I remember listening to the radio, or perhaps watching public television, when I was little. At the end of the program - which one, I can't quite remember - a voice would say something like "This program, and so much more, is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts." It sounded important. Later I understood that this meant it was funded by government money, and that sometimes the government preferred to spend its money on other things besides art, like war.
I grew up with art. We went to museums and plays and dance performances and the symphony. I took ballet and made crooked clay pots and watercolor paintings in art class. This grew into an interest in photography, encouraged by my parents, which continues to this day. Quite recently I came across a poem by the artist Tim Etchells (the entire poem is here) in answer to the question "What can art do?" His response has been echoing in my mind again and again for days now.
'You asked what art can do
I wanted to write you that it
can make a spark flames
and a puddle ocean
a river tears
a room a world
a cry song
I meant to write you that art
can close a wound
and open a legal case
that it can stare further than a telescope
go faster than Internet and
beat like a loved one's heart
I wanted to tell you that art is loved as a hammer
because of how well it breaks lies and speaks truths
knocks down obstacles
And in case anyone is wondering, art is not a servant of any government
nor of any policy, nor of touristicism
nor a servant of money
nor an icing on a cake
That's what art can do.
And people should be careful with it.
Otherwise they may wake up one day and have to live alone
With no hammer of change, no truth, no laughs,
No bringing together or wondering apart
With no reflections, no possibility to reflect
Just living alone with only their ghosts and their ideologies muttering at them.'