Widening Our Orbits


Vitamin Z, “part of a complete childhood.”

So goes the recent — and inspired — Detroit Zoo ad campaign created by Doner, the Southfield-based agency.

Piggybacking on Doner’s brainchild, I might suggest another dietary supplement: a regular dose of Vitamin A — the arts, as part of a balanced life.

A junk-food lifestyle is so easy — and seductive — when just earning a paycheck and maintaining the house seem to drain your lifeblood.

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” Henry David Thoreau famously wrote.

Sure, the price of living is a lot of work. But we control our leisure hours, and we don’t have to spend that time blotto in front of CSI or flaccid at the computer screen.

Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. A newly released study seems to offer tangible proof of that. According to recent research, children born to mothers who were exposed to higher levels of pollution had a lower IQ due to toxins transferred in utero.

Doing nothing is also poisonous. Homes, as comforting as they are, sequester us in a padded cell of our own making. And if we don’t venture out, we wither from a lack of cross-pollination.

By nature, we construct our lives with rather small orbits.

Earlier this season, three young college buddies were riding their bicycles through a largely African-American neighborhood on Detroit’s near east side.

Residents waved and shouted greetings at the riders. And one elderly man said good-naturedly as he walked to his car, “White boys! What you doing here?”

Our segregated existences, which are so entrenched here in metro Detroit, tend to intersect at arts and sporting events. As the dramatic introduction to the old-time radio drama Grand Central Station proclaimed: “Grand Central Station! Crossroads of a million private lives! Gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily!”

Our grand train station was once a teeming crossroads. Now arenas and theaters serve as the new mixing bowl where we mingle, as opposed to being an audience of one or two at home in front of a TV.

In this issue, we offer our annual Fall Arts Preview (page 45) as a ticket to the crossroads. The itinerary includes photography, dance, opera, drama, classical music, jazz, and fine art. And, it’s not all “highbrow,” as some might protest. Jersey Boys and Tap Dogs are on the playbill.

Despite what some will have you believe, the arts are not for snobs. Sure, we all know people who flaunt their cultural expertise like a bodybuilder flexing on a muscle beach. Their grandstanding is off-putting. But that’s not what the arts are about.

They offer relief from the rote practicalities of life, a break from the drudge. And they may be more important than ever. We’re in an economy needing fresh ideas. All the more reason to avoid garbage in, garbage out.