“How Often We’re Blind to Our Own Talent”: RIP Joan Mondale, Arts Champion

Howard L. Sachs/Prensa Internacional/ZUMA

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Joan Mondale, author and former Second Lady, died on Monday in Minneapolis at the age of 83. During the late 1970s, when her husband Walter Mondale was vice-president, she became famous for being one of the fiercest advocates of the arts on the national political scene. She was an avid potter and patron, earning herself the nickname “Joan of Art.” For instance, she worked with the Department of Transportation to transform railroad stations into art galleries and raised money for Democratic candidates by auctioning works of art. As honorary chairwoman of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, she was President Carter’s de facto arts adviser.

“Not since Jacqueline Kennedy has fine arts had an ally so close to the White House,” the Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote in 1977.

Here’s Mondale (via the Christian Science Monitor in 1977) discussing the importance of art in American life, often in the frame of politics both local and national:

What I feel that I can do is help people become aware of how pervasive and extensive the arts are, how they affect each one of us in our daily lives—what kind of builds we live in, what kind of clothes we wear, what we see with our eyes. We are often blind to the beautiful things around us.

What I’m mostly concerned about is how often we’re blind to our own talent. I think that within each human being there is a creative spirit, and some of us have been fortunate enough to have good teachers and parents who’ve brought this out and encouraged it, but others haven’t.

“Both [politics and art] seek to tell us about the good and the bad around us,” Mondale stressed. “The artist often dramatizes the same mood for change and improvement for which the politician is seeking answers.”

Here’s a photo of Mondale playing drums after a press conference at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, in 1978:

Joan Mondale playing drums

Richard K. Hofmeister/Smithsonian Institution (via Wikimedia Commons)

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