On March 17th, we had our annual benefit at Arts Corps, La Festa del Arte. It was my first gala as the new Executive Director and I was blown away by the talent of the young people, the devotion of the staff, and the passion of all those that attended. The title of this piece is a quote from Azura Tyabji’s poem about living in a world of complacency where solidarity is merely symbolic, but that that is not enough. As I watched Festa, I came to understand the importance of her poem.
Hollis Wong-Wear, an alum of Arts Corps’ Youth Speaks Seattle program, energetically opened the event as our host, captivating an audience of over 400 people. The first group that performed were 6-9 year-old dancers in motley attire. Petra, the teaching artist that led that group, told me that days before the young performers were too scared to get onstage in front of a large audience. Petra asked them what would make them feel comfortable.
“A rainbow tutu.”
“My dad’s baseball cap.”
“A cool shirt!”
Petra spent the next few days collecting, creating, and purchasing those items. When we saw those very young students dance in multi-colored outfits, feeling confident and proud, and comfortable in their own skin, I see that power of the arts.
After watching the teen break dancers, I was told the story of a young man who was suicidal and depressed until he found an outlet in Jerome’s breakdance class. That young man was dancing with a smile on his face, excited to present his hard work to a large audience. An audience that featured his proud mother clapping along to the music.
I see how the arts helped another young man write a song about love and loss and sing, vulnerably, to a crowd of brand new fans.
I see a young woman standing on stage telling an audience of strangers about how the arts saved her life.
I think about how Hollis, the evening’s host, has launched a professional, full-time career in the arts, after working with our Youth Speaks Seattle program.
The same Youth Speaks program I was lucky enough to view this past Friday, at Town Hall. Once again, I was blown away by the lyricism of the young poets and the enthusiasm of the crowd. People from all parts of Seattle filled the seats to celebrate the power of youth voice. We heard poems that touched our hearts and poems that made us jump out of our seats. We heard poems about struggle and poems about victory. We heard poems that told us of a world of inequity and a world where oppression is no more. We heard poems about us, about people, about humanity.
It was beautiful.
At a time when funding for the arts are on track to being obliterated, it is important to see and hear young people expressing themselves through poetry. It is important to sit with other audience members, snapping our fingers, and clapping our hands at a public display of art. It is important for us to come together to show our support for art and artists in our community.
It was important for us to #witnessthelitness2017
While sitting at Grand Slam, another line from Azura’s poem at Festa hits me: “Think of how you pulled the nine-inch knife out six inches, stared at the wound, and called the bleeding progress.”
After she said it, I heard a collective sigh acknowledging how the point hit home. As always, we must look to the youth because they aren’t afraid to stand up for their beliefs. She helped remind me that we need to step forward and dedicate ourselves to equity for ALL. Yet, the fight has just begun. We need to make a change. We need to keep coming together, not just to resist a dismantling of the arts, but to show policymakers how much we need the arts. To show that the arts change lives. To show that the arts can change the world.
We need to punch through the barriers of inequity because
“We are all the fist.”