Redford speaks at Kennedy Center

On Sept. 9th, legendary actor, director, producer and activist Robert Redford appeared at the Kennedy Center to deliver a policy speech on the importance of public funding and preservation for the arts. The speech was the headline attraction of this year’s annual Nancy Hanks lecture, sponsored by Americans for the Arts and the Film Foundation, two organizations renowned for their support of nonprofit arts in the cultural sector.

As an actor, Redford is known for his plethora of roles in such landmark films as “The Candidate,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Out of Africa.” He has directed numerous films including “The Horse Whisperer,” “Quiz Show” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” As if this wasn’t enough, he is also a producer.

Redford can boast a variety of other achievements. Most notably, he conceived of and created the Sundance Film Institute, which sponsors one of the most recognized film festivals in the world. While many of Redford’s fans are aware of his prominent position in Hollywood, few know about his work in Washington, D.C. This film legend tirelessly uses his position to petition congressional leaders to use the arts to the public’s benefit.

What follows are several excerpts from his speech, focusing on the film genre’s struggle as an art form, current national policy toward the arts and the importance of funding arts education for future generations.

On the cinema’s struggle for independence

Just as all the other arts did at the moment of their own conception, cinema transformed the world. For good or for bad, it is a universal communicator on a global platform. Film is an indigenous American art form even though it’s always been a struggle to have it taken seriously as an art form. But we can’t deny that business has significantly infiltrated the practice of art in general and, in particular, film. The constant talk of grosses – dollars and cents as the benchmark of a film’s worth – is very debilitating to the body of serious film discussion and appreciation. And after all, where would the business of film be without art as its seed?

The Sundance Institute is a step toward making sure diverse voices and the creative energy they bring with them are given an opportunity to grow and evolve. Those who come to the Sundance labs to make films and those who come to the festival to show films really are a microcosm of the kind of diverse voices which our country needs to continue to support and nurture if it wants to maintain itself.

I look at the Sundance Film Festival and the innovative hustle demonstrated by scores of young filmmakers to bring their vision to the screen. They haven’t curled up and died because they can’t get government backing for their projects. Somehow they find a way.

On current government policy toward arts funding

President Bush (has) recommended terminating funding for the Arts in Education program … State legislatures across the country are making substantial cuts. Several states proposed wiping out their entire state budget for the arts … We need people in office who understand that encouraging creative pursuit could be critical to any number of sectors, from the next great technological idea to the next historic medical discovery.

On the benefits of keeping art education programs

Art and public policy is good business … The nonprofit arts world is roughly a $134 billion-a-year industry, employing millions. It generates nearly $81 billion in spending by those who partake in its cultural offerings and is responsible for some $24 billion in taxes going back to federal, state and local governments annually … So, supporting the arts is good business and the numbers bare this out.

It’s art that feeds and nurtures the soul of a society; provokes thought, inspires critical thinking and fosters understanding of things foreign to our own immediate world. In the end, art plays a primary role in encouraging healthy tolerance of diversity in any culture.

It is creativity that must continue to be nurtured if we hope to reap the benefits of the many great minds we don’t yet know … . There’s a kid out there that hasn’t picked up a camera yet but could end up making a memorable film of his time.

On the surface, (art) may not have the weight of the SEC, the Department of Defense or Social Security and other programs that may be easier to quantify. But it is still a part of the whole. More importantly, it exemplifies one of our great – maybe our greatest – critical luxuries, freedom of expression.

The nurturing of creativity comes into play in everything from world diplomacy to world economics, business endeavors to social endeavors and everything in between. It is creativity that gives all of it the nuance that often makes the difference. In all its forms, art plays a critical role in finding our way as people and as a culture.

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