“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” Stella Adler

This past Monday, Arts Alive!, an organization based in Barrington, collaborated with a local School Board Member to bring in practicing artists to discuss the beauty, power, and live sustaining force that art is. These men not only practiced art, but also lived it, making it their livelihood, their raison d’etre. David Beauchesne of the Rhode Island Philharmonic spoke eloquently about art’s ability to create community: “When you play music, you are a part of a community, there is a place where you belong; you know that you are part of something greater than just yourself.” I could see both the children and the adults in the audience affirm with their nodding heads the truth of his statement. He also reminded us that everything that we do in art is a reflection of nature; perhaps, I posit, our feeble, but noble attempt to replicate the beauty and splendor of the natural world that surrounds us. Or, is it our effort to begin a dialogue with a world that speaks so expressively to us.

As articulate as Mr. Beauchesne was, Bert Crenca, the founder of the innovative space, AS220, most lucidly showed the transformative power of art. He spoke of how art saved his life. Angry and disillusioned after a series of horrific losses as a boy, Bert was lost and determined to lose himself even more, until a teacher, a nun, challenged him to draw, to create, to exist. That nun at the Catholic School he attended changed the course of his life by introducing him to art. Essentially he has never looked by; rather, he has kept open his eyes, looking for ways to save lost souls by sharing art’s power with them.

Another important aspect of art’s impact on our lives that he shared was how deeply and desperately we all crave art, need art in our lives and communities. He spoke of how instinctually we take to art, and how creative we all are—until, of course, we hit formal schooling. That comment elicited nervous laughter, as we all know how poor schooling can beat the creativity out of us faster than and more thoroughly than swords can be beaten into ploughshares or spears into pruning hooks. As he noted, that craving is everywhere, but it was most truly seen in Christ Church, New Zealand recently after a devastating earthquake that shook the city to its core. These words from a Guardian article shows how the city, very soon after attending to its most basic needs, looked to include art in its recovery:

“Although galleries closed in the aftermath of the earthquake, the city’s art scene continued: people put on exhibitions in their homes, garages and purpose-built temporary galleries called Art Boxes (artboxgallery.info) around the city. Now a new hub, Art Central, is the centrepiece of a trail of public artworks (scapebiennial.org.nz). Art can still be seen in temporary spaces all over Christchurch, such as the 10-metre suspended Spires sculpture in Latimer Square (futurechristchurch.co.nz).

Gap Filler (gapfiller.org.nz is a regeneration project that puts on creative events in the city’s vacant sites, from pedal-powered cinemas to gap golf. Projects this year include Dance-O-Mat – a coin-operated public dance space, where you plug your MP3 player into a converted washing machine and dance in the street – and free audio tours of Christchurch in transition.

The temporary Cardboard Cathedral (cardboardcathedral.org.nz, above), which opened to great fanfare last August, is now hosting concerts and art exhibitions. A new park along the Otakaro/Avon river (ccdu.govt.nz) will ultimately wind through the city, with footpaths and cycle routes, open-air theatre spaces and restaurants.” http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/apr/07/christchurch-new-zealand-after-the-earthquake

Art isn’t an ancillary part of our lives: it is an essential, life-giving force that shapes us and sustains us. And as I compose this piece, I am listening to Lee Morgan play “Cornbread” and realizing the calming, joyous presence music has always had in my life. From the local AM station in Albany that inspired my mother’s singing Burt Bacharach and Hal David penned pop songs, to my first concert—Chic—to the birth of MTV (when it actually played music videos), to my frequent trips to Saratoga Performing Arts Center, to the soundtracks for each road trip of my youth, to my vast record collection that I took to college, to the dozens of mixed tapes that I made to woo my eventual wife, to my wedding dance, to the children’s songs that pacified my children, through the eclectic music that I play in my indoor cycling classes, music has been a central part for me. It has, as Pablo Picasso opined, washed “away from [my] soul the dust of everyday life.” As the soot slowly and softly collects at my feet with the passing of each note played, I feel and appreciate the cleansing power of art.

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