As I become more deeply involved in the arts community, I continue to find new sources of inspiration that are proving very powerful. Fourth of July celebrations had me out of town this past First Friday, yet the spirit of the South Side festivities still weighed heavily on my mind. While I was sad to miss the event, I was concurrently elated as I realized just how much First Fridays have come to mean to me. These nights are pathways to new bonds and cultural adventures; they truly embrace art and its power to unite communities, and recently I have come to believe that they may be a solution to a societal issue.
I recently had the pleasure of reading a speech that was given by renowned jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis delivered the 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy at the Americans for the Arts national convention earlier this year. His words took the crowd on a journey through our nation’s culturally rich past, with a focus on the ever-present influence of music, dance, and culture in bridging diversities.
Marsalis’ discussion of the history of music as a treatment for prejudice, and the importance of art for the future of the nation was dazzling and intuitive. Through his success, Wynton has first-hand experience of the wonder that can come from passion and dedication to art, and he expressed his fears for future generations. As the nation continues to struggle financially, artistic programs are being cut from schools left and right, and like so many others, Marsalis fears that this loss will impact society on a variety of levels.
“We want to embrace one another, but don’t know how. And the answer is not more education, but more substantive and more culturally-rooted education. The primary justification for the value of education is not some competition with other countries for technological jobs, or to win the so-called science race, or to beat anyone. Our arts demand and deserve that we recognize the life we have lived together.”
This “substantive and culturally-rooted education” Marsalis mentions is necessary to ensure that the future of America is full of culture, freedom, expression, and peace, and as these lessons slip out of school curriculums it becomes the responsibility of families and communities to fill that void. It is sad that our reality is one where art easily readily pushed aside, yet there are always ways to nurture the arts through personal efforts.
I immediately connected Marsalis’ words with First Fridays because they are ideal opportunities to experience culture and diversity, but more than that they are specific days dedicated to the people of the South Side embracing one another. Marsalis speaks of how we want to come together as a nation, but struggle to find the means- I urge you to look to your community as a path for making greater connections.
American art is so unique because of the diverse foundation that it was built on. Marsalis recalls the amazing musical contributions made by the African American community while our nation was still plagued with slavery and segregation, and the powerful steps that this art took in correcting these societal issues. I truly believe that it is our responsibility to give voice to present and future sources of excellence by supporting artistic inspiration in all its forms. It is our duty to make sure that children, and adults alike, have the opportunity to explore arts, and find themselves in the process, not only for their own personal benefit but to ensure that America continues to thrive as an artistic melting-pot.
Take chances on new experiences and open cultural doorways. My recent work and Marsalis speech have taught me that art isn’t something reserved for certain people; it truly is for, of, and by all of us. Art is universal, and with all its varied forms and styles there truly is something for everyone.