By Melissa Heber
At this week’s Brown Bag Series, the ultimate question was asked — why does art matter?
Jeff Nathanson, executive president of the Arts Council of Princeton, has worked many different jobs dealing with art and came to the College on Friday, Feb. 24 to discuss the importance of art in schools and urban areas.
Nathanson has worked as an independent curator, in art management and has been a public art consultant. He has worked with the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton Public Library, Borough of Princeton, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bradford Graves Foundation, West Windsor Arts Council and San Francisco Art Institute.
“I became an art administrator and curator because I felt that instead of selling my own art, I would get a paycheck,” Nathanson said.
Nathanson works with the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, located in Princeton. The center is named for Paul Robeson, a breakthrough recording artist, a former player in the NFL and an actor famous for his role in “Show Boat.”
Robeson, who died in 1976, also fought for social justice and human rights.
Nathanson is very encouraging when it comes to inspiring artists of the younger generation and talked about the many programs that are offered for children at the Robeson Center.
“Kids are the future, so we put a lot of energy into their programs,” he said.
According to Nathanson, a program is offered for adolescents from Trenton at the Robeson Center, which involves taking children through the art gallery. Afterwards, the instructors bring them into the studio so they can recreate what they saw.
This program gives the children an opportunity to get involved something they might not have had the chance to experience before.
The arts also promote cross-cultural awareness and cultural understanding, according to Nathanson.
He talked about how the Robeson Center also has art classes where they have the kids do art projects about different cultural holidays such as Cinco de Mayo or the Day of the Dead.
When Nathanson was asked by an audience member about the alternative to cutting art programs in school, he said, “I believe military spending is too high and too much money is used for corporate bailouts. I don’t think that they should defund the arts to cut other things. There is not an easy solution.”
Nathanson talked about how there is hate and violence between different races, religions and genders. The way to get through this violence, he said, is the arts.
“We have a responsibility not even to our own work, but to show the world that there is an alternative to hate, conflict, and violence, and that is art,” he said.
For more information about the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts visit artscouncilofprinceton.org.