This essay was published  by the Burlington Free Press as a Heart of Art feature on November 29, 2012, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20121202/ARTS/312020001/Heart-Art-James-Lockridge-makes-case-cultural-commons

The arts encompass some of the most meaningful expressions humanity has to share — they embody our intellect, emotion and essential experiences in the most complete manner possible. The movement, color, words, melody, and the intricate languages of rhythm, composition and intention that art manifests itself with are a bridge between us as people. Understanding, compassion, inspiration, culture and civilization emerge from the bridges between us. But not all of these bridges are as ineffable as art; some, we have to build.

I had a simple thought the other day, which could not possibly be original, but bothered me until it clawed itself out: Roads are our transportation commons. Libraries are our intellectual commons. Parks are our recreation commons. Where are our cultural commons?

I direct a volunteer-staffed nonprofit dedicated to preserving and promoting music made by Vermonters. The organization supports musicians inclusively — regardless of their experience, success, or genre, and tries hard to assemble resources that help musicians achieve success on their own terms. We have an intimate and longstanding understanding of what many of those resources are. And we understand that in Burlington, where our community has been purposeful in mutually agreeing to build shared roads and shared places for learning and playing, we have not purposefully created spaces that foster the arts in all their variety, and with the necessary infrastructure to share them with ourselves as a community, inclusively — without a barrier to participation.

Burlington is a city that cares about the arts, and values the contribution they make to the city’s uniqueness, ‘livability,’ and the economy — values that arise from discussion of the arts in the municipal context, but that don’t make the firm statement that the arts reflect our humanity purely and should rise as a priority as we evolve to become a city that includes all our citizens in the aspects of life that matter most. In this modern age our respect for one another has matured and we’ve come to recognize that what we have to offer the world is only, in part, our contribution to knowledge, laws and our economy. Much more about ourselves is to be discovered through acts of community — acts of sharing our art.

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