The Operating System

EDITORIAL : THINKING ABOUT ART AT A TIME LIKE THIS


You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye
Despite the fact that I cannot think of a single person whose life has remained untouched by art — who has not been comforted, lifted, inspired, or empowered by music, poetry, dance, literature, theatre, or painting — in times of crisis I find myself in conversation with those who make an about face regarding creativity’s place on the life-essentials totem pole.
When faced with the need to continue fundraising after hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard, in multiple situations I found myself called to defend the fact that I was “thinking about art at a time like this” — as though I should be ashamed of my self-serving, extraneous focus on what is clearly misconstrued as nonessential “pleasure”.
Like so many of us, I was conditioned to believe that it was a luxury, something to do “in addition” to having a “real” job, or something that was the purview of the wealthy, who could afford such pursuits. Art was looked down upon as connected to the idle, immoral rich.
As a responsible member of society I would either work or I would serve (in which art could perhaps play a part, at most). Though I grew up trained in art of many disciplines, there must have been some twist in the way I received the Quaker adage that “tis a gift to be simple,” and whatever protestant ethic was passed down through family and institution : work, frugality, prosperity.
I am grateful with every fiber of my being that I came to evolve beyond this stricture, and I’m hoping with these words to help, well, convert you if you’re still on the fence or stuck repressing your creative impulse as something to be ashamed of.
The notion of art or philosophy as a luxury is a socio-cultural construct that stands at loggerheads to everything we believe, everything that drives our efforts to use the human, creative, impulse as a vehicle for social change, and ultimately to everything that Exit Strata represents — the work we do becomes perhaps its most potent at times like this, when our ability to break down barriers between people of different races, cultures, and classes is so sorely needed.
In the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, and in disaster reponse to Haiti, Japan, Katrina, and now Sandy, social media has shown itself to be an tool of unprecedented power as we align in solidarity as a human community of intention and action, committed to supporting and empowering ourselves and each other. Art, song, and poetry continues to play a major part in building solidarity, a role it has played throughout human history. Together these two forces make us strong beyond measure.
In Exit Strata we are building an international network of empowerment, by connecting people across the globe who are called to speak in a human language that came before English, Spanish, or Japanese : people who, via the creative impulse, provide a re/presentation of the confusing, frustrating, beautiful, complicated world we share. People who, ultimately, bring us closer to each other by reminding us we are more alike than we are different in the way we see, hear, move, and feel.
That is why we refer to these people as “AWESOME CREATORS,” and why we challenge the notion of art as “nonessential” as more of the political same. Art is dangerous, art is radical, art is human, and art empowers us to be our best selves.
A few months ago, I did an interview with Openings Collective director Frank Sabatte that turned out to be a life changing experience for me, as he spoke to the essential power of creativity with a deep — indeed spiritual — conviction that I had never before heard first hand.
As I wrote in the article that followed,
here is someone who believes that there is a reason why, as he says, “dictators get rid of artists first”: because they hold the key to truly understanding the ineffable.
From his Reflections: “Any artist will tell you that at some point while working they loose consciousness of time and their surroundings.  They enter time out of time, ‘liminal space’.   It is not a “high” in that it is not an “easy” or “relaxed time”,  it is “creative space”, colors, shapes, ideas that were not connected before are being connected.   Artists will tell you they “hear” an inner voice guiding them; they can tell the difference between this voice and a need to finish the piece or  worse, by thoughts of how they can make it appeal to others.”
“Entering this liminal space demands the artist listen to her soul.   It is deep listening, and deep listening is prayer.”
If we can get over our conditioned reactions to the words “God,” “Spirit,” and “Prayer,” what we’re left with is: this is a man who believes that creative work is the most essential work we can do with our lives, and that in that work we are able to access the highest possibilities in ourselves. 
Returning to that article I find myself wanting to requote and reread and experience all over again how empowered I have felt moving ahead in Exit Strata’s work every day since our meeting. Wanting to explain again how
towards the end of our meeting Frank quoted St. Paul’s pastor, Gil Martinez, as remarking at a former opening, “now THIS is liturgy.”  and asking that you  take a closer look at that word, to find that it means not “religious” ritual but, in fact, a communal response to the sacred through activity reflecting praise or thanksgiving, as well as the space in which participants come together to create community.
I find myself wanting to return, to re-introduce you to the powerful work that staggering numbers have come together to make in the 100,000 poets and musicians for change movement. I find myself wanting to re-introduce you to all of our awesome creators, who open dialogue across genres, across cultures, across ages and genders, across technologies, and across the barriers that we use to define ourselves.
I want you to feel the power of letting your human creative impulse move you, and letting that impulse connect you with strangers in ways you didn’t know were possible — to make art or music with someone whose language you do not speak, to know that you know each other more than you could ever attempt in words.
If, indeed, Art is prayer, and the arts community is liturgy when we come together to celebrate and value our work and each other? I think it’s right to request again that we not get bogged down in vocabulary — let’s be grateful and continue to learn from the incredible, important, ineffable, transformative practice of art making, together.
Can you help us do this work?
Every day, all day, I am a media activist. I engage in social media for change. I consider it my calling to curate and aggregate, to wade through the muck to help others help themselves and each other.
In the last week, I have posted hundreds of links through which you can help with the immediate relief efforts for hurricane sandy, and by all means if you can, you should. Here is an exhaustive list of places to volunteer, free housing for stranded people in need through airbnb, and the incredibly occupy sandy network, which has mobilized organizational tools both human and digital created via OWS to provide on the ground relief.
Our own awesome creator, Caits Meissner-Chiriga, is giving 100% of the proceeds of sale of her collaged bookmarks to the critically damaged Ali Forney Center for LGBT youth. An artists for relief mapping site has just been built by community friend Lisa Russell, and the good folks at Indiegogo have teamed up with these sandy relief efforts, taking no percentage and giving all to the people who need it most.
But we persevere, and life must go on, and as such networks like Exit Strata, like 100TPC, and like Occupy continue to grow, share, and engage in dialogue, becoming international families that can respond at any time to any natural or human event in ways never before possible.
Please help us do this work — consider a donation to Exit Strata’s own indiegogo campaign today. And let us know how we can help YOU — to help yourself, to help your community, to create change.
ONWARD!

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