What Can the Power of Art Accomplish?

Several themes have been dancing around inside my head lately. Tiptoeing like a ballerina is the power of art to transform us. A recent New York Times Magazine article on Estonian composer Arvo Pärt described his music as being able to "touch the soul." It was also described as "...a harmonic stillness that conjures up an alternative to hectic everyday existence"; R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe said that Pärt's music brings one "to a total meditative state." The writer said he was surprised at how many of his acquaintances knew of the composer's work and loved it.

I was similarly delighted to find that so many unusual suspects are fans of Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, whom we recently hosted at our gallery for a signing of her book of essays, Create Dangerously. The response was so enthusiastic I feared having to turn people away. In a world where most people need their culture fed to them in sound bites from celebrities, preferably on television, the author is wildly successful. While her lyrical prose defies conventional storytelling, its simple and gorgeous use of everyday language serves to inspire, horrify and, yes, touch the soul. I like that in a work of art.

I am working on a major exhibition of Haitian art that is scheduled to launch in 2012 and travel to important museums throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. The Haitian Cultural Foundation (HCF), which hired me to curate the exhibition, believes, like I do, that my beleaguered country's art and culture should be an integral part of the recovery and reconstruction dialogue. Why?

Art is one of Haiti's strongest exports; support for its production, exhibition and sale to the outside world is paramount to continued economic stimulation (somebody please throw a million bucks at HCF!). Visual artists, musicians and writers help to elevate the discourse around Haiti by exposing its rich, revelatory culture. Through their creations, artists make obvious our commonality with all human beings. This is the all-important link, which helps us understand that in helping others, we help ourselves.
Can-canning around in my head like wild girls are several new developments in my neighborhood. There is a young new guy whose daily garb is straight out of the Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold Columbine massacre closet. Am I wrong to get nervous when I see him? That's one thing.

Another is the recently restored sign at Gardner Street Elementary School -- the one that says Michael Jackson Auditorium, covered up seven years ago at the behest of parents who assumed the singer guilty of child molestation charges before the ink was dry on said charges. If he was guilty before proven guilty, and since he was acquitted five years ago, did his death make him innocent?

And then there is the particularly creepy man hanging from a tree in front a neighbor's house in preparation for Halloween. He is swathed in gauzy film, and from a distance, he casts a very effective evil chill upon the block. Am I wrong to want to cut the rope?

Finally, there is the Have you seen me? flier of the month, showing the face of a cute black and white kitty, which, weirdly enough, made me want to dash home, Xerox my face and ask the same question, Have you seen me? I'm the one who believes a year and eight months is too soon to be exhausted over defending Barack Obama; who believes Sarah Palin will never be elected president; who continues to be puzzled by the missing memory of the electorate -- jobless or otherwise. I'm the one who believes in the power of art to rebuild a country. Have you seen me?

This blog was originally posted on Fifty is the New.