Like so many others, I have no words to respond to last week’s tragedy. Newtown, CT will never be the same. We will never be the same. Having no words, I had intended not to post anything about it. That was until I read yesterday’s NY Times Article “Seeking Comfort in Song Amid the Whiz of Bullets” by Sam Dolnick and Michael Wilson. Here are a few cherry-picked sentences:
Mrs. Wexler, who spent 20 years in corporate finance before turning to teaching, began to sing holiday songs in a whisper. The children whispered along. “Jingle Bells.” “Silent Night.” “I Have a Little Dreidel.” They did not pause when they heard shots or screams.
In another classroom, a music teacher herded the children into a closet filled with instruments.
A teacher read a story in a kindergarten class.
A librarian pulled out crayons and paper and told pupils, “Our job is just to be quiet.”
Their teacher taped over the door’s clear windows with pictures and drawings. They waited.
I’m sure no one who makes a living in the arts needs me to comment further. However, I’ve started this and need to follow through. (I do understand, in going on, the irony of the title of this post.)
It is the elemental power of the arts that keeps me (us) in this work. Why else would we bother? The capacity to ground us, center us in moments of unimaginable crisis speaks most directly to the importance of the arts. This is even more basic than the self-understanding or inter-personal bonding the arts best facilitate. Five-year-olds know that the arts–songs, stories, and pictures–can make them feel more secure.
But let’s be clear. This is not about the concert hall, the theatre, or the museum. Those are important; they are a vital part of the arts infrastructure. This is about art in the lives of “ordinary” (How that word, especially in this context, makes me crazy!) people–first graders here and also factory workers and firefighters and secretaries and bankers and used car salespeople and stay-at-home moms. It is also about extraordinary (in an arts context) people like gang members and developmentally challenged adults and nursing home residents and the homeless. How much of our work is concerned with any of these (or even one these categories of people), really? How much of our focus is on them and not the art itself or the donors or the artists or the powerful who make decisions in our communities?
It is in addressing the needs of the “ordinary” among us that, long-term, we will have the greatest impact on our communities.
End (for now) of the sermon.
Engage! (It’s in the best interest of us all.)