In 1936, the fella Roosevelt instigated the Works Progress Administration, to revitalise an America ravaged by the Great Depression. Rather wonderfully, this included the Federal Art Project, designed to support and rejuvenate the creative soul of the nation, by bunging artists a few quid to stir and create and colo(u)r up the gaff. (Sir, I doff my cap).
Over the next handful of years, a who’s who of the Thrillingly Important Americans of the period a) survived financially and b) poured their paints and their energies into a kind of communal creativity kitty, from which a brighter, prouder, dreamier world might emerge. Pollock, Rothko, Gorky and others found a rare degree of security in the government wedge, plus the opportunity to beautifully and spectacularly indulge and develop their craft.
Whatever the pretext or the motives, there is a powerful sense that this was a rare and civilised moment: one where government actually, ambitiously enacted economic policy based on cultural good. It was stimulating; it was faithful. The fact that within ten years the world was brilliantly ablaze with American genius is at least in part attributable to Roosevelt’s inspired gift.
Historically, stuff like this never seems to happen, though, eh? – governments being typically peopled by the soulless, the myopic, the cynical. Real love of art rarely finds a way through the committees or the careering. The Federal Art Project was the diamond in the dungheap, a uniquely generous response to the national emergency and a hearty punt on the value of the search for meaning in a dark, dark world.
I call out for thinking like this. Not only in response to challenges to our capacity for creativity and spirit but also because of the threat to our physical wellbeing. We’ve too many of us gotten lazy. Fat; inactive; unwilling or unable or unskilled at moving.
We all know this. The information is out there, is shared. In our Primary Schools, in our halls and meeting places and leisure centres and doctors’ surgeries. Online, on the back of the bus, on the telly – fair warnings. We still get worse.
I have strong views on this (UK) government but let’s keep party politics out of this. The point I want to make goes waaay past that. In brief I say we need a Federal Activity Project, a massive, revolutionary, all-encompassing, irresistible national surge towards activity.
Of course I say this partly because this sporty/educational zone is My Territory. (I work as a Community Coach for Cricket Wales). I’m in the business of lighting up people – very often youngish children – for a game, for movement, for development-through-action.
I don’t want to be a sports bore and I get that our project needs to factor-in the allegedly non-sporty, the ‘difficult to reach’. In fact, they may need to be its focus. However, much of this is about scale – about levels of ambition. I say again, this project must happen and it must be MASSIVE.
I know we’re in (yawn) austere times. I know the purse-strings are allegedly tight. But masses of subsidised or free delivery of fabulous multitudes of activity would transform, over time, the physical and mental health of the nation. There is nothing that we need that is more important than this transformation.
I’m bawling here rather than making a case but I would argue that the NHS can only be made viable, in an era of ageing citizenry, through enormous cultural changes in the population. In brutal terms, we can’t afford folks to be obese, to have asthma, to have diabetes; we need them fitter.
In a way, kids are easy. If you give me zillions of coaches, I will transform them – make them livelier in every sense. They will be better listeners, better behaved, more creative, better citizens as well as infinitely more mobile. Good coaching does this.
However I absolutely acknowledge the ethical and the practical issues around persuading/compelling unwilling or unconvinced adults that society needs them to get moving. At some stage I may get into arguments over what ‘reasonable expectations’, what ‘buy-in’ might look like… but not here. Feels more urgent to strike out for healthy revolution than concede to practicalities before we’ve begun. This is a roar for change not a negotiation – not yet.
Ideally, I’d like an unthinkably humungous Federal Art Project as well as a Federal Activity Project. We clearly need to open our hearts and our senses to art and culture every bit as much as we need to run three times round the block. (And by the way, I know we ain’t a Federation but gimme some slack on that. This is about free ideas, imaginative nay truly wonderfully radical shifts in intellectual and physical norms or possibilities). But I’m calling out for sport to start with, for activity; for a spectacular charge towards health.
There will be more on this but meantimes chew on the soundbite. We must transform, we must get moving. We need somebody to fearlessly chuck paint around – to search. We need inspired government.