How Influential Can You Get

April 29, 2012

TIME’s 2012 100 Most Influential People in the World list was recently released. We are living in a transformative period in which leadership and influence emerge in unlikely places…the TIME 100 list is about the infinite possibilities of influence and the power of influence to change the world,” the article states. Among those listed are Manal al-Sharif who started a movement of women driving in Saudi Arabia even though the government there bans women from doing so; and the innovative math educator, Salman Khan who’s helped so many around the globe learn math concepts online. Also among those listed are Claire Danes, Viola Davis, Tilda Swinton, Chelsea Handler, Jessica Chastain, and Kristen Wiig–thanks to the impacts of their performances and careers. Seeing them associated with such global figures goes to show how influential actors can be—not only on American culture, but in the world.

We’ve all heard about remarkable humanitarian practices by many actors including George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt . And then there are the lists like the one published in Forbes stating which actors gave most generously to their charities in 2011–big names such as Jamie Gertz, Mel Gibson, Meryl Streep, Jerry Seinfeld, Barbara Streisand, and Matthew McConaughey. Through their performances, their fame, their money, and their service, these accomplished actors are in a uniquely favorable position to influence the culture and the world.

But what about those aspiring or working actors who have not yet achieved the kind of stardom as those listed? What kind of influence can such actors have if he or she is struggling to both pay their bills and take acting classes?

Ben Cameron runs the arts-granting program at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York where he supervises a $13 million grants program aimed at the theatre, contemporary dance, jazz and presenting fields. Cameron insists the arts are going to be more important than ever in our modern times with all of its modern sufferings and pitfalls, to bring about social conscious, a common cause, and call us all to be activists in our various causes to create a more empathic world.

What kind of influence do you most want to have on the world? Whether you use the performing arts, film or video, you can make a difference in the causes that are most important to you. Some actors, wondering about an angle into the industry, for example, immediately gravitate to the horror genre. And why not? The influential The Blair Witch Project inspired aspiring actors and directors alike to come up with horror plots and themes aiming for low budgets and starring just themselves–knowing there’s often a wide audience to greet finished projects. All the power to them! That’s certainly one way to be influential. But don’t forget other avenues to pour your passions into; causes most dear to you are likely dear to many other potential audience members as well. Hear Ben Camerson speak here about ways you as a performing artist can motivate others and change the world.