I admit it, I was as guilty as the next person about taking the arts for granted before I wised up. I’ll even go as far as to describe myself as an arts’ parasite; a culture vulture, if you will.

At school in England, we had art lessons and a singing class once a week, music appreciation twice a week, and my parents paid extra for me to take weekly piano and dance lessons.

But I was a grudging participant. Who wants to practice scales, arpeggios and Scarlatti sonatinas when you could be learning the latest Ricky Nelson hit? And if we heard one more comparison between a Mozart and a Haydn symphony, I would have died of boredom. As for the “singing class,” it consisted of repeating “The Skye Boat Song” and “Greensleeves” in unison week after week. Yawn.

At home in the holidays, the arts education would continue from my musical father and actor mother. Yes, I was force-fed culture from an early age. My parents made sure I saw plays or ballet in London every year, and my older sister dragged me round art exhibitions when I would have preferred to have been on the tennis court. 

By the time I was 21, I had the arts in my veins. I found myself looking forward to the next play, ballet or concert, and I had begun to look on the world of the arts as a need, not merely a want.

Many years later, I found my own niche, both as a folksinger and now as an actor, director and recent board member of the Firehouse. In every move I have made, I have found my friends in the arts community.

I realize now that I began to take the arts for granted. They were always there when you wanted them, I thought, to soothe your soul, delight your eyes, or make you laugh or cry.

Then the unthinkable happened in March. Arts venues began their lockdowns, and, if we are honest, we know many will be unable to reopen their doors in the down economy we face. Performing artists have lost the means to make a living, and arts organizations have had to lay off or furlough administrators, educators, technicians, box office staff, etc. And we do not even have an end in sight. 

It goes without saying that people in the arts know how to be creative. But without the rest of us supporting their endeavors, many local arts organizations will die.

If the arts matter to you then I entreat you to help keep our wonderful community arts organizations alive in Newburyport. Give what you can to the Firehouse Center for the Arts, The Actors Studio of Newburyport, Theatre in the Open, Exit Dance Theatre, Acting Out Productions, Newburyport Choral Society, Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, and the Documentary Film Festival, who cannot survive without audiences buying tickets to performances.

Don’t take the arts for granted — please. 

Anne Easter Smith is the former features editor at the Plattsburgh (New York) Press-Republican and the author of six novels set in the 15th century. She has served as a Firehouse board member for nine years and chaired the New Works Festival Committee for most of the festival’s 19 years.

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