Where: New York Live Arts
219 W. 19th St.
212-691-6500 Price: $10.00
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About the Conversation
We have been told that America is in the grip of a national emergency. It is hard to argue with that assessment given the rise in hate crimes, family separations, mass shootings, income inequality, digital surveillance, and climate degradation. Those events are coupled with new pressures put on marginalized communities and people of conscience, as well as calculated attacks on journalism, science, history, and the judiciary. Strangely, the cry of emergency is unconcerned with any of those threats. Perhaps the issue is not the rocky waters we have entered but the steering of the ship.
American leadership has lately veered in two directions: those who would see us turn inward and backward, and those who caution that a seasoned yet paternal hand is what’s needed to guide us forward. The former is represented by the travel ban, the border wall, the rolling back of environmental protections. The latter is found in the aftermath of tough political campaigns, when urgency is given to reconnecting with disaffected white male voters over organizing with women of color who have tilted or decided elections.
The demand for a different kind of leadership is found in the work of people whose communities have been painted as the Other. Trailblazers have always existed but too many were considered outliers or the stuff of history. Now they are rising at almost the same time, winning offices, directing institutions, and excelling in fields that had rarely welcomed them. Are they better understood as the harbingers of a movement?
If that movement is meant to change the culture, does the new vanguard of arts leaders have a central role to play? If a more inclusive and just world is our goal, are we ready to stand up, step aside, or come together as circumstances require? Does democracy grow stronger when the people who are the first to experience or respond to inequality take hold of the wheel? When they heed the call of Audre Lorde to speak out and take action “until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever,” what support will they need and are we organized to give it?
While confronting injustice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed a radical faith in America, and in the power of “dangerous altruism” and “unarmed truth” to create change. Are we again in need of that kind of vision? If we believe that every crisis contains an opportunity of equal force – and that here, both are tied to our understanding of leadership – does the national emergency before us today demand anything less than a paradigm shift?