“Opera, as an art form, will continue. The child with malaria will not.”*
The general talk about supporting the arts usually consists of its “side-effect” benefits, like economic impact or increased literacy/math proficiency or self esteem. But to support the arts, just for making art, is there any worth?
Specifically, why do I give to people to MAKE art?
I believe seeing art can change our view of the world for the better. That it makes us more empathetic and kind people. That it brings us outside of our comfort zone and makes us face the injustices fought everyday by those less privileged. Live performance, in particular – art that is made in a specific place and in real-time – brings us face-to-face with these people, in the same room, breathing the same air, living, briefly, the same life.
These kind of results, for the most part, don’t happen from side-gigs. Breakthroughs come from time and concentration. Giving money to artists allows them the time and space to create, throw away, and re-make.
Making things is hard, and it’s in us to avoid work. There are a million Pinterest boards for no-cook dinners and no-sew crafts. Artists are the hardest working people I know, and they aren’t in it for the money, or fame, or even the applause. They go the studio and sit down at their desks every day to make something out of nothing, to explore ugly and unflattering aspects of the human race, and to think of how to convey these messy and complicated parts of all of our lives in one work or one evening. Most of what they make is thrown out and never seen by anyone not in that rehearsal space. The first draft of a dance with that floor part that needs to be thrown away. The scene change that was scrapped for the sake of smoother transitions. That lighting cue that was great, but just didn’t work.
The resulting work we see for a few hours at the theater contains weeks, months, even years of life. Relationships began and ended, friends and family were lost, company members huddled around a computer with a spotty WiFi connection to see the events in Newton, in Syria, at the Navy Yard and wonder – is this all worth it?
It’s worth it to me, because one afternoon of watching the news is enough to make anyone give up. I know that making a dance isn’t the same as curing disease or fighting injustice. But after seeing a dance – the sweat and blood and work and the human body in its rawest state – my senses awaken to the dance in life. My eyes are cleared from distraction and selfishness for a moment as I look at the audience stream out of the theater and into our own separate lives. And while our shared experiences ended, I believe the energy we gave and received from the performers still vibrates within us, becoming a kinesthetic memory that will have ripple effect on our lives and the lives around us. We’ll see a woman hail a cab and remember of the opening of “Serenade,” or go to church and have a flashback to the of the finale of “Revelations.”
As this memory vibrates within us and then out of us, our actions and thoughts can be changed. Why does the experience have to end when we leave the theater? How can we create that sense of community in our everyday lives, with the distractions and obstacles that come with real life? Seeing a dance gives me hope and drive – hope that even for a a moment I can re-feel that energy that was onstage, and drive to seek out and create experiences for other people to make them feel like I did in the theater.
And it’s up to us, the people who feel transformed by art – whether it’s the local children’s theater or an experimental dance/theater/I-don’t-really-know-company – to make sure art keeps getting made so more artists have the resources to dig into complicated issues and, hopefully, invite us to to see their findings. So they can create something and we can watch and feel revitalized when we think hope is lost and life is a broken record of frustration and loneliness. That we can go to theater and be renewed and vigorous and ready to fight for the kind of world where people can live healthy, safe, and happy lives.
*So for now, dance can have my dollar.
feeling inspired by Sarah Anne’s words on giving to the arts? Donate to DX here.