I have considered myself an artist for as long as I can remember. I have danced, sung (badly), acted, and directed with some regularity since I was 3-years-old. I have always appreciated the role of art in my life and I am grateful to have had a support system that made those experiences possible.
I say, without hesitation, that art changed my life.
This is not a story about how I was on a wayward path and art redeemed me. I am very much a product of a middle-class, stable, two-parent home with access to some of the best resources one could find. No, this is a story about how art (specifically theater) gave me purpose. At twelve years old, I read For Colored Girls... and experienced a defining moment. I read these words
i found god in myself
& i loved her/ i loved her fiercely
and my life was different. Middle-school me fully understood the type of woman I wanted to be, even if I couldn't articulate it. Wanting to be in an environment where those words could be written became my goal. Seventeen years later, I still repeat those words to myself to remind myself of why I do any of the various things I do. And while Ms. Shange did not write those words for me, her writing them at all is a testament to the potential power of art. Those words traveled ten years and a thousand miles to change my life. I believe I would have built an ok life had I not read those words, but I know it would have been a lot harder and much less fulfilling.
The impact of the arts is both tangible and immeasurable.
It's easy to feel the need to quantify the arts: dollars raised, dollars spent, dollars generated, jobs given, tourists attracted, etc. And to the people who can make that argument, keep at it. That, however, is not the only value needed. Art is like water - it is difficult to contain and devastating in its absence. Art nourishes us even when we think we don't need it. All art reminds us that the line between possible and impossible isn't fixed - art showed us that today's communicator is tomorrow's cell phone.
Respect the power of art to transform people, places, concepts, and limitations.
Art changes lives. I know it changed mine.