Inside and Outside the Arts

The hill towns of West County in western Massachusetts, where Myrifield is located, are rich in cultural and artistic resources. In 2012, a group of local Institute Fellows have started meeting to explore ways in which we might draw upon our strengths in order to begin the practical, if arduous, process of revolutionizing the way the arts are perceived in Western society. Although much ink has been spilled and much lip service paid to the importance of the arts, in practice our society is guided by the power of money not the power of the imagination. When educational and artistic institutions fill their Boards of Trustees with members of corporations to the exclusion of experts in the arts and humanities, emphasis is diverted to efforts in raising money to establish prestigious reputations rather than to nurture artistic creativity in each one of us. (The shift was dramatically seen when the President of Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, whose university had been gifted the Northfield campus (once part of Northfield Mount Hermon school), was introduced as “President and CEO.” The gift was turned down for financial reasons.)
One problem in our approach to the arts is the way we consider that artistic practice is confined to those with talent and genius. We are not so ready to recognize and nurture artistic sensibility and creativity within ourselves. Two of our members, Peter London and Mary Clare Powell, have spent upwards of forty years working on ways to further creativity among all of us, including those responsible for the education of children. As an artist, Peter has focused on the way Drawing Closer to Nature draws us closer to ourselves; as a poet, Mary Clare has focused on how teachers in all subjects can incorporate artistic creativity into their pedagogies, as described in “The Arts and Inner Lives of Teachers.” Myrifield Institute is designed to further research into cognition and the arts that shows how important the arts are in developing and refining the cognitive processes, conceptual, emotional, and sensuous, that make us full human beings. Connie Mosher and Margaret Freeman are working with Peter and Mary Clare to explore practical measures we can take to change attitudes, not just among the cognoscenti that privilege the arts as special to an elite few, but among those who affect the way the arts are supported and encouraged, in our classrooms, in the corridors of government, and in the corporate worlds that control our economies.
At the outset, we realized that we would need to develop a consensual community of shared beliefs before venturing forth to plan and develop programs, articles, etc. And so we have been engaged in both deep and wide ranging investigations into our own understandings of what constitutes the essential features of an artistic personality, what atmospheres are most conducive to human artistic expression, how the social contract of given communities establish both tacit and explicit rules of what is acceptable to think and speak about, among many other topics. A list of readings we have shared among ourselves is currently being prepared. Our immediate plans are to bring together a few artists and cognitive specialists to Myrifield in order to discuss ways we might develop models and disseminate information on ways we can work to change stereotypical attitudes about the arts. Visit this page to follow our progress, and contact us if you are interested in participating in our work.


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