The Art of Healing
As I write this, many of us in this country have numerous and profound questions about our nation’s future direction. There's no doubt that these last several months have left many of us with a sense of deep divide—both across the nation and within our local communities. There are many remedies for that and most of them have nothing to do with politics (or presidents). I need to be clear that my writing here is not meant to minimize these deep and abiding concerns, nor should these words be received as an overtly political text. Instead, I simply want to drill down into what I believe art—and specifically in this context, arts education—can teach us in these anxious (for some, though not all) times.
This past weekend at the performing arts school where I am the principal, we finished a sold-out, four-day run of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” I won’t attempt to describe the success of the production as you truly had to see it to believe it. What I will do is share some insights I gleaned from the entire process. First, a word of explanation. At my school we have 12 different art departments that produce their own respective events/exhibits. Our musical is different in that it is an “all-school” musical: any student from any of the 12 departments can audition to perform on stage, work on the tech crew, or even play in the pit orchestra. So when we finally do have public performances, it truly is a community event for our school.
As I prepared my curtain speech, I realized how blessed I was because for the next few days I would be surrounded by young people who defined what participating in community is all about: they were making art together and sharing it with anyone who was able to come watch. They were (and are) living and breathing examples of what it means to be lights shining in the darkness—and I don't mean the “darkness” of the recent political process; I mean the general shade that life often throws at us.
What a privilege it was to watch these students come together as one cohesive voice, and offer that voice up for all to enjoy. I say it often because it’s true: They inspire me to be better—to be a better artist, to be a better principal, and most importantly, to be a better person.
I am not suggesting that simply by making art or supporting art education that we can change the world—or wait, maybe that IS what I’m suggesting. Maybe the wounds we have—both perceived and real—can only be assuaged by poetry, or painting, or hip-hop, or “Hamilton”! I can’t predict the future, but I can say this: I have great hope for what comes next. Not because the road is clearly marked, but because I get to see what young people can do when they make art together.
I leave you with this final anecdote from this past weekend:
After a matinee performance of “The Little Mermaid” for schoolchildren, my technical theatre teacher brought his own son—eight years old—to my office to meet me. I asked him what his favorite part of the performance was. “I like the part where they fly,” he answered. If you’re familiar with the show, you’ll recall there’s a part where Ariel “ascends” to the surface via cables and a harness. I was curious: “How do you think they did that?” I asked. He cocked his head to the side in thought, then replied with naïve certainty: “Magic!”
I smiled and answered, “Yes, Wyatt, it most certainly was magic.”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can certainly use a little magic right now. Ars longa, vita brevis.