What Hurricane Sandy Teaches Us About the Arts Community

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In the 114 years since Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island were knitted together into a single municipal unit, New York City has seen its fair share of challenges and triumphs — maybe more than its fair share; certainly more than many a metropolis has seen. Think of how decades of fetid immigrant slums at last gave way to a prosperous middle class; think of Gotham’s leadership roles in the fight for universal suffrage, workers’ rights and civil rights of every demographic stripe. Think of how New York City subverted the nation’s Euro-centric cultural attitudes, dominant throughout the 19th century, to the infectious melodies of Tin Pan Alley; to the puzzle of abstract art and design; to the triple threats of Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway. Think about all the generational gyrations: how the deafening roar of the 1920s succumbed to the desolation of the 1930s; how the Second World War of the 1940s gave rise to the manufacturing rebirth of the 1950s; how the fleeing of the population to the suburbs in the 1960s left New York City with a burning Bronx, near-bankruptcy and the crime waves of the 1970s; and how the AIDS and homelessness scourges of the 1980s (and beyond) paralleled the 1990s boom. Think of how New York rose and fall and rose, again and again and again, in decade after decade; think of how, even amid the catastrophic carnage of Sept. 11, 2001, New York showed the world that even its most devastating hour of need, neither a physical nor psychological blow shall thwart New York’s pledge to an unblinking resilience. This is why, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, with streams of governmental, social, cultural and spiritual leaders assuring us that New York will bounce back because “that’s what we do,” it doesn’t sound like hollow rhetoric so much history repeating, past as proven prologue. New Yorkers possess a variety of dueling qualities — kindness and rudeness, generosity and greed, voraciousness and vanity, intellectualism and idiocy — but resilience is in our DNA. Hurricane Sandy? Through tears, we say fuggedaboutit.

We thought about New York when we came across this email from Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, and we were genuinely delighted to read it:

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On behalf of the staff and board of Americans for the Arts, please know that our thoughts are with all of you, your families, friends, and colleagues who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy.

As a founding partner of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response, Americans for the Arts is dedicated to offering help and assistance to those impacted by the storm. Key informational and assistance links were posted yesterday on the front page of our website,AmericansForTheArts.org, which can be used now and for future reference by all of our members wherever you are located.

I also encourage you to visit the websites of our National Coalition Partners, CERF+ and ArtsReady, for resource links and more disaster relief information. In addition, the Council on Foundations and theCenter for Disaster Philanthropy have been tracking foundation and donor responses to relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy. I urge you to pass on this important information to anyone whom you believe could use these resources.

Please view an abridged version of our Essential Guidelines for Arts Responders, part of a more detailed forthcoming handbook that helps local and state arts agencies, organizations, foundations, and other arts groups plan and administer a coordinated disaster mobilization system within their service area. We hope that it helps you, and we welcome your comments and additions.

Finally, our staff is working to contact all of our members and friends in the most affected areas to see how they are and to find out how we might help. Please let Local Arts Agency Services Program Manager Theresa Cameron know how you are doing, and if you have other information you would like to share. She may be reached at tcameron@artsusa.org.

The reason that we are pointing to this particular bit of outreach, one of dozens of emails received, is because it teaches us that the arts can and does help and heal, can and does minister succor in moments of crisis, of grave emergency.

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And that is why, in the days before Hurricane Sandy’s wrath was visited upon the East Coast, and in response to the outpouring of organizational support for a Million Puppet March on Washington, we wondered openly why Americans for the Arts cannot organize a Million Artist March on Washington. And so, with respect, we ask again: Why not? What are we waiting for? We have immense power in our numbers — is this not, once again, what Hurricane Sandy teaches us? The question is whether we have learned this well enough so that, in days and weeks to come, we need not wait for a grave emergency before we demonstrate our strength.

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