New opera, Death by Life, premiering May 20-25th, 2021.
Galvanized by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the virtual opera “Death by Life” was conceived as a monument of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The opera explores the intersection of systemic racism and mass incarceration using texts written by incarcerated writers and their families, with a score by five Black composers—Jacinth Greywoode, Leila Adu-Gilmore, Jonathan Bailey Holland, David Sanford and Mary D. Watkins—representing a broad range of ages and styles. The sets are immersive 3D environments created in Unreal Engine by Curvin Huber, White Snake’s Director of Innovation.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is not an original thought, but seems important to state out loud. Again. Especially now.
In July 2017, we posted that violent hate crimes have surged around the world, including the U.S., where disgusting racist, homophobic, and misogynist language has become normalized in political speeches and on social media, where violence has become routine, and where free speech and other democratic freedoms are under threat.
Sadly, this all seems worse, not better. We will not rehash the disgraceful, hateful, and hate-filled events from the recent past.
Instead, we will repost this spoken-word poem by Guante. We leave it with you to feel through and think through.
This performance by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre is as important, provocative, and meaningful now as when it first aired. Indeed, artistry transcends time and space and takes on new meanings depending on when it is experienced. Consider this performance in connection to “today” — what lessons might this spoken word be speaking right now?
In past posts, we’ve noted the many ways artists speak out through their art-doing. Whether to question or connect us, artists are charged, perhaps now more than ever. And thanks to social media, more and more people can engage with the good work artists do.
For example, to memorialize and respond to the atrocities that ended the life of George Floyd – as well as re-ignite #BlackLivesMatter and speak to the hundreds of years of Black persecution in the United States – visual artists have taken to the streets in the ways they know best. Greta McLain, Xena Goldman, and Cadex Herrera acted by painting a mural at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South, the spot where Floyd was arrested. These three artists were assisted by artists Maria Javier, Rachel Breen, Niko Alexander, and Pablo Helmp Hernandez.
Minutes before his death, Floyd managed to muster: “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” were transformed and the phrase at the center of the mural came later. As stated by one of the muralists:
Physicians, social media, and social psychologists are saying that, if at all possible, social distancing does not necessarily mean emotional distancing.
With this in mind, artists of all kinds have been doing their uplifiting “good work”—i.e., mobilizing their artistic citizenship or “artivism”—by putting the arts to work for emotional and psychological well-being.
Indeed, while concert halls, school auditoriums, museums, galleries, clubs, and other places of/for artistic experiences are closed, many musical, visual and other kinds of artists across the nation and around the world are going online and taking to the streets.
Diplois live streaming DJ sets from his home five times a week on YouTube. The shows run Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with distinct themes each day. Paul Simon and Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real are “coming together” on Twitter through #selfdistancetogether
When the times call for social distancing, cellists of the New York Philharmonic respond with J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello in G major. I: Prelude, Nathan Vickery II: Allemande, Principal Cello Carter Brey III: Courante, Sumire Kudo IV: Sarabande, Alexei Yupanqui Gonzales V: Menuets I and II, Eric Bartlett VI: Gigue, Maria Kitsopoulos
The above-mentioned do not provide monetary comfort for those producing the art nor those experiencing it. Alongside many newly-found unemployed persons, artists and arts-takers are not immune to financial loss despite the Internet’s outlets and potentialities.
As reported in The Guardian, some visual artists are taking to the streets.
These artists are not benefiting financially for their efforts, and neither are people who are experiencing these performances. Obviously, unemployed people, including art-makers and audiences, are not immune to financial loss.
Still, we must say “thank you” to all the artists across genres and practices who find the perseverance and courage to continue doing what they do. In fact, we might be more accurate and honest if we ask: Where would we be right now without the arts? And: How might we feel if artists—whether professional or amateur—failed to provide us with ways and means of/for connecting?
In what ways can satire, sarcasm, comedy, and artistic excellence come together to help illustrate some of the potentials found within the concept of “artistic citizenship”? Rather than answer this question literally, we would like to pose the following example for your consideration. Does this arrangement and performance of Shostakovich’s music suggest a possible interpretation of understanding “artistic citizenship”? We leave this question with you as you listen and watch.
Might the rest of the world learn something from Hong Kong? Are there fights—small and large—that need songs to raise our levels of consciousness up; songs that urge us to join our brothers and sisters in bettering today and tomorrow?
Conversely, might our musical experiences—whether as listeners or performers—become more significant and, potentially, creative when we compose, create, improvise, perform, and LISTEN with the intent to move, shake-up, and confront the ills of our common world?
I am writing to you today to let you know about an issue that is pressing, and one that is often overlooked: human trafficking. It is astonishing to me that there are more people enslaved right now than ever in human history, yet it barely ever makes its way to the news cycle.
Fortunately for me, an opportunity came my way to respond proactively when I was invited to join the Board of Directors of a small nonprofit which is approaching survivors of human trafficking through the arts, and having beautiful successes.
Crossing Point Arts: Bringing the Art to Survivors of Human Trafficking began providing workshops in all of the arts to survivors seven years ago, and they have reached nearly 4000 people in the NYC area, who were trafficked domestically and internationally. Their Teaching Artists help survivors to reclaim their once-silenced voices and start to heal from the ordeal of brutal exploitation, all the while learning to manage PTSD and develop long-term coping strategies. Still the only nonprofit in the US solely dedicated to providing workshops in the art to trafficking survivors, the metrics are showing real results.
A recent story that I was told by head of the organization (who is also a Teaching Artist) is about a young woman who was sex-trafficked by her parents from the time she was a toddler to age 26, when she finally broke free. After she ran away, she found art as the one sure anchor to manage her pain. The abuse, manipulation, violence and distortion that was her earlier life began to shift. Now, with the support of our Teaching Artists, she knows that picking up her paint brush is literally her lifeline. She has come to redefine her value, and explore her talents. In her words: “Art gives me the opposite of what the exploitation did to me. It shows me my value and makes me know I can be whole. When I think I am going to drown in the pain, art brings me back.”
This is just one of thousands of stories. And their relationship to healing are strikingly similar. Art does so much for all of us, particularly people who have suffered severe trauma.
I am telling you all of this with the hope that you will help me find channels of support for this valiant, yet growing nonprofit. Would it be possible for us to explore who in your circle might be of help to Crossing Point Arts?
In what ways do the arts precede activism? In what ways does activism provoke the arts? And how do the comings together of the arts and activism enable people to re-experience the potentials of the world? Writer, activist, cultural advocate, and Chicago native Jane M. Saks has been probing such questions for decades. Furthermore, the commonality of art and activism is Saks’ belief that “human dignity” is the core for any form of social justice within artistic practices.
One such example of Saks’ pursuit for human dignity through the lens of art making is her work as Artistic Director of Project&. As the mission of Project& states: