October 24 was United Nations Day, which as always celebrated unity and diversity. As the lights went down in the General Assembly in New York, The Refugee Orchestra Project took to the stage and gave a performance that was broadcast live all over the world. This coming December, the newly formed City Ballet of Boston brings the beloved Nutcracker onto the iconic Schubert Theatre in Boston. These two acts are representative of the arts putting an engine on meaningful accessibility and inclusiveness that’s driving us to new places.
“Access to the arts” is a term that has done the rounds for years now. The philosophy dictates that the doors open wider and stay open for longer. Non-traditional audiences are invited to sample the richness of a cultural life through artistic expression. Communities can share experiences with the arts as a medium. It brings us together and inspires conversation. It’s a philosophy that has enjoyed success but again it needs to go further.
It’s the stage door that needs to stay open. The arts need to go beyond access and instead aspire to be inherently inclusive. It needs to reach into the underserved enclaves and fuse together unexpected connections and spark cutting-edge artistic expression. The arts institution needs to be both a safe space and brave space that drives a new type of creativity. These days, it seems like we’re saying ‘now more than ever’ all the time. The arts should be at the core of any positive social movement because the arts heal, the arts inspire meaningful upheaval and the arts drives empathy. Our cultural institutions need to be places of constant community growth through classes, workshops, training programs, apprenticeships and more. It needs to facilitate bringing diverse people together to train in the arts and to find their place in the world. Our cultural institutions need to offer creative people with the space, platform or stage to realize their dreams and ambitions. Our cultural institutions needs to represent the changing faces of cities and towns and to be bold in doing so. We are not asking for society to accept our cultural quirks and that should never be the dynamic. Instead, we need to be proud of what makes us different, and celebrate it than through the arts.
All of this requires resources, commitment and most importantly it requires commitment from the communities the arts serve. The Refugee Orchestra Project brings refugee and immigrant artists together and provides a stage for musicians to collaborate and grow- all the while delivering a strong social message. City Ballet of Boston is built upon the pillars of inclusiveness and has provided pathways for artists from diverse backgrounds to flourish. There are many other organizations building upon missions of inclusivity, such as the Dorchester Arts Collaborative, OrigiNation and Boston Gay Men’s Chorus; we all need support in putting legs on a regenerative vision that is replenishing a core set of values that is being eroded within our society.
We are seeking to embolden our deep approach of inclusiveness to demonstrate its success to others through sustainable growth and to build a contract with our communities to support us by attending a performance or just spreading the word and realizing that we are organizations driven by a social mission that may actually change the way we as a society interact with each other. As arts and cultural institutions we need to stay the course, be brave, and continue to change perceptions.
Samantha Lovewell (resident of Jamaica Plain), Co Executive Director, Refugee Orchestra Project
Tony Williams, Artistic Director, City Ballet of Boston (Jamaica Plain)