FDR Foundation Launches The Creative Citizenship Project

Today, with grim predictions for climate change appearing almost daily, the word “resilient” occurs again and again: utility infrastructure must upgraded to be storm “resilient;” sea barriers need to be raised to make them more “resilient” to flooding; new more “resilient” plant cultivars must be created to survive rising temperatures. While all these are laudable endeavors, they are at best reactive in nature, addressing the symptoms rather than the cause. The sad truth is that we can only go so far in strengthening the defenses of our physical world. In the end, the forces of nature will inevitably prevail, and humanity will have to adapt to whatever new reality is presented to us — or perish. We are not the masters of nature. We are, however, masters of ourselves, and it is here that true possibilities lie.

Seventy years ago, on the eve of WWII, FDR addressed the graduates of the University of Pennsylvania. It was an equally foreboding time, with war and despotism advancing across the world. Yet despite the coming darkness, FDR saw a way forward. “It is the function of education,” he reminded them, “the function of all of the great institutions of learning in the United States, to provide continuity for our national life —  to transmit to youth the best of our culture that has been tested in the fire of history. It is equally the obligation of education to train the minds and the talents of our youth; to improve, through creative citizenship, our American institutions in accord with the requirements of the future.” He then concluded with perhaps one of the most powerful lines of his long presidency: ” We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

The FDR Foundation wishes to reawaken this call for “creative citizenship.” We want to renew the importance of transmitting to our youth “the best of our culture.” We hope to re-inspire the necessity of building the next generation for the future. And our help they will need, as the very skill sets required to confront the challenges ahead — creativity, innovation and imagination — are exactly those which we’ve allowed to lapse across wide swathes of our educational system.

In many places across the world, we train our device-deadened youth in much the same way as we did a half century ago, forcing them to learn a rote skill set to fill jobs in employment sectors that are rapidly disappearing under the combined threat of automation and climate change. We must do better, and we can, as we hold in our arsenal exactly tools we require: the arts and humanities. Study after study has proven that knowledge of history, fine arts, literature, music, and storytelling fosters a different way of looking at the world, a mode of vision that sees not only what is, but what could be.

And “what could be” is what we’ll need if we are to survive as a species. We’ll need visionary scientists who can imagine whole new sectors into existence; we’ll need inspiring politicians who can utilize arts and culture to unite diverse peoples; we’ll need creative business leaders who can harness new technologies in unforeseen ways. But most of all, we’ll need an educated, creative citizenry that can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

This is true “resiliency.”

MDA Photo 2014In furtherance of these goals, we are dee-lighted to announce that Marcela Aviles Davison ’80 has come on board as our Director of Humanities Programming to help us launch the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Creative Citizenship Project. A first generation Mexican-American, Marcela Davison Avilés is an author and founder of The Chapultepec Group, an independent consulting and production company serving the arts and entertainment, non-profit, and selected consumer industry sectors. TCG clients include The Walt Disney Company, Pixar, Silicon Valley Ballet, FulmerWare LLP, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, the Mariachi Heritage Society and Aggrigator, a Silicon Valley start-up. She is also the co-founder of Camino Arts, an international Latino arts initiative. In addition to her work with Disney, her current portfolio includes a cross-border production of a new original opera on the life of Frida Kahlo. Marcela has worked with such well-known artists and organizations as Linda Ronstadt, Juan Gabriel, MarcoAntonio Solis, Aida Cuevas, Eugenia Leon, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Ozomatli, Lila Downs, Joan Baez, Paquita la del Barrio, Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Cobre, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, the San Francisco Symphony, the Smithsonian Institution and many others.

Marcela holds her B.A. in Fine Arts, cum laude, from Harvard College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

Don’t Let the Music Stop

 

Many of you know that I spent 6 years with PBS, and there December was one constant wail: “This programming is made possible by viewers like you! Please support us!” (Which isn’t actually true, and they shouldn’t really be saying that anymore, as the programming is paid entirely by corporations these days, but that’s a whole other story.)  Ironically, all these years later, I find myself saying the same thing, except this time for the Foundation, where conversely it is entirely true: You my dear friends make everything happen, from providing scholarships, to paying the insurance, to creating educational programming, to building the website. Why, you even keep the music playing and the piano tuned!

So, won’t you perhaps think about helping us before the end of the year? We really need your support, as our coffers are at historically low levels.  Just click the donate button below, or send a check to:

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation
Adams House, Box 471
26 Plympton Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Thank you friends, and our best wishes for a happy, healthy new year!




Telling Our Story: 8th Annual FDR Memorial Lecture

Telling our storyOn March 12 1932, America was in crisis: banks closed, industries shut down, many millions thrown out of work. Desperate bands roamed the countryside in search of food and shelter. Worse still, in large sections of the country the weather had changed violently, covering once productive fields and towns with vast quantities of dust that choked out every living thing. People were frightened. It seemed that the very edifice of government was beginning to crumble. But one man was not afraid. That evening, in a calm and steady voice, he sat down to speak to the American people, directly: “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States…,” he began. “I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be.”

With that simple start, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to heal a wounded nation. He accomplished this in no small part through the use of positive narrative — ‘storytelling’ — the hallmark of successful presidents from Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt. Throughout his 40-odd Fireside Chats, his over 900 press conferences and his countless speeches, again and again Roosevelt used stories to tap into humankind’s primeval need to understand issues not only in intellectual terms, but on an emotional level as well — a method that drew listeners into the narrative and made them active participants in the outcome of their own story. Color, creed or political stripe didn’t matter, insisted Roosevelt at every opportunity. We were all simply in this together. Later, with the arrival of war, FDR further honed this message. America was not simply fighting the Axis, he reminded us, Americans were fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear — throughout the world, for everyone.

Seventy years later, we in America have for the most part abandoned or corrupted the use of positive narrative in US domestic politics, choosing instead to bury opposition under a deluge of competing noise, slice political discourse with divisive accusations, and worst of all use demagoguery to cloud vital issues that affect us all.

Internationally, the situation is even more bleak. Lacking strong, shared convictions about what America is or represents, we’ve allowed others to hijack our national narrative, twisting and contorting it to their own purposes, often to the danger and detriment of the United States and its allies.

On Saturday, November 14th, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation will bring together a unique confluence of diplomats, politicians, historians, social scientists and most important of all — professional story-tellers — to examine this problem. Beginning with a study of FDR’s use of narrative, we’ll explore the psychological power of story-telling on the human mind, and propose multi-disciplinary ways to restore and invigorate the narrative of the United States at home and abroad.

The conference will include 8th Annual Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Lecture at 4PM
“‘What is Our Story, Anyway?’ American Narratives in the 21st Century” by Ambassador David Huebner, with a reception to follow.

For tickets and more information, click HERE