Why We Need the Arts
Two years ago, I was selected by my peers to give a speech for my graduation from the University of Florida College of the Arts. The following is that speech in written form (with a few small amendments here and there). I hope that, as we (hopefully) get closer and close to the end of this pandemic, we remember how critical the Arts were to us (can you imagine getting through 2020 without Netflix or Hulu??) and continue the fight for Arts education and funding!
Over the last four years, I’m sure I speak for many of us when I say that whenever I would tell someone I’m an Arts major, they’d usually say something like, “Good for you!” or “Oh, how fun!” Or “That’s nice, but what’s your plan B?”
But I get it. I get why people outside of this College don’t always get us. I’m usually a concrete, logical, numbers-based person. So I get why people feel like STEM majors are more “valid” than our majors, because their work is more easily quantifiable. But what they don’t realize is that, while the Arts do significantly benefit the U.S. economy, statistically help students in school, and help sick people in hospitals, there are just some things that you can’t put numbers on. Now, I could talk about how, in 2015, the Arts sector contributed over $763 billion to the U.S. economy (which was more than the agriculture, transportation, or warehousing sectors contributed), and the Arts provided 4.9 million Americans with jobs. I could talk about that. I could talk about the fact that Broadway brings in more money to the New York economy than all of the New York major league sports teams combined. You read that correctly. Jets, Mets, Nets, Knicks, Rangers, Yankees, Giants. All of them. Combined. While those fun facts are important for defending the Arts, you cannot put numbers on what makes Art truly invaluable to our society.
In April 2019, I was watching the national tour of the Sound of Music at the Phillips Center in Gainesville, FL. Listening to that music, this is gonna sound so cliché, but it felt like a massage for my soul. And I know, that’s the cheesiest thing I could possibly say, but it’s true! I felt so much healthier sitting in that theatre with hundreds of other people, all of us enjoying the same experience together. Listening to Rogers and Hammerstein’s gorgeous score. And you can’t put numbers on that. You can’t put numbers on the fact everyone was connected for a few hours. Everyone got to escape their problems: escape cancer, escape bills, escape stress. Without drugs, without alcohol. People got to escape their problems for a few hours, together, in a beautiful healthy way through the Arts.
Art also helps remind us to never take life for granted. Take the musical Rent for example. In the song “No Day But Today”, look at these lyrics:
“There’s only us. There’s only this. Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other path, no other way. No day but today.”
Wow. What makes Rent my favorite musical is that it is a perfect example of why the Arts are so critical in society. The title itself is a metaphor. We are Renting our lives. And the exciting thing (or terrifying, depending on how you look at it) is that we have no idea whether our “Rent” is due tomorrow or in a hundred years. So, while we should hope and plan for the future, we cannot take the present for granted. We should live every day like there is “No day but today”, because for all we know, that could be the case. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. We only have right here, right now. With so much hatred festering around the country and the world, it’s Art like Rent that remind me not only why I love performing, but why life is too short to waste on hatred. “No Day But Today” has become like a life motto for me. Whenever I’d be on campus, and I’d be overwhelmed, I’d be stressed, I’d just think to myself, “You know what Ed, forget regret or life is yours to miss no day but today”, and that helped me get through my day. That helped me get to where I am today. And you cannot put numbers on that, but that doesn’t make it any less critical to my well-being, and to our collective well-being as human beings.
Kate Whoriskey, the director of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined, has a quote about Theatre but I believe it applies to the Arts in general. She says,
“[Theatre] has an incredible capacity for illuminating the unseen, reshaping history, bringing out empathy and providing social commentary…theater can activate change, heal a bit of the horror, restore hope and give voice to the silent and unseen.”
The Arts are capable of that and so much more. And you cannot put numbers on that.
Now…it would not be an Eddie Datz speech, if I did not include a quote from the greatest playwright this world has ever seen. William Shakespeare, you ask? HA! No. Mr. Neil Simon. Neil Simon said,
“With enough imagination, everything is within our grasp.”
So, whether you’re graduating from the School of Theatre and Dance, The School of Music, The School of Art and Art History, Digital Worlds Institute, The Center for Arts in Medicine, The Center for World Arts, or the Center for Arts and Public Policy; remember that what we are walking away with today is not just “fun”. We didn’t get a degree in the Arts because we wanted to, we got a degree in the Arts because we needed to. This isn’t our “plan B”. This is our plan.
Thank you UF, and GO GATORS!
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