MICHAEL L. GILLETTE
When Ima Hogg, the first woman president of this society, convened the 1948 meeting, she called on Radoslav Tsanoff to survey the status of the creative arts in Texas. If the topic selected was a response to the national media’s preoccupation with oilrich Texans while ignoring our cultural attainments, the program also addressed causes that were dear to Miss Ima’s heart. Indeed, she and other members of her family had been directly involved in many of Houston’s advances during the first half of the 20th century: the Symphony, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Texas Medical Center, to name a few.
Tsanoff was also deeply immersed in a variety of the state’s cultural activities since he joined the Rice faculty in 1914. In addition to the symphony and the Museum of Fine Arts, he held memberships in the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Folklore Society, and he was, of course, a member of the Philosophical Society. In his presentation, Tsanoff contrasted the state’s modest cultural and educational facilities during the century’s first decades with the wealth of institutions in the prosperous, more urban, post-war Texas. He cited an impressive inventory of progress: in science and edicine, in education, in the arts, and in the establishment of symphonies, theaters, art museums, and libraries.
But beyond the comparison, there are two striking features of Tsanoff’s presentation. The first was his plea for a regional artistic expression: in his words, “an emancipation from the set pattern of Broadway and Hollywood.”He invited his listeners to find in Texas life “a unique fountainsource of creative expression.” He believed that our museums should not become “small pocket editions” of the Met, but rather should showcase the artistic treasures of the Southwest. He also proposed a Texas literary and art magazine and an expansion of cultural arts festivals to recognize the talent of local composers and playwrights. His call for more funding for the arts and the artists is a refrain familiar to us today.
Tsanoff concluded his address with an egalitarian flourish, extolling art as the grace of common daily life:
“Art, science, philosophy, religion, these are not socially exclusive; they reach into the roots and heart of human life, and they reach to the summits of our daily hopes and apacities, Against the spurious culture of pedantry and snobbery, see the evidence of deep spiritual hunger, both hunger and sustenance, in the common life of men throughout the ages, Folksong and folklore and proverbs, sagas, myths, pageants, and dances are their seals of genius. And out of this vast source of creative life, new springs of genius are ever rising. They will rise more abundantly still when our social system becomes more enlightened, just, and humane to recognize them and to provide them full expression.”
His eloquent words remind us that, despite a half century of remarkable advances, a world of promise went unfulfilled in his day. It was in 1948, after all, that Dr. Hector Garcia had to organize the American G.I. Forum to secure the medical and educational rights of Latino veterans returning from World War II. And Heman Sweatt had spent the two preceding years in the courthouse that now bears his name, fighting to gain admission to this university’s segregated law school.
So, as we explore innovation in education, science, the arts, and writing in our own era, we are mindful that history will weigh not only the challenges we meet, but also those we neglect. We also recognize that challenges create opportunities and that creativity is often born of necessity. What are some of the successful strategies that our schools are devising as they grapple with complex problems extending far beyond the classroom? How is our state’s great diversity affecting learning, literature, and the arts? Will science and public policy find solutions to the environmental challenges fueled by the last century’s technological innovations? As technology revolutionizes the forms of verbal communication, how will itscontent change? And how will this change transform our society?
To address today’s update of the 1948 program, our planning ommittee has enlisted some of the state’s most creative minds and compelling voices. We hope that the discussion will inspire a robust conversation in this afternoon’s roundtable and that your voices will enrich and extend the dialogue.