What Good Does Art Do?

John Trotter was supposed to be a lawyer. Becoming the musical director for Wheaton College in Chicago wasn’t part of the plan.

“Music was my first love, but it never occurred to me for a moment that I would be a musician,” he says. “I didn’t know anyone who did that.” 

But Trotter ended up following his love of music, and now a conductor, writer, and speaker, he will be in Whitehorse in April, holding workshops with local conductors, choirs, and high school students. On April 11, he will give a talk called, “What is the Role of Arts in Society?” at the Whitehorse United Church.

“There’s this idea that it’s really important for little people to do music: for their education, for their development, but somehow, when you get older, you’re supposed to snap out of it and become a stockbroker or a management consultant,” Trotter says. “We live in a very pragmatic era. Often it seems people value the arts not for themselves but for the fact that they might be able to use some type of creative thinking to make huge amounts of money later.”

That’s a pretty thin view of what the arts offer, he contends. 
“Now we’re finding out the reason it’s important for little people is because it’s important for humans,” Trotter says. “It’s a feature of humanity. And if we ignore that, we diminish ourselves in all kinds of pragmatic ways.”

As such, Trotter believes it’s important to find public ways to discuss the value of the arts — especially with people who may not be artists themselves. Political leaders, policy developers, and administrators of public spaces, all have an important role in this discussion. Trotter notes that for many crucial public policy issues — from integrating societies, to intergenerational communication, to solving the problem of class and underclass — the arts may be the cheapest and most effective way of addressing them.

“My wife and I lived for a year in an arts housing co-op in the inner city of Edmonton, in a really high-crime area,” he says. “The housing co-op was there because no one else would live there, it was so dangerous and so unappealing. But artists will live anywhere. And they won’t just sleep there and then live the rest of their lives elsewhere; they actually inhabit the place and open art galleries and start street festivals. That area has been elevated tremendously in the last 15 years, almost entirely on the basis of artists and what they do.

“Just the day-to-day fact of having artists and art going on, both professional and community-based, does an enormous amount to ameliorate the bad stuff in society and encourage the good stuff. Compared to other possible approaches, it is really affordable.“

Trotter believes both policy makers and adults with repressed artistic urges will find value and inspiration in his presentation.

John Trotter’s talk takes place Friday, April 11, at 7 p.m. at Whitehorse United Church, located at 606 Main Street.

Trotter will be leading a music conductor’s workshop on Saturday, April 12 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the church. That workshop will be followed by a free gospel choir workshop from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., which includes a light lunch and all are welcome.

John Trotter’s visit to the Yukon is being supported by Whitehorse Community Choir and the Herb and Doreen Wahl Fund.

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