AS AN arts writer in Savannah, it has been my privilege to interview and get to know many of the city's artists over the last three years. I've never had any shortage of exhibitions or creative events to write about. Savannah is absolutely overflowing with artistic talent.
In that time, I’ve interviewed 112 artists for over 100 stories, asking them things like: What inspires you? What is your process? Why did you create this?
I’ve critiqued their exhibitions, met their curators, listened to their stories, and tried to report back in a way that honors their hard work. In return, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to practice my own art by writing those stories down and sharing them with you.
Through this exchange we’ve been able to give each other a seat at the proverbial community table.
Though we all share this city, the voices of those who live here are not equally loud. Not everyone gets to speak in that community conversation. Sometimes the struggles and triumphs of some are drowned out by those of others.
But when you don’t have a voice, art can speak for you. Where your feelings or fears may be shouted over or ignored, art can stand silent and strong in disobedience of a culture that dismisses its maker.
When no one will listen, art becomes your written record. When others refuse to hear you, art amplifies your mission. When we feel alone, art connects us.
This is why it is never frivolous to make art.
In the wake of the recent presidential election, many of us feel uncertain about the future and afraid that our voices (those belonging to minorities and the poor are already stifled by systematic oppression) will be permanently drowned out. With few tools for amplification at our disposal, art represents a solution.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what America is going to be like for artists over the next four years.
President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about “opening up libel laws” in order to sue journalists imply that our right to freedom of expression may come under fire. Mr. Trump also supported Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s threats to cut off New York City funding to the Brooklyn Museum after it included Chris Ofili’s controversial painting “The Holy Virgin Mary” in a 1999 exhibition.
However, the New York Times reported last week that Mr. Trump has said that “a holistic education that includes literature and the arts” is “critical to creating good citizens.”
Though the President-elect is not a serious art appreciator or collector (he famously rejected eight paintings Andy Warhol created of Trump Tower in 1981 because they were not “color-coordinated”), that may not necessarily spell bad news for arts funding. Last year, a Republican-controlled Congress increased the budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities for the first time since 2010.
Of course, none of this is cause for complacency. As funding for the arts stagnates and, in some parts of the country, slowly erodes, artists and art patrons should remain vigilant. And under no circumstances should any artist be lulled or cajoled into ceasing the act of creation.
Art is, after all, personal, and the personal is political. Paint because you love it, make because you have to. Sing until your throat hurts, dance until you can’t; write plays, make photographs, weave tapestries, assemble installations, use up every damn stick of charcoal.
There is nothing this world needs more than people who are willing to create even when it is a risk, even when they are afraid, even when they face criticism from the people they love.
This is not the time to sit quietly, afraid that one voice in a small southern city won’t make a difference. Maybe you already did that two weeks ago and now you regret it.
You may not feel that you have power, but remember that Savannah needs its artists–the people who create and preserve the city’s beloved architecture, who keep its moss-draped squares beautiful, who fill this place with the wonderful art, exhibitions and events that keep people flocking to us.
Where would this city be without you?
Even when it’s difficult and you feel that no one is listening or looking or watching, don’t stop. We need you.
Even when no one gets what you’re trying to do, don’t stop. We need you.
Even when people just want you to be quiet and quit demanding they pay attention to your unique perspective, don’t stop. We need you.
Even when you’re unsure or afraid or anxious. We all are.
Don’t stop. We need you.