech below was delivered by Pamela Bass-Bookey to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s annual Women Helping Women luncheon held last month on May 19.

Pamela Bass-Bookey

I am honored to be recognized for my role in the arts by the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Harry and I have been supporters of the Center for many years and I have been particularly drawn to their therapy programs that use art so effectively to help women and children in the healing process.

Do you remember the first time you visited a museum and saw a piece of art you had read about? I grew up in Chicago and visited the Art Institute regularly but when I saw the Georges Suerat Sunday Afternoon at La Grande Jatte after seeing it in a textbook, I was hooked.

Can you recall the first time you went to a symphony, opera, ballet or theatrical performance? Remember that thrill of something connecting somewhere deep inside of you? Well that is how I feel every time I see a child pick up a violin at the First Strings Program at Carver Elementary or attend a concert of the DM Symphony Academy students or see a bus load of children wandering around the Art Center excited to share their feelings about a piece of art that they have discovered. And what about the glassy-eyed look of kids experiencing the magic of a live performance!

In this day and age of uncertainty and with funding for the arts being cut, it is urgent that we recognize the role of art as a way to initiate communication and in many cases, help people find their voice.

Public Art in particular can be inspirational and can be an impetus to nurture relationships and encourage dialogue between individuals and communities. Winston Churchill was called before Parliament during the darkest days of the war when money was in short supply. Parliament suggested that the Department of Culture be shut down and use the money instead for the war effort. Without hesitation Mr. Churchill replied, “For what then are we fighting this war?”

Using venues such as parks, open spaces, & public streetscapes as places for art and cultural expressions can be an effective way to integrate history and heritage into everyday lived experience. It is a way of recording our contemporary cultural practices for future generations.

So I say do not forget…The arts are not supplemental to human existence…they are proof of it.

Susan Watts is the owner of Olson Larsen Galleries and a lifelong supporter of the arts community in Des Moines.