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The intrinsic value of Bermuda’s arts

It is sometimes tempting to write Bermuda off as a community suffering from an advanced case of “affluenza”, one in which far too high a value is placed on money, status and appearances. Such environments, it has been said, provide particularly barren soil for the arts.

Certainly we take great comfort in our wealth and routinely celebrate the canny entrepreneurial instincts that have served Bermuda so well over the course of 400 years and provide us with our enviable lifestyle today.

And, up to a point, we are right to do so.

But financial success alone secures no permanent victories in the never-ending whirlwind of human affairs.

What really counts is the way financial power is exercised — with swagger, arrogance and selfishness, or with prudence, wisdom and a keen regard for the public interest.

And what counts most of all is whether our material success becomes a vehicle dedicated solely to the pursuit of self-aggrandisement and self-enrichment — or if it is used to enrich the broader Bermuda community.

“It is excellent,” Shakespeare said, “to have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.”

Certainly in recent decades the giant's strength provided by our financial heft has been used constructively. In marked contrast to many similar sized communities, Bermuda has set increasingly great store in the value of the arts.

Dance, theatre, music along with the visual and fine arts have all been beneficiaries of the Government and corporate largesse. Everything from the annual Premier's Concert showcasing Bermuda's young musicians and dancers to the Charman Prize awards for the visual arts to the success of endeavours as diverse as the Chewstick Foundation and the Bermuda International Film Festival speaks to the generosity and forward thinking of the public and private benefactors of the Island's arts.

It is widely understood here that artistic and cultural activity enhances the Bermudian sense of identity while also stimulating community engagement, economic activity and the local talent we have in abundance.

Without commerce, of course, there can be no arts. But when there is a failure to foster the arts, there can be no culture that allows for commerce to thrive — certainly not over the long-term.

To broaden appreciation of the arts is to strengthen the common bonds and shared values of the Bermuda community, to nourish the soul of this Island.

The arts inform our character and enrich all of our lives.

But there are also other, more tangible benefits. Because the fact is the arts have an intrinsic value to this community as well as a social, cultural and aesthetic value. A culture based entirely on the relentless pursuit of money, property and status is invariably joyless, spiritually bereft and intellectually barren — a culture that cannot long sustain itself.

So those creative individuals who shape in words or images or dance or music the works of art which engage and uplift us are not only entertaining Bermuda. They are encouraging and bolstering an environment of creativity and creative thinking in all fields.

For far from being a distraction from Bermuda's national purpose, the arts are an indispensable component of our continuing social progress and development.

“The arts are essential to any complete national life,” said Winston Churchill. “The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them …

“Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

The arts ultimately sustain us in exact ratio to the degree we sustain them.

They not only provide a great unifying and humanising experience but, as poets and businessmen and scientists have all proclaimed, they stimulate the power of the imagination to discover what is not yet known.

“The possible's slow fuse,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “is lit by the Imagination.”

And, as has been said more than once, to commit to imagining is to commit to looking beyond the given, beyond what appears to be unchangeable.

It is in fact the only sure way of warding off the apathy and feelings of futility that are the greatest obstacles to any sort of progress in any area.

Art of the matter: everything from the annual Premier's Concert, pictured, to the Charman Prize awards for visual arts speaks to the generosity and forward thinking of the public and private benefactors of the Island's arts

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Published December 29, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 28, 2015 at 11:28 pm)

The intrinsic value of Bermuda’s arts

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