Friday, April 04, 2008
When I began dreaming up THE PIEMAKER last summer, I was thinking about how little interest I had felt in American politics for quite some time… for some time I had taken to concentrating on the events in my own neighborhood, my own small world, and letting the larger world picture drift by without much attention. And I was feeling a bit worried about this.. about my ..well, lack of interest. For me THE PIEMAKER began with that question… what is our relationship with civic life, what causes it to wax and wane, how do we cope with our inspirations and our disappointments in our community, our town, our leaders, our nation?
I was only 10 years old in 1968, but it was a powerful year for me. I was living in California for the first time, across the bay from San Francisco and its Summer of Love culture. For the first time, I was in the minority in my school – the majority of the students and my teacher were black. I wore beads and floppy hats, I was used to flashing Peace signs to people from our school bus, to ‘Black Power’ fists in the friendly and familiar hands of my classmates, to the Jackson Five and to the scary stuff on TV about guerilla warfare and Vietnam. I felt the hope and inspiration raised in my mom and other adults by Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. And then the killings began. 40 years ago tonight, King was shot and killed. Two months later, in my own California, Bobby Kennedy died the same way.
Hope and despair, chaos and optimism.. my 1968 was made of these things. For me, redemption arrived that spring when my stepfather, Mel Mister, who is African American married my mom and made me feel I was part of what America could become – a loving diverse family.
As I was beginning THE PIEMAKER I thought about those times… and how there seemed to be no question in the adults around me then as to being involved in the world, in the shaping of their nation. They were active and engaged. And this gave me, as a child in a turbulent time, hope.
Ten years later, America was as disillusioned as it could be. That is when the story you’ll see tonight begins. When people, in a kind of retreat, went ‘back to the land’, when American culture got dubbed the ‘me’ generation, when civic life no longer seemed an avenue towards a better world.
I have grown up in a family who believed – and I inherit this belief – that working together we can make things better. That in community is the power for change. That being active on behalf of those who are poor, those who are treated with injustice, those who are getting a raw deal is a good thing, an important thing.
It may not seem at times that the arts play a very significant role here. But on the other hand, the arts can create community – a theater, this theater here tonight, can bring people together – and we can think about things, explore ideas, wonder about our lives as we follow the stories of other lives, consider our choices, look towards our future in a place like this. At this theater, we can also think about and look closely at the young members of our community. Think about who they are, what gifts they bring, what we, the older ones, want for them. In these ways, art has the potential to connect us to each other and help us shape and develop our thinking, our decisions.
Many of you know Downtown Art has been engaged in an uphill battle to open a new expanded arts center on this block. We’ve passed some important tests, bought a vacant building, raised a great sum of money, and though a long slow construction and further design process is ahead.. this spring the work begins. What is much more important than the building though, is what will be in it. Young people, of course. And theater. But more… we will launch programs in music (we have already got a community of young musicians, composers and singers here) and video… and finally, my own breakthrough happened, when it came to me that we should launch, side by side with these programs, a program of community service projects. Opportunities for young people to lead efforts and get involved in issues they care about – with support and helpful experience from a few adults. I think that the liveliness that will be fired up by having creative work and community commitment live together in one home will be a source of inspiration and hope for all of us.