Let’s Think About Art and Culture as Infrastructure

As we put ArtsNews to bed, we watched our Congress struggle with the meaning of infrastructure. We too struggle with this same question: What is infrastructure? Is it simply roads and bridges, as we’ve been led to believe? Or does it include other things that make life livable, or even bearable, such as health, education and social services? Most definitions are not definitive. The dictionary suggests that it is the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society or enterprise. That’s pretty all-encompassing. Actually, the term “infrastructure” first appeared in usage in the late 1880s. The word comes from French, with infra- meaning “below” and structure meaning “building.” Infrastructure is the foundation upon which the structure of the economy is built, oftentimes quite literally.

Leaving much room for interpretation raises the question as to whether arts and culture can be considered infrastructure. There are many who would say that arts and culture are a blueprint for the operation of a society. Certainly, in a democratic society, it is akin to a book of knowledge. What we know about great societies often is the record of its people, its ideas and its traditions. These form a structure for future civilizations to reject, emulate or even appropriate. This is especially pertinent in a democracy that envisions life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the undergrid of our democratic structure. Just saying.