Five Truths for Artists Working in Times of Despair

Based on remarks given at the closing ceremonies of BurlyCon 2016

By Lillith Grey

ONE

There have always been entertainers in times of war.

There have always been artists in times of crisis. Even in the depths of despair, art survives. We saw theatre, poetry, music, and comedy in concentration and internment camps. We saw films, television, music and performance art throughout the Vietnam war. We saw drag, burlesque, theatre and music help our people cope through the AIDS crisis of the 80s. We see clowns, buskers, comedians, and musicians at the borders of Syria as refugees flee for their lives.

Entertainment is necessary in the face of despair, and in these times, our work serves two purposes:

1) To provide relief, beauty, peace, laughter, solace, and distraction. To provide healing.

2) To critique, provoke, resist, incite, subvert, and expose. To create revolution.

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent.” –Toni Morrison

or, in other words,

#cantstopwontstop

We cannot stop. We will not stop.

TWO

Grief and joy are not mutually exclusive.

Grief and suffering hollow out deep spaces that are aching to be to filled with joy, and you are called upon to respond authentically and creatively.

You are not well served to sprint through grief.

You are not well served to sprint past joy.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

-Leonard Cohen

An artist who has not suffered is an incomplete artist. That’s where the light gets in.

THREE

Your survival is revolution. Your existence is resistance.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

Marginalized communities have known for generations that caring for our friends, our communities, and ourselves is the very definition of resistance. In times like these, turn toward your people. Nestle into your communities. Make physical spaces for community to gather, to grieve and to be joyful. Cultivate resilience.

“Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Just don’t be mean.” – Kate Bornstein

Turn inward. Gather your strength. Be gentle with yourself.

Your survival is revolution.

FOUR

You need a map. You need a compass.

For many of us, this is our creative New Year. This is when we look forward to the coming year and say, “Who do I want to be? Where do I want to go?” As we end this weekend, now is an excellent time to draw the map of where you want to go in the next year.

Your mission statement is your map. This outlines your broad goals and areas of focus for the coming year. This shouldn’t include specific items, but should be like an umbrella that includes your goals. Your mission statement could include things like:

To create space for artists

To amplify marginalized voices

To make art to bring healing

To make art to bring revolution

To invest in self-care

To dismantle white supremacy

To dismantle patriarchy

To disrupt political systems

To pursue self-growth

To participate in community

To mentor and educate

To seek mentorship and education

To develop and hone artistic skills

To broaden your artistic endeavors

To survive

To thrive

Your value statement is your compass. Your value statement includes the commitments, beliefs, and ethical guidelines you use as you move along in your mission. Your values may include things like:

Justice

Integrity

Equity

Dissent

Kindness

Compassion

Disruption

Communication

Boundaries

Authenticity

Self Reflection

Honesty

Generosity

Active allyship

Care of others

Continuing education

These lists are just examples – every artist’s mission and values will look different. Knowing your mission and your values will give you solid ground on which to make decisions. Write it down. Really, write it down.

What do I say no to? When should I say yes?

Do I accept this gig? Do I do this act? Do I join this troupe, start this show, create this festival? How do I respond to this issue? What do I do?

Consult your map. Use your compass.

FIVE

Do not close your eyes. 

Do not cover your ears. 

Do not shut your mouth. 

Do not turn away.

You have to see each other. Not as examples, tokens, stereotypes, or assumptions, but as 3-dimensional people with complex lives and experiences. Say, “I see you.” Say, “I am with you.”

You have to listen to each other. Listen to each other’s truths. Say, “I believe you.”

You have to speak up. We cannot afford silence. Be loud. Be proud. Speak truth to power.

Act up. Use your privilege. If you’re in this room today, you carry privilege. But do not forget there are some people in this room who carry far more privilege than other people in this room. Remember there is a difference between not racist and anti-racist. There is a difference between not transphobic and anti-transphobic. Ally is a verb.

You are going home to a shifted culture. Nothing has changed in the last week – the problems have been there all along. But our country has shifted, and we all know it.

Do not close your eyes.

Do not cover your ears.

Do not shut your mouth.

Do not turn away.

We have work to do.

Author: BurlyCon Media

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