On Wednesday, January 27 the California Arts Council celebrated its 40th Anniversary with a special event at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento, hosted by former Council Member Annette Bening. Below is a selection from Bening’s opening remarks.
We have come together tonight to celebrate the arts – to honor the countless ways in which creative expression enriches our lives as Californians – whether through community transformation and social prosperity, cultural exchange or individual discovery, or lifelong learning for all generations. As we just saw in the beautiful film that shared a few stories from across our state, the importance of the arts cannot be overstated.
And we’ve come together to consider a question: Why should government support the arts? Why indeed…Of course it is the government’s role to serve its citizens, and as the film we just saw illustrates, the California Arts Council surely does that. But there is a larger purpose to public support of the arts, which is why, for as long as mankind has had governments, governments have funded the arts. Ancient civilizations are endlessly fascinating, but why is that? Without the paintings and the sculpture, the architectural marvels, and every art form from pottery to poetry, what would we know today about ancient Egypt? About Greece, or Rome, or Babylon … the list goes on and on. Art, it has been said, is the signature of a civilization.
To me, arts and creativity are an essential part of what makes us human. As an actor, I tell stories – stories that move audiences to reflect on, and empathize with, people who may be very different from themselves. Movies transport us to places far and near, real and imagined. There’s nothing more human than that. It is imagination—expressed in art—that lifts us out of the everyday and connects us to a larger world. As a member of the California Arts Council I spoke up for the rights of our state’s young people to experience the transformative benefits of arts education, as I did. And as a Californian, I personally take pride in the creativity that makes our communities such wonderful places to live.
The California Arts Council is a special agency. From its beginnings in 1976 to today the Arts Council has demonstrated why government support of the arts is so important. Public support is what brings the arts, with all their power to heal and inspire, to rural communities, towns large and small, blighted neighborhoods, struggling schools, prisons and hospitals, and everywhere the arts can make a difference – from Skid Row to symphony hall. The arts are an invaluable policy asset and prosperity generator for California. The creativity of our state sets us apart and gives California a special place in people’s imaginations. California’s scenery is matched by its spirit, and on this stage tonight you will see a sampling of what I mean by that.
Through the years, the work of the California Arts Council has demonstrated that beyond the arts’ sometimes intangible, inherent value to society, and beyond their value as the signature of who we are, the arts help the state succeed – through economic growth, education, tourism, health and public safety.
This has been the case from 1976 to today, and it will continue to be so for the next forty years.
Annette Bening is a four-time Academy Award nominee, two-time Golden Globe-winner, and a recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Award. She served as a member of the California Arts Council from 2004-2008.