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In a time of pandemic and racial reckoning, we need art | Opinion

Rodney Sanders, Guest Columnist 
Published 4:00 AM | December 9, 2020 | The Daily Memphian

To celebrate the work artists and arts organizations have created in 2020 despite the pandemic, ArtsMemphis is introducing its inaugural Arts Week Dec. 7-13. ArtsMemphis provides grants to 70 arts organization, and this year supplied emergency funds to individual artists.

From an early age, I’ve been drawn to the arts.

I remember my third-grade teacher taking the class to see “Beauty and The Beast” at a local high school. From the moment the music began and characters came on stage, I was hooked. It was so mesmerizing to see live performers singing and dancing on stage and bringing these fairy tale characters to life.

During middle school, I began acting and taking drama classes on the weekend. Fast forward to college at Duke, where I had a wonderful professor who saw something in me and provided a way for me to travel to New York City and see the hit musical “Rent.”

At the time, “Rent” was a game-changer. It was modern. It was refreshing. It broke the mold in terms of what a show on Broadway could look like. But more importantly, “Rent” was a contemporary musical that spoke to what was happening at the moment.

And that’s what I want to emphasize about the power of art.

Art is able to give voice to the voiceless and expose the invisible.

It’s vital that artists create, and we as a community continue to engage with art, especially as we tackle both a global pandemic and racial reckoning. At this unprecedented time in history, art plays the critical role of helping to make sense of moments that cannot be adequately grasped.

Art challenges us to do the difficult work of interrogating our own biases and beliefs, so we can change for the better. Moreover, it has the power of calming our anxieties and offering a refuge from the cacophony of the world’s chaos. You wouldn’t believe how many times I listened to recordings of “Hamilton” and jazz musician Omar Sosa these past few months to mentally escape the noise.

As someone who was fortunate to be shown the power and value of art as a child, I see how critical it is to pass it on to our youth.

Not only do the arts provide an outlet for children to express themselves and their creativity, but the arts can also help to enhance academic performance, bolster leadership skills, foster fresh perspectives of the world, and drive positive change.

That’s why I’m so proud to serve as board chairman for Perfecting Gifts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit here in Memphis whose mission is to nurture, mature and celebrate young talented performers through artistic and spiritual enrichment. Perfecting Gifts was founded by Sharonda K. Mitchell, who had the vision to provide a safe place for students to cultivate their artistic talents.

Participation in music education and arts programs like Perfecting Gifts ensures that the rich music legacy of our city continues, and the arts continue to thrive. Moreover, it helps to ensure that we produce young people who will grow into adults with a clearer sense of themselves and respect for others around them.

Even though Perfecting Gifts faced new challenges this year due to the pandemic, we haven’t missed a beat thanks to organizations like ArtsMemphis. We were able to pivot and offer virtual programming this summer with great success.

No matter what happens in the coming months, I am encouraged by the support of the arts community in Memphis and remain committed to the transformative power of the arts.

Whether it’s for psychological refuge, racial healing, creative expression or illumination of those in the shadows, it’s undeniable that we need the arts in our lives.

Join me in celebrating Arts Week and investing in the arts today for a powerful return in the future.

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