Art surrounds me and is flowing through me these days. It is in the spoken words of Genny Lim at the opening of the San Francisco Mayoral Arts Forum. It is in the composing of others responses to OutLook Theater Project’s “the GOD project” quiz into an original poem that dances delicately between genders, sexualities and faiths. It is in the quiet moments when my pen is racing across a blank journal page filling with incoherent thoughts. It is in the conversations between queens and transients while the Creation of Care created by the League of Burnt Children at 16th Street BART Station on a Saturday night burns with red votives, music and film. It is the sermon given by my friend and business partner at Pine United Methodist Church about destiny’s making. Everywhere I turn, I find art whether that be outwards, inwards, forwards, backwards, up, down and/or sideways.
To me, art is more than commodity and culture maker. Art is life, death, being, meaning, seeking, yearning, uniter, divider, inspirer, questioner, provocateur. It is the things people show up for, the means of engaging disparate communities, the manner by which those on the fringes are heard. Art makes us pay attention and what challenges norms. Art, simply, is everywhere all the time without fail.
And yet, as I read and listen to policymakers, funders, politicians and those with influence within “culture-making” institutions, I hear most about art as commodity and tourism generator. I hear a lot of platitudes about how art draws in revenue in blighted areas, the need for affordable housing for artists, the essentialism of arts in education and personal experiences with the symphony or classic forms of theater or curated exhibitions in galleries and museums. Occasionally, I hear a glimpse of understanding related to arts’ power to involve learners of different persuasion, but that is always in the context of children and youth and never adults. Rarely, do I hear how art is vital to the creation of an engaged democracy or open and equitable government or caring, compassionate communities. For me, what is most important is not what I am hearing but what I am not hearing (especially from those in positions of influence) for it speaks to an inability to see how the arts can truly transform our world into a place where all are heard, seen and valued. Then again, a question must be asked: Do those in positions of influence really want to see and hear and value all?