Day Two: Notes to a Young Arts Advocate from a Young Arts Advocate
To the young(er) arts advocate,
I will always remember the details of the night we rallied together at a Harford County Board of Education meeting to protect the extracurricular drama programs you have come to love and that I will note as life-changing. I watched as you and 200 of your fellow students sang with gusto on the building’s steps, overflowing into the streets. Your parents were beaming as many of you gave your first interviews to the local press. I was struck by how many of you waited in a lobby for hours without air conditioning in the heat of summer to provide your two-minute public commentary in defense of the arts.
Young(er) arts advocate, do you realize that you are powerful? Do you realize that because you took your stand with grace and strength, your community will be changed?
When our motion was defeated after over five hours of testimony and protest, I watched you sink to the curb outside of the building. While you sobbed, I watched as board members walked past with indifference. I saw the stunned and saddened looks on your teachers’ faces that night. Perhaps you didn’t believe me when I told you that today was only Day One in our fight for the arts, and that you should look forward to Day Two.
What you were not taught as a student is that when formal structures like school boards and Congress fail us, we must forge new paths to achieve a greater society. It is clear to you by now that change happens in the hearts and minds of people, and that laws, policies, and even school board budgets must reflect who we are—and more importantly, where we want to go from here.
Ben Cameron, someone whom you will come to know, would tell you that “our enemies succeed by dividing and conquering us.” But, did you see that at our next rally, your classmates were surrounded and supported by the local Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party members, veterans, local businesses leaders, teachers, and artists? During each of the major progressive movements throughout American history, we were ultimately brought together by profound new understandings. In this way, our small movement has begun to achieve no less than a shared profound understanding amongst your neighbors, strengthened by the power of their own world view. That’s the glory of the democratic process: that these simple truths are self-evident, and become clear to us through our challenges.
Never forget that the arts are worth fighting for in your community, and you are not alone in this fight. Artists are not simply storytellers and creators of beautiful images. The arts dignify the human spirit. Artists create safe spaces for us to discover who we are. Artists build grit and resilience in those who had had the odds stacked against them. Artists challenge everyone within our society to see one another honestly and without fear. Artists build communities in a fragmented and sometimes frightening world.
Embrace the Day Two mentality: that no matter what outcomes come to us, we must always be working toward an even more equitable and just society. Artists are visionaries by nature, and as a young artist, you are called to lead, to question, to provoke, to reform, and to love this nation. Let’s enjoy this journey. And let’s get to work.