I Am the Storm

The Devil whispered in my ear,
“You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm”

Today I whispered in the Devil’s ear,
I am the storm.”

I first read this quote on Facebook right after the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. It was a wake-up call. Under the Obama administration, the respect and support of the arts made me feel safe and protected. But I realized that 1/20/17 marked a new epoch in American history; a new day for the arts world. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that I must become a changemaker. And I must do it now.

I am not the only person who has felt the intensity of this transition or the need to act. The rapid-fire messages and executive orders aimed at driving a fear-based wedge between us, marginalizing, isolating and demonizing the most vulnerable members of our human family, have resulted in passionate protests in major U.S. cities and in many countries around the world. New generations of human rights advocates are emerging to join hands with older generations of activists to champion the rights of women; people of color; immigrants; and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who are still fighting in the courts to protect the Missouri River, the longest river in the entire U.S., which impacts ten states and two Canadian provinces.

I am encouraged and inspired by the major contributions artists are making in support of these efforts. It brings to mind this reminder from renowned Indian Dancer and Choreographer Mallika Sarabhai: If we think we can all agree that we need a better world, a more just world, why is it that we are not using the one language that has consistently showed us that we can break down barriers, that can we can reach people? What I need to say to the planners of the world, the governments, the strategists is: ‘You have treated the arts as the cherry on the cake. It needs to be the yeast.’”

We cannot afford to become hopeless, afraid to act, or apolitical. Especially in the wake of reports that federal funding will be cut-off to America’s quintessential cultural bulwarks –the National Endowment of the Arts, National Endowment of the Humanities, Corporation of Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. This is OUR frontline–those of us who know and understand the value of the arts in fostering imagination, critical thinking, discipline, meaning, social interaction and community identity are being called to rise up. The foundation and bridge of hope and healing that the arts provide are at risk.

The late Nobel Laureate and Holocaust Survivor Eli Wiesel wrote: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time where we fail to protest against injustice.” It’s important that we encourage all of our constituents, friends and family to join the mobilization to protect our important cultural institutions.

Second, let’s support work that illuminates our social challenges, such as the play by Anna Deveare Smith, “Notes from the Field,” Dael Orlandersmith’s “Until the Flood,” or MoMA’s exhibition of Muslim artists from the banned countries.

Third, let’s provide opportunities for youth to take center stage; to explore and experience the arts and share their concerns about the future they will inherit. There are several organizations on the frontlines of this effort, such as Youth Plays, National Youth Ambassadors Programme, the Juxtaposition Arts Program or Impact Broadway.

Right before I began working as the audience development and marketing director at the Public Theater in New York City, I had a dream about attending a party. It was held in The Public’s brightly lit lobby, and in attendance were people from all different walks of life; from neighborhoods throughout New York City, as well as from all over the world. They spoke many different languages, but their common bond was joyous laughter and the sharing of a good time. This dream remains the motivation for my work, to which I have devoted more than 30 years developing, cultivating and building bridges of understanding, based on the arts, between people of different cultures, faiths, lifestyles, social and economic stature, gender and race. I have renewed my resolve to continue this effort, with more urgency than ever before.

This is what I know for sure: “Art is to the spirit what bread is to the body: a necessity without which it cannot renew itself.” (Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhist scholar, author and artist)

History has taught us that when people unite for the common good, positive results emerge beyond our imagination. In your capacity as connectors to the arts, I ask you to vow today that you will use your craft and your voice to be a changemaker; use your imagination and creativity as a force of resistance and resilience so that we can ALL rise together.

Wherever you find yourself, please stand up. Tell the Devil: “I Am the Storm.”