In this day of the ascendancy of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) a lot of focus has been given to technical supremacy. This probably has something to do with the monetary value related to it. Computers are taking over the world in ways not imagined a mere 50 years ago.
Now, there is a growing voice for STEAM, (Science, Technology, Art, and Math). Notice the word “art” has been added. This is a welcome development, as the focus solely on technology will result in an unbalanced society. It takes all kinds to make a world, and artists and technologists represent two sides of a sociological coin.
Artists are important for a number of reasons. Research has indicated that students who are academically exposed to the arts (i.e. drawing, painting, theater, music, etc.) tend to do better on reading and math projects. In other words, there seems to be an academic benefit related to the arts that may not have been noticed in the past. This is why public schools should not cut out the arts programs when money becomes scarce.
One of the greatest values of the arts, also, is that of serving as a lifeline for Black students. Moreover, communication can occur in the arts that might be missed in other areas. Most liberation activities in Black America have come through the arts. For example, where would we have been without James Baldwin, Countee Cullen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, Denzel Washington, Nina Simone, Alvin Ailey, or Ray Charles? Add to these Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Prince, Diana Ross, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Morgan Freeman, Romare Bearden, NWA, Richard Hunt, John Coltrane, Lester Young, Elisabeth Catlett, Charles White, Abena Joan Brown and Harold Okoro Johnson (eta Theater), Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Kelan Phil Cohran, Billie Holiday, Dianne Carroll, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole, Angela Bassett, Octavia Butler, Jacob Lawrence, Val Gray Ward, Haki Madhubuti, Courtney Vance, August Wilson and others who have used their artistry as vehicles of communication and education.
Add to these others who are also doing pioneering work that clearly targets, motivates and seeks to empower the Black community. The list is verrrrry long, and I apologize in advance for not including everyone): Turtel Onli, the father of “The Black Age of Comix,” Nnedi Okorafor, a great science fiction writer; the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM); Jackie Taylor (Black Ensemble Theater); Tony Smith; Candace Hunter; Arlene Crawford; Ytasha L. Womack (Afrofuturism); Tim Jackson; Abena Sharon Dale; Ashley Woods; Afua Richardson; Kehinde Wiley; Drum Divas; Juarez Hawkins; Carol James; Yusuf Ali El; Sherman Beck; Omar Lama; Barbara Jones-Hogu and other members of Africobra; Ari Brown; Ernest Khabeer Dawkins; Woodrow Nash; Ava DuVernay; Mshindo Kuumba; Spike Lee; and others too numerous to name.
All of the aforementioned individuals are messengers and educators, ambassadors and liberators. These are the Cultural Warriors who have made a mighty difference in the world, both as way showers in the Black communities and as ambassadors to those outside of the community. They help to enhance the self-esteem of Black citizens by providing them with positive, empowering images. When they gain notoriety, they are truly a force to be reckoned with, since they can command the eyes, ears and hearts of the populace.
With this said, Black artists, especially those not connected with music and entertainment, get short shrift among Blacks. Most Black people cannot name a well-known, accomplished Black visual or literary artist. Our artists are important and deserve to be supported. The arts can serve as a way out of poverty for those who have talent. We must advocate for balanced inclusion of the arts in school curricula so that we can best utilize the full spectrum of abilities available to us. A Luta Continua.