Caroline Mastin Welsh P'07

Remarks to Graduates, May 17, 2017

President Fox, trustees, Honors Committee, fellow honorands, faculty, staff, students, Class of 2017, families and friends.

I am honored to receive the University’s North Country Citation for contributions to the region as a leader, professional and volunteer to enhance appreciation for our artistic and cultural heritage. Thank you to all involved in the selection and since no honor is earned alone, thank you to my family, colleagues and friends.

Why do the arts and culture matter? Graduates, the arts are alive on your campus with music emanating from practice rooms, actors performing on stage, art on display at the Richard F. Brush Gallery, sculpture on the grounds. You are the beneficiaries of a liberal arts education at a University with rich offerings in the performance and communication arts and arts technology.  The history of these disciplines is taught by faculty and staff—many of whom are artists—at Griffiths and Noble Arts Center.

The general value of arts and culture to society has long been assumed while the specific value has long been debated.  Imagine society without the humanizing influence of the arts and you will lose most of what is pleasurable in life, as well as much that is educationally critical and socially essential. When we talk about the value of arts and culture we should always start with their intrinsic value to illuminate and enrich our inner lives.

Life without the collective resources of our libraries, museums, theatres and galleries, or without the personal expression of literature, music and art, would be devoid of creative analysis about the past and creative responses to frame the present and dream of the future. The North Country abounds with arts and history organizations working hard through the efforts of professionals and volunteers to present the performing and visual arts, nourish the creativity of artists and writers and preserve our historic and cultural heritage. Here in Canton the Traditional Arts of Upstate New York and the St. Lawrence County Historical Association stand for all their counterparts while North Country Public Radio is exemplary in its promotion and support for arts and cultural programming.

Art and culture can be a means to achieve ends beyond the immediate intrinsic experience and value of the art itself.  We know that arts and culture play a transformative role in promoting social and economic goals through community regeneration, attracting tourists, developing talent and innovation, improving health and wellbeing and contributing to the delivery of public services.  

The inherent value of arts and culture is an assertion that is difficult to quantify. Expressing their benefits in facts and figures to evidence their contribution to our collective and individual lives is something that arts and cultural organizations must do more effectively in order to sustain them for the future.

President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed at the signing of the Arts and Humanities Bill in September, 1965:

Art is a nation's most precious heritage….It is in the neighborhoods of each community that a nation's art is born. In countless American towns there live thousands of obscure and unknown talents…. The arts and the humanities belong to the people, for it is, after all, the people who create them.

Graduates, I hope that you and everyone here will join me to make a bold reaffirmation of our commitment to preserving arts and culture.  This is essential to create citizens and not just technocrats in the 21st century. The arts are a major catalyst for stimulating awareness, compassion and new thinking. Without them none of us will reach our full potential.

Thank you, congratulations and all the best to each of you.