This blog is dedicated to the artists and arts administrators of the Millennial Generation. And it is a call to action. You are standing at the juncture of a new era of civilization or a new era of civil dissolution. Now, more than ever, your passion, enthusiasm, and directed efforts are needed to ensure that arts and culture remain an accessible source of renewal and empowerment for us all.
Throughout history, the arts have been a bridge, cultivating understanding, openness, trust, solidarity, and a sense of community through the depth and breadth of collective experience. The arts have allowed us to expand our thinking, embrace other people or other cultures in ways our often segregated or solitary lives could not envision.
To take up the mantle of protecting the arts will require more than your dynamic creativity and multi-talents. It will require a philosophy or holistic point of view that recognizes and is committed to retaining the transcendent impact that the arts can have on life itself. What do I mean by that? Please consider this excerpt from a recent collection of essays titled Hope Is A Decision, written by the Japanese scholar and philosopher Daisaku Ikeda:
“Science and technology have given humanity undreamed of power, bringing invaluable benefits to our lives and health. But this has been paralleled by a tendency to distance ourselves from life, to objectify and reduce everything around us to numbers and things. Even people become things. The victims of war are presented as statistics; we are numbed to individual realities of unspeakable suffering and grief of individuals. The poet’s eyes discover in each person a unique, irreplaceable humanity. While arrogant intellect seeks to control and manipulate the world, the poetic spirit bows with reverence before it’s mysteries.”
I substituted “artist’s eyes” or “arts-maker’s eyes” as I read this, recognizing this excerpt’s deeper relevance and application to my work; to our work. Ultimately, art’s most profound function is not to illuminate the artist, but rather to shine a light in reverence of the “irreplaceable (global) humanity,” of which we are all members. Art is a catalyst for opening and changing our hearts and, consequently, the catalyst for social change. Engaging with the arts is a spiritual experience by which all people, irrespective to their station in life, are uplifted, healed and transformed.
The late civil rights activist Ella Baker once said: “Give light and people will find the way.”For me, this serves as a reminder of why the engagement of diverse audiences is essential to our successful navigation of this historic juncture. My vision is that we proactively ensure that our audiences reflect the entirety of the communities we serve, through programs and efforts like the one launched by Staten Island Arts, which I wrote about in last week’s blog. This means more than providing audiences with a showcase or exhibition. This effort requires more than altruism. Artists, arts-makers and those responsible for making it happen must make a living, too. My experience has taught me that the key is having an ongoing dialogue with that diverse audience to cultivate the spirit of collaboration and ownership. In turn, we are able to provide an arts experience that generates spiritual solidarity and transcendence of differences. This exchange then becomes the catalyst for our audiences to willingly and joyfully provide ongoing financial support in appreciation of their meaningful experience and the job well done, rather than offering payment out of obligation.
We must never underestimate or take for granted our audiences. People who value and appreciate art and culture are vital to our community at-large and essential to our future. They tend to be more engaged, optimistic and hopeful. They value peace and are more conscious of the human need for beauty, wonder, harmony and interconnectedness.
Futurist Alex Steffen recently wrote, “Optimism is a political act…Cynicism is obedience.” Treasured Millennials, I hope you will optimistically embrace your mission to protect the future of the arts; not just for the sake of your own work, but also for the sake of the audiences for whom you work in service. No matter what your chosen artistic endeavors, please rise above the noise (and stay there). Do your best to avoid the pitfalls of the blind pursuit of fame or ego-based distractions. I urge you to fearlessly create with the spirit of the lion and the determination to innovate artistic works that shake up society and invigorate the world. Most important, keep your eyes on the prize—your power to brilliantly illuminate the path to a more open and just nonviolent society, free of ignorance, mistrust and division—so that together, all of humanity can win.