Im completing my second year as president of the Durango Arts Center Board of Directors, and its been a wonderful experience.
The board, staff and community have rallied around the Arts Center creating new programs, vibrant exhibits, a robust adult and childrens education program, exciting theatrical productions and new funding sources. We have come a long way toward fulfilling our mission to promote the exploration, education, enrichment and enjoyment of the arts throughout the Durango community.
However, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon that sometimes limits our effectiveness. Preconceived notions and perceptions based on individual interests often lead to misinterpretation of our role in the community. I am reminded of the ancient Hindu tale of the elephant and the blind men who wanted to know what an elephant looked like so each man touched a different part of the animal and came away with an entirely different idea of elephants. The story illustrates how people form their reality based on their limited experiences.
Some folks believe the Arts Center mostly exists to serve children and teens with visual and performing arts programs and classes. Some resent the very presence of children in the building. Some see its role primarily to support local artists through exhibits, sales and jobs for art instructors. Others want national exhibits presenting well-known professional artists that allow Durangoans to expand their horizons without having to travel. One part of the community believes we should form a professional theater. Others complain loudly when we spend resources on light or sound equipment for the theater facility. You get the point.
I recently received an angry email complaining about our late-night show The Reindeer Monologues. This socially relevant play sends a powerful message exposing the trend in our culture to look the other way when men in powerful positions abuse women and children. Almost everyone is aware of the ongoing scandals in the Catholic Church as well as in major university athletic programs such as Penn State and Syracuse University. This is not a pleasant subject, but it is one that must be addressed.
Theater and the arts have traditionally been effective mediums for social justice. Vaclav Havel, the recently deceased Czech playwright and later president of the Czech Republic, spent many years in Soviet prisons for writing plays that demanded social justice. The email authors objection to our play seemed to be based on the fact that she has a 9-year-old child. The play was presented a 9:45 p.m., and all advertising emphasized mature content. Nevertheless, the writer must have perceived the Arts Center to be a place that caters primarily to children, and she was sincerely scandalized.
The truth is that we must try to be all things art to all people, but everyone cant like everything the Arts Center does. But everyone has the opportunity to influence our activities by volunteering for any of dozens of committees. We have a broad mission, and we work very hard to promote the exploration, education, enrichment and enjoyment of all the arts for children and adults alike.
Terry Swan is president of the board of directors for the Durango Arts Center. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.