Lemonade Sips & Survival Tips: Healing through Arts Engagement
Lately, I’ve been drinking a lot of lemonade.
It’s a sweet, yet tart, treat.
The bitterness of the natural lemon is still there but the sugar brings a little more care to the liquid elixir. Have you ever been aware of how it can sting when you make it? Sometimes, a clear shot of lemon juice can get in the eye or the sugar can get a little too sweet. We respond with a puckered face or an eye shut tight. That sip throws us off from what we expect. So, we hunker down and swallow the pulpy nectar poured, ever so sweetly, from the pitcher. Our mouths heal from the extra sour bite or the twisted taste that isn’t quite right.
We acknowledge. We activate. We recuperate.
Lately, I’ve been living for lives lost.
It’s a real, yet unbelievable, experience.
The bitterness of being naturally born into a system built to work against you can be backbreaking, but the care of your community adds some silver lining to the situation. Have you ever been aware of how much it actually stings when another shot rings out stealing more black and brown lives? Most times, it creates a ripple effect of bullets to the hearts of those who can identify with persecution while driving or glances while walking – down a sidewalk, in a store, with “suspicious” clothing on. We respond with silence or a maybe a social media post. That taste of reality throws us off from what we’ve been conditioned to accept. So, we hunker down and swallow the urge to do something, somehow, someway. Yet, unidentifiable blisters and bruises refuse to heal from the extra internal bleeding out of sight, out of doing what’s right.
We disengage. We deactivate. We deteriorate.
Making lemonade out of lemons. We are taught how to be a part of turning something challenging to consume into something suitable to simmer down and enjoy. As hard as it may be, I see the arts as that same key we need to learn how to twist correctly. The opportunity to take the lemons in our world and squash them with our collective creative power is ripe and prime for the picking. Looking to lemonade. Looking to lend some aid. The arts have power and pack a punch to the gut like no other yet simultaneously be the sweet lemon balm that can soothe our souls. Arts organizations CAN acknowledge the varied worlds we all live in. Arts activism efforts CAN provide support for those suffering under the hands of mistreatment and inequities. Prioritizing easy access to the arts in the midst of the debilitating conditions we are living in CAN provide space for some relief to breathe, inspiration to live, and the opportunity to collectively recuperate.
Without these efforts, progress cannot be made. We could choose to sit still and watch the world pass us by while becoming overwhelmed by the responsibility or we CAN do our duty and be the arts makers, facilitators, and responders we claim to be. Become the example of living in the moment, breathing for those who can’t catch their breath, and surviving amidst bitter chaos our society is writhing in.
If any group of people can identify with the oppression and exploitation of another group of people, it’s artists. We have been held back from learning our craft, ridiculed and mocked for staying true to ourselves, or judged for bearing witness and yet, we have continued to fight back day after day to live full lives. How can we exclude anyone else from that right? Taking action on behalf of our brothers and sisters just trying to make it through another day should be a no-brainer. I choose to turn my favorite Hamilton lyrics into life lessons:
“I’m past patiently waiting!
I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation.
Every action’s an act of creation.
I’m laughing in face of casualties and sorrow.
For the first time I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow. “
Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Hamilton production
And I am not throwing away my shot to rise up and stay alive in this hurricane before they blow us all away. What comes next? History has its eyes on you and the work is non-stop. So we can’t say no to this, take a break, or stand helpless. There’s no time to wait for it. We will never be satisfied because the world has turned upside down but we can at least be in, around, or create the room where it happens. That would be enough to honor who lives, who dies, who tells your story. Hamilton begets inspiration shining a new light on the past but what breeds outlets for our future and more importantly, our present?
Producers. Artists. Creative Curators.
How are you responding to the world around us?
Shots get fired. And now what? With a little honey from the beehive, we suckle opportunity where the world is our canvas and we can paint with possibility. Forty-five years ago, another musician stepped up to the mic too and asked, “What’s goin on?” In lemon trees and riots taking on police, we still seem to be searching for that answer. Recognizing and acknowledging the world we live in makes for contemporary, responsive, and relevant work. Demanding and challenging audiences to hear your truth can make waves and spark change.
On an arts & social justice panel presented by the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, with Sonia Sanchez and Ta-Nehesi Coates, Toni Morrison recently stated, “I want to remind us all that art is dangerous… Somebody’s out to get you. You have to know it before you start, and do it under those circumstances, because it is one of the most important things that human beings do. That’s what we do.” We, as artists, have the capacity to be bold and brave living up to the name we claim. Whether through expression from pen to page or rehearsal to stage, we have the dangerous power to set fire to the rain.
Presenting Arts Organizations.
What are you doing to address the current state of our nation?
It stings to know what is happening yet feel like a sitting duck. Right? Well, it’s time to wake up and hold organizations accountable towards building creative spaces that bring communities together in the face of tragedy. We have designated earthquake shelters. Can’t we designate creative institutions as public places to seek some semblance of security for our minds and spirits when our bodies might feel at risk. When deep in the core of crisis, creative placemaking and radical embracing need to ride shotgun. It is of the utmost importance to fire back at the squads threatening our freedoms of expression and pledge allegiance to the united, creative, inclusive states of America.
Presenting arts organizations do not have to be limited to the walls encapsulating these safe havens. You can go out, take the art to the people in need of it most, face fears, and walk amongst our compadres through authentic support. It’s not about infiltration into communities. It is about reconciliation with people affected by mistrust, disappointment, and pain.
Facilitating collaborative outlets over bestowing charity through privilege is how organizations need to shepherd progress. Call and respond. Don’t just come and go. Make reservations through sincere methods if you plan to stay instead of squatting in neighborhoods where your presence may not be welcomed. Gentrification avenue is not the route to go down with the intention of creative healing.
When do you actually make time to heal during the work?
Left with the sour taste of the aftermath of jolting events, at times, we lead lost. As important as it is for you to take care of others, you cannot forget yourselves in the process. The output is just as important as the input. Taking time to mend, rejuvenate, and reflect can only bode well for the work put in towards presenting art to the public.
Arts presenters cultivate the creative landscape we live in so they must not ignore the realities we live in or the recovery time hard work demands. The work is an uphill climb but it makes a difference. Even on the days when we want to give up, make space for reflection – with your department, with your full staff, or with your co-worker. For at least five minutes to remind yourself that your work matters. It speaks volumes whether overtly or under the radar. Keep going. Keep healing. Keep sipping lemonade, surviving reality, and activating the arts.
Elena Muslar is the Program Associate at the Skirball Cultural Center where she supports and facilitates the production of film, lecture, music, and performance public programming. Her programmatic focuses lie in producing spoken word and developmental performance projects. In her spare time, she works as a Production Assistant for Grand Park and The Music Center. Elena achieved her BA in Theatre with minors in Dance, African-American Studies, and an emphasis in Education from Loyola Marymount University and her MFA in Theatre Management specializing in Producing from CalArts. She currently serves on the LA County Cultural Inclusion and Equity Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board for Emerging Arts Leaders/Los Angeles. She has previously served on review panels for the LA County Arts Commission, the Hewlett Foundation Moving Arts Forward Report Advisory Committee, and the Dance Resource Center. She is a member of WOCA (Women of Color in the Arts), the Next Gen National Arts Network, and was in the first cohort of the California Presenters Next-Gen Leadership Diversity Program. Elena has also published articles through HowlRound and Americans For The Arts focusing on unpacking diversity in arts administration and outreach to diverse audiences.