“Preserve the utmost freedom for dream of beauty, creative art, and joy of living.”
Where there is true freedom, there is creative art. Without continuous creation, without recreation there is no life. Art has supported life, from the great pyramid of Khufu, built more than 4,000 years ago, to the contemporary Restoration Dancers of Brooklyn, New York. African art, music, theater, and dance have enlightened and elevated communal consciousness. It has kept us alive. Our songs, our music held us together during the long years of enslavement. Treasures of Africa fill the museums of Europe and America. But this history is not evident as presidential candidates, urgently seek the African American vote. During the campaign, not one word has been said regarding funding for African American art. Why not?
As the question of reparations continues through the works of Ta-Nehisi Coates, and as we review Chinweizu’s earlier insightful definition for reparations cited in Amiri Baraka’s “The Essence of Reparations,” reparations are not just about money, not even mostly, about money. Reparations are about cultural repairs…social repairs…economic repairs… .” Support for African American art must be included in presidential debates. The national budget exists, to a great extent, because millions labored without pay for two hundred and forty-six years. While there is no coin which could pay for the horrendous and prolonged abuses, support for African American art is part of a necessary and valuable “cultural repair.”
We know the value of art. Art is the common denominator which includes all members of society. It is an equalizer. At the end of the day, we seek recreation in the story, in theater, in dance, and especially, in music. Under the most repressive regimes, art was suppressed, and horrific violence ensued. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s federally funded Works Progress Administration (WPA), is a positive example of past support for the arts.
Before America became America, even while the slave ships sailed, kidnappers forced Africans to come aboard and dance. Even before we reached these shores, we were forced to entertain. And forced to entertain with fiddle, song, and dance, even while enslaved. Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years A Slave, witnesses this abuse. The slaver awakens the workers and robs them of their sleep, so that he can “dance” with them.
The capacity to play is a critical measure of our humanity. During the turbulent 1960s Douglas Turner Ward, Woodie King, Jr., and Amiri Baraka provided the space which allowed expression of creativity, which, if suppressed, would do just what Langston Hughes said it would do: “Explode”!
The Negro Ensemble Company, New Federal Theatre, and Spirit House made it possible for playwrights, performers, and audiences to share a cultural space which connected us to the larger cosmic energies that deliver “the joy of living.” There was a lot of truth delivered, and a lot of laughter delivered, with the truth, in those darkened theaters. Art provides the cosmic connection essential for life: movement, light, rhythm, sound, pattern, and variations of pattern. As universities across the country developed Black Studies programs, The Negro Ensemble and New Federal Theatre were indispensable for the education of our students.
Our contemporary population is suffering. Escalating violence, drug dependency, and increasing despair highlight an urgent need to support and to implement the arts. Without the conscious support for creation, there is destruction. Society finds “entertainment” in deadly places. People at risk are pushed over the edge, and there is slaughter, as there was in Charleston. Funding for African American art is not an optional issue for our presidential candidates. This discussion must be included in debates. Economic reparation is a needed repair. Cultural reparation is a needed repair.