Can A Self-Described ‘Venture Culturalist’ Fix The Arts?

Yo Yo Ma seems to fear nothing.

Accompany a 23-year-old “jookin dancer” Lil’ Buck to Saint-Saens’ The Swan?  No problem.  Join forces with Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato playing music of Osvaldo Golijov?  A snap.  Do improvisation with Bobby McFerrin?  Well, he did confess to a bit of nervousness the first time, but only because McFerrin took his music away from him just before they took the stage.  Fix the Arts?  Anybody’s guess…but it won’t be for a lack of trying.

We as individuals do not live in a vacuum.  Yet, on a daily basis, we segregate our cultural intake.  Pop Music over here, jazz over here, country, hip hop, classical, modern dance and ballet all of these usually get their own little box.  Yet, it is in collaboration that growth, innovation, and change happens.

In presenting the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center hall, Yo Yo Ma put it well.

In ecology, where two ecosystems meet, such as the forest and the savannah, the point of intersection is the site of ‘edge effect.’

In that transition zone, because of the influence the two ecological communities have on each other, you find the greatest diversity of life, as well as the greatest number of new life forms.

One of those intersections can be seen and heard at the 45 minute mark of the above video. Yo Yo performed Levon Helm’s “Wide River to Cross” alongside a group of injured U.S. veterans from the MusiCorps program, associated with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  Music and health care.  The intersection of art and need.  The edge effect.

I urge you to listen to his remarks and look at his example. I believe all art forms can co-exist, not just in society, but on the same stage.  Yes, it’s difficult, but it can be done. In the video above, you’ll hear Ma’s remarks. At the 35 minute mark, he brings Lil Buck onstage for a breathtaking example of what can happen when we work together.

Alone, Yo Yo Ma cannot save the Arts. Together, we can make a world of difference.

Read more: Can Yo Yo Ma fix the Arts? (NPR)

Watch the original collaboration below, followed by what Lil Buck has transformed it into.

  • Cristina

    I was there!

    Every year, group of us from OSU’s Arts Policy and Administration program travels to Washington D.C. for Arts Advocacy Day (which sponsors this lecture) to meet with our congresspeople to discuss a variety of arts-related issues. It’s a fantastic experience – both as an arts advocate and as a citizen – to have the chance to talk to your legislators about something you believe in.

    You are right that Yo-Yo alone (as amazing as he is!) cannot save the arts. One thing that Ohio arts lovers can do to help is to get involved with arts advocacy efforts themselves. At the national level, Americans for the Arts ( can help you draft a letter to your senator and representative. At the local level, Ohio Citizens for the Arts ( can do the same. Advocating at both of these levels is a great way to let your legislators know how much public support for the arts means to you. If you attend arts events in Columbus, then you have benefited from this public support, and a great way to repay the favor is to let your legislators know that you appreciate it.