Dear MBDance Family,
This moment in U.S. history is weighty and we know it. What of artists? For years, I wondered about the role of arts within the “big picture.” I knew that dancing is imperative to my own survival and flourishing and that it positively impacts many audience members, and I knew that community engagement through dance is a powerful medicine for most of us. But still, like a child who can not stop wiggling her loose tooth, I teased out and worried the question “What is our role as artists when major and urgent shifts happen in our neighborhoods and in our country?” It was ever-present and I could not ignore the large question.
Now I know for certain that art is imperative to social change. Gospel singers know this. Children who make up impromptu skits acting out how they want things to go know this (remember playing “school” and re-doing how your day went?). Graffiti artists know this. We concert performing artists need to know this in our bones. We have to get this right, and we can.
In thinking about my ancestors, I remember hearing stories of them singing and dancing and I want to stay connected. In studying the Civil Rights Movement, I am aware that the songwriters’ role was huge in galvanizing and centering people. In reflecting on our recent Artists Stand with Standing Rock benefit performance, I notice that visual artist Ricardo Levins Morales’s work helped a wide audience immediately understand the problem and the call to action of our event. We artists–and we are not nearly the only ones who effect change–but we artists sharpen our tools of imagination, resourcefulness, and mutual accountability, through our creative work. Those are all necessary for creating equity in the world, especially in the face of power forces working otherwise. We can rally people together with our creations. We can help ourselves and other people unload, vent, cry, and renew in the midst of our collective assertion of a better reality. We can help ourselves and other people visualize newly-centered people, values, and ideas…variances from the top-down status quo. This is important and necessary.
I do not suggest that artists are saviors, nor that our work most effectively stands alone. There are so many uses, applications, and inherently valuable expressions of art; there is room and need for all of them. But in this time, I am worrying that loose tooth again…taking myself to task about my role and about our roles. I submit that now is the time, more than ever, for artists to partner with community organizers and to be community organizers. And maybe that is not for everyone. This is also the time for artists to create work that is haven, that is provocateur, that is challenging, that is affirming, that is grounded in literal reality, that is fantastical. We need all of it. Let us take courage, artists, and answer the calls of our passion. On- and off-stage, our creative impulses, our discipline, and our resourcefulness are all powerful assets.
I hope that you are sweating your truth in a way that makes sense to you, and that it is creative and in concert with other people around you. That is my charge to myself and to MBDance.