In the midst of a global pandemic, economic recession, political shift, and demand for racial justice, many of our basic human needs have been dramatically impacted. While we have each experienced and perceived recent events differently, there is no doubt that these events have profoundly touched each and every one of us. In times of crisis, when fundamental needs aren’t being met, it can be easy to focus only on the ultimate goal of survival.

A pyramid depicting the levels of Maslow’s need scale; with basic needs at the base and self-fulfillment needs grouped together at the apex
Illustration from PMHealth

According to Maslows Hierarchy and psychological theory, higher categories involving self-fulfillment and psychological needs tend to fall by the wayside. Recreation, socialization, and creativity can be perceived as mere distractions from bigger concerns that involve safety, shelter, and security. So in times such as these, funding, attention and resources are diverted to companies fulfilling basic needs while cultural and creative organizations take a seat on the back burner. Right now the arts aren’t vital… or are they?

Historically some of the greatest artistic achievements and cultural icons have risen during times of struggle. In the Progressive Era, U.S. presidents initiated the beginnings of the highly controversial National Parks; having largely been inspired to preserve the American landscape through the paintings of Bierstadt and words of Muir. During The Great Depression the movie “The Wizard of Oz” was released, thus becoming one of the most enduring and beloved films of all time. In 1969 the Woodstock festival occurred and was largely promoted for being a direct protest against the Vietnam War; ultimately unleashing a new era of music and progressivism.

Fast forward to the crises of 2020/2021 and the arts are being consumed and utilized in vast quantities. Due to stay-at-home precautions, it could even be safe to say that we’re engaging in the arts now more than ever: binge watching TV shows, learning TikTok dances, attending virtual concerts, taking online tours of museums, picking up a new creative hobby, sitting down to read a book… the list goes on. Whether fully intentional or merely being used as a balm to make it through difficult times, we are all turning to the arts. But what is driving us?

We are turning to the arts because they are integral elements in satisfying human needs. The same needs that are going unmet throughout these crises are the ones now being fulfilled through the arts. The arts have proven time and time again, through both subjective personal experience and detailed scientific research (ex: The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy), that their benefits have no bounds. They foster creativity, create community bonding, advance prosperity and justice, improve both physical and mental health, and enrich many areas of our lives. In a time when many are suffering from a variety of hurts and unfulfilled needs, the arts bring healing into those spaces.

One organization that is currently dedicated to tackling this very topic is The Foundation for Art and Healing. Through their individual creative inspirations, community programs and national initiatives, they are addressing the current crises in real time and making profound impacts. Their partnerships with other organizations, allies and sponsors - maintained throughout the pandemic - have resulted in mutually beneficial relationships and financial sustainability. Through their advocacy and outreach, many are becoming more aware of how the arts support life and bring fulfillment; especially during times of great unrest.

When I personally take a look at what I am utilizing and relying on to get through the challenges of today, I ultimately find the arts. I find that the arts are crucial to my health, my needs and my survival. They are powerful tools that when paired with intentional goals can change us individually and collectively. Encouraging individuals, corporations, providers, public figures and policy makers to support the arts is imperative during this time. By showing them how the arts have been a life-line during these crises, the arts can continue to gain support. Even when resources are scarce, we can remind supporters how an investment in the arts is a continued investment in life itself.

Summer Skye Ward, MM, MT-BC is a Neurologic Music Therapist specializing in promoting health through the arts. She is working towards a graduate certificate in arts leadership.