I don’t know about you but I need to experience art. I miss sitting in the audience and watching an emotionally stirring theater performance. I miss listening to live music. I miss watching bodies fly in precision.
I’m excited to announce that our art walks are re-starting this week. But I feel like everything is in restart mode because of the Covid-19 virus. For the past four months, our homes have been our refuge. You probably are well stocked on toilet paper by now — what you thought was an essential item.
But I’ve realized that, for many of us, the arts are just as much an essential item as your role of Charmin or that case of your favorite IPA. I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of the arts in people’s lives and how important it is that, especially in these tough times, we find ways to invest in the arts
It was while I was staying at home for four weeks in April that I saw the power of the arts. It was during that time of serious physical distancing that I saw how much we all needed the reassurance of our connectedness to the community. Most of us used social networking.
At first, I was posting daily on Facebook the number of COVID 19 cases and deaths. Then I decided instead of being the conveyor of doom and gloom, I wanted to enlighten, engage, and encourage through my posts.
It was National Poetry Month, so I pulled out all my anthologies and books by African American poets and began posting poems. Those who can’t stand poetry might have thought that was a death sentence. But many people thanked me for sharing those poems. It was during that month that I saw how much people were thirsting for a creative outlet. Creating art is an important emotional outlet that gives people an avenue to release their emotions in a healthy way — be it literary art, music, dance, performance art, or visual art.
My neighbor, who is a fine musician and member of a local band, began live-streaming from his living room. I loved seeing the J Paul Getty Museum challenge people to recreate a work of art with what they had at home during the self-quarantine. Some of the images were astonishing. It reconfirmed that creativity is more important now than ever. But the best was being introduced to TikTok. It was on that app that I saw people from every race, age, and socioeconomic level working on their dance moves. I was amazed at how much time many of them put into the choreography. I saw that it’s through the arts that we truly can experience our humanity. Even when we’re apart, art connects us. It heals, it helps calm us, and inspires during a stressful time.
And I believe it is the arts that will nourish us as we begin to adjust to the new normal of a post-COVID-19 world. It is difficult to look into the future to see the impact this pandemic will have on our arts community as a whole. But I know it will have an impact, especially on our artists.
If COVID-19 wasn’t enough, we now have the conflation of racial tensions and demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We have African Americans saying enough is enough. And we now have many white Americans awakening from their Rip Van Winkle slumber and acknowledging the racism against blacks in America and wanting to understand and learn more about white privilege and systemic racism.
I believe the arts can be the catalyst for cities to rewrite the American narrative on race. The arts inform and inspire. We must allow the artist’s voices to be heard through murals, pop-up musical performances, physically-distanced electric-slide dance jams, outside movie nights, or a one-person theatrical performance. Let’s identify free walls for artists to arouse ideas on social justice. Joe C. Rock’s thoughtful mural on City Hall should just be the beginning of messages for equality and unity.
Just go stand in City Plaza and see how an open-air visual art gallery can send a genuine message of solidarity and love. The images are genuine because they serve all of us. Public art should be an authentic reflection of our times and values. It must reflect the community around it, and represent the hopes, lives, and aspirations of the people in that community. It may be temporary but I see strong examples of that that I believe will help nourish and heal us. It’s a start.