Scene In Passing: Ode to commodes, roads and public art

It’s time to attack the canard public art and culture aren’t critical to Carson City’s future.

Art and culture define any city, particularly a state capital community, as much as anything observable. Nobody questions what would happen here if Las Vegas stole Nevada’s state capital status. You should be just as concerned if Las Vegas keeps stealing this state’s cultural image and projecting its jaded gambling/tourism/entertainment glitz as the cultural stuff of Nevada. Vegas is cadaverous, a zombie; Carson City is a community.

“The chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into the living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity,” according to Lewis Mumford, the late author, historian, philosopher of technology, literary critic and long time architectural critic for New Yorker magazine.

This Scene In Passing column, however, isn’t written to bash Vegas but to assault the bogus notion investing in art and culture is wasteful. It’s essential, just like investing in toilet-flushing ability or street-fixing.

Certainly we need to and do invest in collective toilet-flushing capacity and in re-doing roadwork regularly, though we could upgrade the latter. But the idea some investment in arts and culture is an un-American activity is nothing but unmitigated hogwash. Several things of late, locally and elsewhere, convinced me forces opposing public art and against using financial resources to promote cultural activities must be challenged.

At local strategic planning open houses, some folks questioned priorities or decried a downtown makeover while others urged art and culture be viewed as helpful to quality of life and economic development. Such postures are legitimate but aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It’s an irrefutable fact quality of life and the economy are enhanced if a community is infused by arts and culture.

Reno’s art renaissance comes to mind. Though the mainly commercial Vegas approaches are mostly zombie culture, in my view, that city undoubtedly benefits economically. Want another but different Nevada example?

At a Northern Nevada Development Authority breakfast, talk of STEM and STEAM captured attention. STEM is about training students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; STEAM includes an A for Arts in the acronym, as amended by Carson City’s school district. The latter makes sense. Is there any doubt a well-rounded kid provides a better chance for forming a valuable adult?

Nationally, I cite a new book by Fareed Zakaria of CNN television, a best-selling author, who wrote “In Defense of a Liberal Education.” Internationally? An article in The New York Times Magazine reports Norway, even in its penal system, is art-oriented. “Even prisons are subject to Norway’s requirement that every building receiving public money have some sort of public art,” it said, illustrating the article with graffiti artistry at a prison.

That brings to mind a quote from a president of my young adulthood named John Fitzgerald Kennedy: “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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