Mellon at 50: Language, Performance, and Democracy

How do we center the critical role of artists in our society?

Artists bring new insights and understanding to the most difficult issues of our time. Through various media, they expand our conversations and encourage a more multifaceted worldview that celebrates interdisciplinary thinking.

In the three videos below, Emil J. Kang, program director for Arts and Cultural Heritage at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, moderates a wide-ranging conversation with artists and arts administrators: Natalie Diaz, poet and Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Arizona State University; Bill T. Jones, artistic director of New York Live Arts; Jennifer Koh, founder and artistic director of ARCO Collaborative; and Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation.

Emil J. Kang asks panelists to consider the intrinsic value of an artist’s practice versus their impact on the world. " something moving through me. Something I can’t hold still or static," explains Natalie Diaz. "We are in a state where speaking your language is activism."

How do individual artists who are also institutional leaders reconcile and balance these two roles—especially when their art seeks to challenge cultural norms?  Bill T. Jones asserts that ultimately "art should be dangerous and art should not be easy to control.”

Do we value literature in equal measure with other forms of art? The literary arts differ from the performing arts, most notably from a fundraising perspective. “In all of the different ways that the arts thrive—because they’re not always sustained by the marketplace—what almost everyone is saying is that we don’t value literature,” cautions Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation.

Filmed at the New-York Historical Society on November 18, 2019 as part of the Mellon Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Symposium.