Philanthropy Roundtable’s Program Manager Kathryn Hougham recently sat down with Daniel Asia, president of The Center for American Culture and Ideas (CACI), to discuss how the Center promotes the American intellectual experience through engagement with the aesthetic, historical, economic and philosophical foundations of American society.
Through cultural research, public outreach and education outreach, the Center seeks to better individual lives by investigating the ways beauty, truth and goodness are fundamentally linked to the universal values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Asia is currently a composition professor of music and head of composition at the University of Arizona School of Music. He received his master’s degree from the Yale School of Music. His music has been performed domestically and by foremost ensembles around the world, including the New Zealand Symphony, the Czech Pilsen Philharmonic, the Cincinnati and Seattle symphony orchestras, the Cypress String Quartet and many others.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Tell us about The Center for American Culture and Ideas mission.
Asia: CACI deals with high art including music, literature and visual arts, and culture in the context of American ideas. We’re interested in the arts and its relationship to philosophy, democracy and a system of free enterprise that allows this all to flourish. We also believe that all politics is downstream of culture. If you do not understand the arts, you will not understand the relationship between culture and politics. People who are elevated by the arts will come to politics with a different sensibility than those who are not. Most importantly, it gives more and greater meaning to their lives.
A few decades ago, I realized that fewer and fewer people were engaged in the tradition of Western classical music, visual arts and the dance. Some of humanity’s most outstanding achievements have been in these endeavors. If you have not felt the transcendent power of the arts, you have missed out on what it means to be a human being. We feel a responsibility to ensure that we introduce as many Americans as possible to this transformative legacy.
Q: Why do you continue to pursue the mission of sharing high art within the context of American ideas?
Asia: Like the arts, CACI touches one soul at a time. Our goal is to increase the number of people who become happier and more successful human beings because of their interaction with the high arts and culture. In the course of becoming more cultured and sensitive human beings, we strengthen our democracy.
Q: How are you reaching people with these ideas?
Asia: One of the most essential vehicles for achieving our mission is reintroducing art and culture into our education system. Our organization produces resources to equip charter schools and homeschool parents to reinstate arts education into the core of every American child’s experience. Since economic optimism and entrepreneurship are core features of American culture, we are also seeking ways to bring our message to corporate America, whether through talks, our publications and training seminars.
We host a lecture series, “The Cultured Mind Forum,” where we present the best people worldwide talking about matters of culture, the arts, political theory, economics and entrepreneurship. Our lectures all contribute to our understanding of what makes America exceptional. We have been fortunate to host exemplary speakers such as Harvey Mansfield, Lee Smolin, Arthur Brooks, Amy Wax, Maestro Gerard Schwartz, Magatte Wade and Dominic Green.
We are constantly expanding our audience through our podcasts. CACI is the home of “Words & Numbers,” a podcast by Dr. James Harrigan, senior fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. In addition to the focus on economics, The “Cultured Mind” podcast, hosted by CACI Artistic Fellow Dr. Joshua Nichols, focuses on arts, culture and ideas, where he interviews illustrious thinkers such as John Agresto, Heather Mac Donald and Peter Wood.
Q: What are you looking forward to in 2024?
Asia: We are and will continue to be the “safe space” for the beautiful. This year, we will be hosting a conference on the life and work of Roger Scruton, who I suspect many consider as one of the most important figures in the conservative movement in the last 50 years, not only in his home of Britain but here in America as well.
It will be a gathering of great thinkers and artists for an engaging conversation on Roger Scruton’s lasting contributions to our understanding of the role of beauty and high art in society generally, and in America, particularly. We are also very excited to offer classroom visits to high schools by our team of experts in art, music and political philosophy; we will release our third compact disc and we will publish a new e-text in the arts aimed for the charter, classical and homeschool learning areas.