April 13th was Arts Advocacy Day, a national event in which arts supporters speak on the importance of policies and funding to support the arts. This year I was especially moved by the testimony of a surprising supporter of the arts – US Army Brigadier General Nolen V. Bivens (retired).
LA Times Article
I first heard of Brig. Gen. Nolen V. Bivens in this LA Times article and was astounded to read of a military veteran speak to the importance of arts and culture. The LA Times piece speaks to Bivens stance that the U. S. must enlist the arts in a new era when “our forces are adjusting to a new state of warfare…which demands new and innovative approaches.” Bivens also expresses the belief that the arts can play a vital role in the morale of troops and their families.
I strongly believe that the arts have an important role in community development, yet I do not believe that as a nation we have embraced using arts and culture as a tool in development work. Because of this, I was drawn to read more of this retired military leader’s perspective on the arts.
Brig. Gen. Nolen V. Bivens Testimony
In Brig. Gen. Nolen V. Bivens official testimony to congress, which can be found here, he speaks to three areas where arts and culture can be utilized: (1) national security, (2) cultural diplomacy, and (3) quality of life for veterans.
I have read his testimony more than once and cannot yet express how truly moved I am by his presentation. I know that I will spend more thinking about this piece and digesting all of what his message entails. Some highlights for me include:
- In discussing national security and the looting of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad –“Future conflicts should be approached with a better understanding of how a nation values its cultural heritage, and its arts.”
- When speaking to cultural diplomacy –“Support of the arts and artists can help to bridge many common values that lead to peaceful resolution of disagreements as well as the sustainment of cordial international relations.”
- In terms of quality of life for veterans – “Providing support through local community arts and cultural institutions sustains returning soldiers and veterans as they transition back into their family and community life.”
I am use to hearing artist and arts advocates speak to the power and importance of the arts (Wynton Marsalis’ presentation The Ballad of the American Arts from last year will give you goose bumps!), however I have never heard a military veteran speak so clearly and thoughtfully on the value in supporting and investing in arts and cultural programs.
I am so moved that I intend to write Brigadier General Nolen V. Bivens a letter, yes a real, hand-written letter, this weekend thanking him for his support of the arts.