Even though newly-elected Kansas governor Sam Brownback was a no-show at the Governor’s Arts Award ceremony after recently eliminating all funding for the arts in the state, bestselling mystery-thriller author Sara Paretsky was there and had a message for him: the arts have always been, and continue to be, vital to people’s lives.
Paretsky, a Kansas native who lives in Chicago, was honored at the ceremony held in Topeka with a Distinguished Arts Award. During an approximately 15-minute speech while accepting the award, Paretsky drew upon history and literature – from ancient to modern -- to defend the arts, arguing that not only is “an educated citizenry our best guarantor of continued liberty,” but that music, poetry, stories, and the visual arts have helped countless human beings through the ages “endure the dark night of the soul.”
Paretsky recalled how, in the afternath of 9-11, professional musicians from symphonies throughout the region took turns performing at Ground Zero for the first responders. “No one sifting through rubble for fragments of human bodies wanted to hear someone read an accounts payable list, much less an ideological diatribe,” she pointed out, “They needed music. They needed poetry.”
Closer to home for Paretsky, she related how, after an author event at a Chicago library, a group of women told her that her books gave them the “courage to face the hard hand life had dealt them.” These women were all married to steelworkers who’d been out of work for a decade, forcing the wives to work two or three jobs to support their families.
“What do our artists have to say that merits public support?” Paretsky asked. “Only a word that sustains life, that sustains hope.”
Concluding her remarks, Paretsky drew a standing ovation from the audience of 340 attendees when she declared, “What we remember from our recent past, as well as ancient Greece, are not the account books. We don’t know the names of the brothers who controlled Greece’s fuel and precious metal industries. Nor do we know how many billion drachmas they gave to this or that politician or judge. We remember sculptors. We remember Sappho. For in the end it is poetry, that word which is only breath, that endures.”
The Governor’s Arts Awards are sponsored by the Kansas Arts Commission, which will be eliminated, unless the state legislature blocks Brownback’s executive order.
A full transcript of Paretsky’s remarks can be found on her blog, http://www.saraparetsky.com/2011/03/the-power-to-destroy/.