On July 17, 2020, the world lost a true American hero, a fierce fighter for justice and humanity, and an — unknown to many, including me — strong supporter of the arts, with the death of the Honorable John Lewis.
While reading about his life and legacy, I learned that he himself was a talented photographer who understood the power of a photograph to bear witness to the Civil Rights Movement, and the role of photography in the fight for change. And that he was the author of the legislation that established the National Museum of African American History and Culture within the Smithsonian (a fantastic museum and highly recommended if you’ve never been.)
Lewis was also an avid supporter of museums and a lifelong patron and collector of art. In a recent article in Oprah Magazine, he said he couldn’t do without art. He said he became friends with African American artists at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and added: “Without their images, I don’t know what would have happened to many of us. Art can take you to another place—and their pieces said we could dream dreams and be a better people.”
He even published a graphic novel trilogy, “March”, (in collaboration with artist Nate Powell and writer Andrew Aydin) detailing his lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, in which he shared this statement:
“Without the arts, without music, without dance, without drama, without photography, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”
It made me realize how truly fortunate I am to have access to arts in my life, especially considering the incessant stream of ‘bad news’ we are all subjected to: increasing covid 19 deaths, the plague of locusts in East Africa, violent federal intervention during peaceful protests in Portland, daily Femicides in Turkey, and the minute to minute assaults on members of the BIPOC community happening all around us (to name a few of the ills of the day).
Art is our savior in times like this. Art provides us a mental escape, it enriches our days, it provides a positive way to express and heal ourselves, it touches others and connects us. Art is just so important.
Yet, in the few weeks since my last post, I myself haven’t made much art. I’ve felt burdened by the daily worries of what is going on with the world, my regular work schedule (which is getting busier and busier), and my efforts to both learn about race issues in America and be an active non-performative anti-racist. It’s a lot. But I feel the absence of art in my life and I want it back. It doesn’t have to be a ‘this’ or ‘that’ conversation.
One way to participate in the arts is to support organizations that are doing great work, and especially those that support BIPOC communities. One such organization is the Flower City Arts Center right here in Rochester, NY. The FCAC, or ‘the Center’ as we affectionately call it, offers arts programming to people of all ages and abilities, regardless of constructs like race and gender. They are now offering virtual classes as well as small instructor-led classes in all three program areas: photography, ceramics and book arts. They offer summer camps and after-school programming, and they support marginalized groups like women’s veterans and students of city schools where arts programming has been severely cut. But they are struggling in this economic climate, and need our help.
If you are in a position to support the arts through a financial donation, I highly recommend donating to the FCAC. I have personally been supporting their programs and appeals for over 15 years, and as a former artist in residence, former youth program teacher, former Board President, and current member and volunteer, I have seen first hand the positive impact their programs have on our community. In the spirit of John Lewis, standing up for the things that make a difference, using my voice to make change, and providing opportunities for others to join in that change, I ask for your help. Please consider a donation to the FCAC. Every dollar counts!