Today I attended the first day of the SNF Conference at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens.
What an incredible center! The SNF conference is part of the annual Summer Nostos Festival, an imaginatively curated, eclectic mix of music, dance, sports, original performances, discussions, games, and contemporary art. This year the theme of the 2019 SNF Conference is [Untitled].
The SNF brought a host of high caliber speakers from various backgrounds, and diverse disciplines and spaces, “forcing” them to engage into conversations and debates about subject matters outside their areas of expertise.
The day opened with a keynote speech by Henry Timms, the 11th president and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.
He posed a very interesting question: Why do the arts matter in the world?
He reflected on the words of a predecessor of his, American composer William Schuman. Schuman succeeded John D. Rockefeller III as president of Lincoln Center in 1961.
Timms quoted an essay Schuman wrote in 1962, which made a proposal of what is the true value of the arts.
“My first principle is that the arts are an antidote. They are an antidote to the push button emptiness of a mechanised age, they are an armor against disillusionment and they are an armour against the self-destructive nature of man.”
He said something very relevant to the Greek culture I was brought up in.
“We think about the power of the arts in our world. We remind ourselves particularly as we are here in Greece. We remind ourselves that in all the arguments about how if only your kids will learn to play the cello, one day they will get good at maths. Those are the kinds of arguments we often make about the arts. They will make you good at something else. We remind ourselves that the arts are at the heart of who we are as human beings.
We live in a world now where we are so connected by technology but we have become disconnected from each other. And in that world the arts do two things we should be proud of and never apologize for.
The arts help us understand ourselves and the arts help us understand one other. We all need to rally and be very proud of the role of the arts for creating meaning in a world that has lost its moorings.”
There is this pervasive idea that music or the arts will make you better at something else in this country—as if art isn’t enough in itself.