I write following recent terrorist attacks around the world, from Paris, Beirut, and Mali to San Bernardino, as the presence of terror looms too large and too real. This presence is a call to action for those of us working in the arts and culture.
We already witnessed an outpouring of creativity in the wake of recent attacks. French designer Jean Jullien's viral "Peace for Paris" image and German musician Davide Martello's spontaneous rendition of John Lennon's 'Imagine' in front of the Bataclan concert hall are just two examples of tributes to Paris that have been widely publicized.
But there will and should be more production to advance resilience in stricken areas and to contribute to a more just and more interdependent world. Everyone who believes in freedom of expression has a stake in this, and the need for our expression is urgently felt.
The role of the arts as an accelerator for recovery and resilience is well known in my hometown of New York. I recall the events of September 11 and the case made by artists and arts groups for their participation in rebuilding. Creative Downtown, published by the New York City Arts Coalition, offers up key attributes of the arts emerging from contemporaneous discussion: "Dynamic. Entrepreneurial. Risk-taking. Innovative. Pioneering." And as arts consultant Roberto Bedoya observes: "The dialogue on cultural assets traveled from the facts and figures to the stories of transformation that illuminated the psychological and spiritual impact of the arts."
Put another way, cultural workers understood that a revitalized New York would mean mining and scaling up its identity as a cultural capital. It is who we are.
The spate of artistic and cultural production set in motion after September 11 ranges from the spontaneous and ephemeral to brick-and-mortar institutions, including the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, as well as a performing arts center, which has yet to be built. Enduring annual tributes, from a Tribute in Light installation seen from all corners of the city to a site-specific performance Table of Silence 9/11 streamed to thousands online, pay homage to lives lost on September 11. They also serve as poetic calls for freedom and peace that gain new meaning with every passing terror attack across the globe and with every new audience they reach.
As I imagine what will grow from recent events, I am most eager for the artistry like this that can be collectively experienced, in-person and online--bringing the global public ever closer together, while educating and guiding each one of us as an agent of change.
Lessons about the arts' role in recovery and resilience have been echoed domestically in the wake of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, and some are beginning to implement solutions to achieve scale. Following Hurricane Sandy, the organization I lead, Dance/NYC, was part of a collaborative planning process spearheaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Sandy Recovery Office and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs that resulted in a local arts responder network, CultureAID (Active in Disasters). This network of arts service providers is committed to sharing resources and information before, during, and after future disasters to meet the needs of artists and fast-track their contributions to the health and wellness of our city. (For more on Dance/NYC's work following Hurricane Sandy, visit Dance.NYC.)
Given recent events, I invite local systems like CultureAID to turn their attention to global issues, and at the same time I advocate a global arts responder network. Such a network is needed to react and mobilize in the face of future disasters across the globe to help realize the full potential of the arts as a restorative and generative force.
The process of developing the network now could itself play a role in countering the looming presence of terror. By pooling the resources, bodies, and ideas of disparate communities, and fostering education and cooperation across geographic borders, the process would exhort interdependence as one of the solutions to terror.
Vitally, the process would also hasten individual and collective artistry responsive to recent events--contributing to the resilience of those affected, encouraging the readiness of artists and the public, and catalyzing forward movement and action.
It is time for a global arts response to terror and for all of us working in the arts and culture to join in.