Tuesday, October 28, 2008

more thoughts on Vote Yes Minnesota

As Election Day approaches, debate over Minnesota's proposed Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment has intensified. Dennis Anderson of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who once wrote a scathing article about why arts should not be included in a dedicated funding amendment, offers a good discussion of how the amendment would work and rebuts some of the most common criticisms of the amendment.

One of the themes that appears over and over in letters to the editor opposing the amendment is that the outdoors, and the arts, are for special interest groups only, and these special interests should compete with other causes--schools, transportation, health care--for appropriations from the Legislature, and not create a source of dedicated funding just for hunters and theater-goers' pet projects.

Is our society really so distanced from nature, and from the arts, that they are now seen as just choices on a menu? Does a generation or so of us really think that the outdoors is only for those who are "into" outdoor recreation, and the arts are just another diversion like golf or NASCAR?

Our ecosystem, and art--essentially a witness to our humanity--are NOT special interests. We need them whether we consciously realize it or not. They are essential to our survival and our identity.

As I mentioned above, there was initially intense disagreement about putting the environment and the arts together on one amendment. Even now Anderson seems to dismiss the arts part only as something that was politically necessary to include. But the environment and the arts are not two separate entities, and most journalists covering this issue fail to realize this. Greg at The Dharma Blog posted eloquently on this topic back in February 2007, a year before the Legislature approved putting the amendment on the ballot. To sum it up:

It has been useful for me to remind myself that the way I feel while standing before one of the Minneapolis Institute of Art's Van Goghs is not much different than the way I feel while paddling my canoe down the St. Croix River.

It is interesting that this feeling, this "stillness" as Greg describes it, is increasingly being found to be vital to our health. Richard Louv, author of the bestseller Last Child in the Woods and founder of the Children and Nature Network, tracks an ever-growing list of research showing the mental and physical benefits of interaction with nature, particularly with children. Lists and links to research can be found on the Network's website. A quick Google search of "fine arts health" provided more links than I had time to look at. There is a growing industry of arts consultants who specialize in working with health care facilities to design environments that have been proven to promote healing in hospital patients.

Maybe if people were more connected with nature and the arts in the first place, the overall health of the population would improve. There would be less obesity, less chronic degenerative disease, less depression. This would lead to fewer medical procedures, fewer prescriptions, fewer hospital stays with their inherent risks, and greatly reduced health care costs. I can't think of a single person that would be opposed to that! The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment could, in the long term, potentially generate more in health care savings than it takes in in revenue.

I sincerely hope this amendment gets passed, and that in addition to some desperately needed environmental restoration projects, and restoration of diminishing public support for the arts, a good portion of the money will be spent on initiatives that aim to reconnect people, especially children, with art and nature.


dharma bum said...

This is a great, well-rounded post about this controversial, difficult issue. I've spoken to many a dedicated conservationist who isn't sure they can vote for the amendment. You really addressed all the important arguments and addressed them well. Cross your fingers!

dharma bum said...

ps - and I'm not just saying that because you quoted me. :)

RuthieJ said...

Hi Deb,
I wish I could print this post out and hand it to all the people who have the "Vote No to the Sales Tax Increase" signs in their yards.
I think 3/8s of 1 percent is a small price to pay to preserve Minnesota's beauty and natural wonders. I hope enough other people feel the same way too.