Utilizing the Arts for the Day of Racial Healing

October 23, 2022—The 7th Annual National Day of Racial Healing will be observed on January 17, 2023, and I urge you to begin now to make plans for arts- and culture-related community events.

The National Day of Racial Healing began January 17, 2017 and it has been observed since that time on the Tuesday following the national holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday. Hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in conjunction with the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation community, the event creates opportunities for community engagement, discussions and collective development of a blueprint for how we can heal from the effects of racism (#HowWeHeal).

In addition to community-based events, the national 2023 observance will include a primetime town hall airing on both MSNBC and Noticias Telemundo in English and in Spanish. And CNBC will feature excerpts from the town hall that focus on economic inequality.

How can the arts contribute to the National Day of Racial Healing? I recently read an article about the role of art during wartime, and I believe some of the points made by New York Times arts critic Jason Farago offer food for thought. In the article, Mr. Farago quotes the award-winning, African-American arts critic and author Margo Jefferson to make his point:

“‘The reason you need art in wartime, wrote (Margo) Jefferson, is because ‘history cannot exist without the discipline of imagination.’ Through art we establish similarities between past and future, near and far, abstract and concrete, that cast received certainties into doubt. We look and listen in a way that lets thinking and feeling run parallel to each other. And in extreme times, this sort of cultural appreciation can rise from an analytical to a moral plane. If we pay close attention—a task made harder with every meme-burst and iPhone rollout—art and literature and music can endow us with improved faculties to see our new present as something more than a stream of words and images. They can ‘provide ways of seeing and ordering the world,’ as Jefferson wrote then: ‘not just our world, but those worlds elsewhere that we know so little of.’”

Last year, in conjunction with the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Center at Rutger’s University-Newark, the Creating Change Network was the catalyst for arts-related events in support of New Jersey’s observation of the National Day of Racial Healing. As readers of Arts & Culture Connections may recall, the Creating Change Network was launched in 2020 by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and ArtPride New Jersey. It is comprised of more than 500 arts and social justice leaders, and I serve as chair of the steering committee. Our aim is to work to establish an equitable, just, and anti-racist arts community throughout the state.

Participating in the National Day of Racial Healing is a natural extension of this mission, and the Creating Change Network curated a two-week line-up of programs bringing together arts organizations under the theme, “Racial Healing in Action.” The New Jersey Performing Arts Center also offered access to its previous Standing in Solidarity virtual panel discussions hosted by the PSEG True Diversity Film Series.

Irrespective of the focus of your arts organization or cultural institution, I urge you to seize this opportunity to continue to promote racial healing and community unity utilizing the arts. Imagine the power and impact of dance or theatrical performances, short films, musical compositions, poetry slams, or visual art exhibitions in support of your local National Day of Racial Healing dialogues and related events. Imagine the lives you can touch; the hearts you can move, or the minds you can open.

If you need additional resources to help with your planning, there is an online action kit and a suggested conversation guide. The Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation community guidebook can be found at this link.

As always, I want to know what you think. I invite you to share your thoughts, comments and/or ideas about how the arts can contribute to your local observations of the Day of Racial Healing.

PS: What’s On Your Mind during National Arts & Humanities Month? The New York Times Style Magazine recently ran a story, “What Does It Mean to be A Young Black Queer Artist Right Now?” Have you read it? What did you think? Please share your thoughts and comments below.

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