There is no doubt about it, all of us are happy to have behind us the first decade of the new millennium. What a crash landing it was into a new age. Book-ended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipe-out at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most heartbreaking and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era. Call it the Decade from Hell, Our Lost Years, The Deconstruction of The American Dream or an opportunity to re-think who we are as a people, a country, and one world. Regardless of the label, it is time to reinvent who we think we are, and to initiate a course of action that will allow us to transform our lives and those of others. And to do this will require A LOT of creativity.
My friend and colleague John Cimino,from Creative Leaps International, loves to use the portraits created in 1833 of Thomas Cole: The Course of Empire to illustrate where we as a people have been and where we now have arrived. A direct source of literary inspiration for The Course of Empire is Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812–18). Cole quoted this verse, from Canto IV, in his newspaper advertisements for the series:
There is the moral of all human tales;
‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory – when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption – barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page.
I think these portraits are incredibly revealing. They are rich with lessons about our past, our ethics and lend themselves well to recognizing we are a land, again, in search of a new identity. And what an opportunity this presents for the arts to rise to a new level of meaning and relevance.
WHAT FRAME IS NEXT?
It’s true we made our own bed and did this to ourselves largely. We deregulating the banking industry that lead to greed and the meltdown of the housing industry. We betted on thin air with the tech dot com bubble which, as all air bubbles do, burst right after 911. We waged the wars in Iraq and then the one in Afghanistan that drag on today and is deadlier than ever. And what about those anthrax letters and the Washington, D.C. snipers and the wave of Wall Street scandals highlighted by Enron and WorldCom? And indeed nature’s strength of hand descended upon us, as a reminder of where true control exists. On Aug. 29, 2005, near the center of the decade, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana, killing more than 1,500 and causing $100 billion in damages. It was the largest natural disaster in our nation’s history.
There is nothing natural about the economic meltdown we are still struggling with. A housing bubble fueled by the deregulation of the banking industry, cheap money and excessive borrowing set ablaze by derivatives, created financial weapons of mass destruction and put our economy on the brink of collapse. Meanwhile, the living, breathing symbol of our course of empire lives within prisoner No. 61727-054, also known as Bernie Madoff who rots away in a Butner, N.C. jail cell, doing 150 years for orchestrating the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of humanity.
It’s time to start things up again and use our creativity to transform our lives, communities and situations because, frankly, we simply don’t have a choice as a people, a country or even as a world. Entrepreneurship has never been more important to set the table for who we are, what we think and value and where our future lies. The arts have so much to contribute to this conversation. Through setbacks and destruction what an entrepreneur sees and feels is OPPORTUNITY. And our current circumstances have blessed us with lots and lots of opportunity. What do you see? What can you do to be a part of redefining your community, our country, our world?
This New Years Eve and New Years Day passed for me uneventfully as I worked feverishly to finish a five year budget, curriculum development for both online classes and course work for the school, as well as our new case statement for The IAE. The Decade of “The Start” has arrived. It’s time.