Things are dire across the globe today.  If the large percentage of the world’s top scientists are right about climate change – and I think they might just know a little something more than members of the Tea Party – things are getting more ominous for our planet every day.  We have our own problems here at home: one percent of the population takes in 20 percent of the nation’s wealth; over 20 percent of American children live in poverty; there are more black men and boys in confinement today than there were slaves at the height of slavery.

People can believe whatever statistics their political leaning may dictate, but we all know that our America has yet to deliver on its promise of equal opportunity and justice for all.   


This week, I gave a speech for Americans for the Arts at the Kennedy Center, celebrating the arts and it’s caused me to think about the role the arts play in binding us together during these trying times. While many people feel hopeless, I don’t want to wake up the morning that I am without hope. We will save our world  and when we do the door will have been kicked open by the Arts and the politics and politicians will follow. 

Music, film, literature, theater – arts that cause us to see and hear as one will lead the way.   While art allows us to delight in our individual taste, in its embrace we are all one. This is what will help save us.  

Recent events in North Korea demonstrate the influence of art and its potential power. North Korea was so afraid of what might happen if its citizens were exposed to a movie making fun of Kim Jong Un that it tried to destroy a Hollywood studio, and Muslim extremists were so infuriated by a cartoon image of Muhammad that they slaughtered a dozen people who worked for the magazine it appeared in. 

Efforts to suppress art are nothing new.  We’ve seen book burnings and book-bannings since the invention of the printing press.  But technology – more specifically the Internet and all of the ways we connect to it – has increased the power of the arts exponentially.  Find the right way to present your message and it can go viral instantly, being seen by hundreds of millions across the globe.  The arts have never been more impactful.  Because of this, we live in a time when the artistic voice has never been more threatened.   And as threatening as those who resort to attacks to stifle an “offensive” point of view is the possibility that such acts will lead to the kind of pre-censorship in which certain subjects are deemed off limits lest they turn out to offend. 

I often think that high-rolling arts lovers would be more disposed to funding arts education, not just for an elite few, but for all, if science had come up with a way to measure the change in hearts, minds, moods and attitudes that music, film, literature, the arts generally, are capable of evoking.           

Art works its magic, and people often don’t know that it’s happening to them.  

Recently, I was part of an event with the hip-hop community, including Common and Russell Simmons, where we talked about the impact that shows like Good Times, The Jeffersons, All in the Family, or Sanford and Son had on their lives. They talked about ways that the shows depictions of strong parental figures, or discussion about tough issues such as child abuse, sexism and race itself, have changed the direction of their lives.  

It was then and there I realized that, to live, Art requires a beholder.  And both require the acceptance and understanding – and the funding – of the spiritual and cultural dynamic that allows us to share our experiences with one another.  This week as art lovers from around the country descend on Washington to speak to their elected officials about the importance of continued funding for the arts, let’s remember that the pluralism that makes our country great is celebrated in the art that we produce.  I truly believe that the shared experiences we have when viewing art – like how we feel when we hear a great piece of music and look around to see everyone feeling the same way – will provide the pathway for leading us out of our spiritual, political desert.  But that art will not flourish, and those experiences will wither, without the support our government and we as individuals provide.

Lear, 92, is a television writer and producer who produced All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son and Maude, among others. He is also a political and social activist and philanthropist. His memoir, Even This I Get To Experience, was published in October 2014.