The Arts are ‘Essential’


On Monday night, Governor Inslee mandated that Washington residents must ‘shelter in place.’ All non-essential businesses were ordered to close and we were all urged to both stay inside and to drastically limit interactivity with anyone outside of the immediate household. These measures were an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. We are in unprecedented times and we need to do a better job of looking out for one another. California, New York, and Chicago instituted the mandate earlier, and I only wish we had done it sooner.

When I awoke today, I picked up my phone, as I’ve been doing more frequently and with more rapacity recently, and checked out what was, in fact, essential business: groceries, gas, sanitation, food, defense, and health care. We stocked up a couple days ago, but with the four of us home all the time, we definitely needed to get more food, soap, and other sundries. As soon as I sat at my computer to start my day, my phone pings to let me know that my local dispensary is open. This makes sense as marijuana helps some people engage in the world around them, helps others express themselves, and releases stress for those that partake. I have a lot of anxiety as a black man raising two black girls in Seattle, especially now that we are living amidst a global pandemic. My local dispensary has been readily utilized.

So, if dispensaries, like liquor stores are open and considered essential for daily life, how do those under the age of 21 engage in their world, express themselves, or relieve their stress? Well, that is obviously the arts.

As Audre Lorde stated, “the arts are not a luxury.”

As Einstein writes, “Play is the highest form of research.”

As Marina Abramović writes: “Art must be life — it must belong to everybody.”

And as author and motivational speaker Brené Brown states, “Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, make loneliness a shared experience, and transform despair into hope.”

Arts are essential and provide the needed support, relief, and guidance that makes the world tick. Yet, they are still relegated to the ‘Other,’ They are as necessary to our wellbeing as the food we eat, the healthcare we need, and the toilet paper we hoard. The arts are even more essential now that we are trying to derive meaning from a world that we have never experienced. It will outlast all of us and it will tell the story of our times to future generations.

While schools are out, families are at home with their children for an extended time, possibly for the first time in a long time. They are searching for activities for their kids to do. They are searching for learning materials to keep their young people engaged in school work. They are worried about rent, bills, groceries, They are searching for an escape from the monotony of being at home every day. They are hoping for a brighter day. They are seeking more art in their lives.

As we are working with our young ones, let’s please remember to add arts to their daily schedule. Before ‘shelter in place,’ we passed out arts kits to childcare centers in the Highline School District.

Arts Corps is now releasing instructional videos, lesson plans, and other resources on our website, but we aren’t the only ones trying to #MakeArtAnyway. Coyote Central has an amazing list of arts activities. Pacific Northwest Ballet is teaching ballet online. Creative Advantage is creating videos to be shared on SPS YouTube channel. The New Victory Theater is creating Arts Breaks every week for families and children. The Globe is streaming Shakespeare plays straight to the viewer. Artist Home has created a list of virtual music teachers for young people interested in learning an instrument. Creative Generation has also created #KeepMakingArt for their campaign to bring awareness and support to artists and arts organizations. Adobe and Avid are providing free software. Comcast is offering free internet. There are too many to list here, but Arts Corps will continue to post artistic resources to add to the list weekly.

On Instagram Live, musicians have been streaming live performances to get you moving, providing a welcome respite from the newsfeed. From Questlove, 9thWonder, DJ Premier, Erykah Badu, to John Mayer, and Jon Bon Jovi, thousands have been tuning in. The Saturday sessions from 1980s hip hop wunderkind, D-Nice, had 200,000 viewers watching as he deejayed for 10 hours straight. Even Oprah Winfrey and former First Lady Michelle Obama tuned along with a host of other celebrities. It proves that everyone needs art and artists now, and that the arts are one of life’s essentials.

As my own children have started to record cooking videos for their friends, making stop motion movies, I know they are not alone. My brother and sister-in-law did live stand-up sets for Comedy Central. My mom is taking arts classes online.

What are you doing? What does #MakeArtAnyway mean to you? Share your story to info@artscorps.org so we can spread love with the rest of the Arts Corps community.

— JAMES MILES, Executive Director

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Arts Corps’ COVID-19 Response

 

I loved, loved, loved, Mork and Mindy. I loved the comedy. I loved the characters. I loved the story. To me, Robin Williams was a god. His energetic humor and boundless happiness made me sing. He made me want to be an actor, a comedian, and a human beacon of love.

A couple years later, I saw the play, Merchant of Venice, at the Goodman Theatre, starring Paul Butler, a black actor, as Shylock. His daughter, Jessica, was played by an Asian American actor. It was the first time I saw an actor onstage that looked like me and talked like me. I turned to my friends and said, “yo that’s us!” I was 16 years old.

That’s why I’m here today. To bring love like Robin Williams, and to represent the faces of my students like Paul Butler. I wouldn’t have been the actor I was, the educator I am, the future that my children will be, if the arts were absent from my life. Arts changes live and puts a mirror to the world in which we live. My wife is an artist. My brother is an artist. My sister in law is an artist. Art has shaped the world around me and for others to not experience the power of art, is pure travesty.

I also know the WHO declared that COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and the White House declared the outbreak a national emergency. Restaurants are closing. Hotels are closing. Schools are closed. People are out of work, and we are wondering where our next check is coming from. We haven’t experienced such global impact since the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Everyone is straight up stressed!

Yet still, we must not forget the arts. They make the world a better place. They uplift society. They are the light in the darkness. We can’t neglect art and artists. Art showed me a world I didn’t know could be imagined. It has given me pride and has provided a platform for me to express the humanity of the world’s inhabitants. During this time of uncertainty, it is crucial that we remember our first movie and our first play. The first time we felt seen or heard. Then we must see and understand our children’s artistry and experiences. We must make a better future than the one we have inherited. We must have arts. We must make art. We must keep pushing. In spite of anything, or maybe because of everything, we must #MakeArtAnyway.

Here, at Arts Corps, we are continuing to pay ALL of our staff and TAs. Both the LIT and Spokes programs will continue as students will work online, and remotely with our teaching artists. We are finding ways for teaching artists to support families, who are now at home with their children for an extended amount of time, by providing them with art supplies and activities for families to keep. Our 20th Anniversary Fundraising Gala, FESTA, has been reimagined to now be an online livestreaming event, featuring TAs, staff, and youth alumni performing for a national audience.

If you are a funder, grantor, donor, we ask that you offer relief to non-profits of program deliverables during a time of crisis. We also ask that you do not withhold, or limit, funding at this time of need. We are incredibly appreciative of those that are able to navigate the changing situations daily, by extending deadlines, offering open online support, waiving fees, and finding ways to offer financial support. To paraphrase a recent ArtsFund email, “a loss of revenue is a loss of the funds that provide paychecks for artists, staff, and contract workers.” We are the cultural fabric of the region, and we are woven together through everyone’s support.

Support your local artists and hold us close. We are all that we have.

Bless up,

James

P.S. Check out our Online Learning page, where our teaching artists are creating online content, step-by-step instruction, and simple activities that you can do from home. 

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