Friday, April 18, 2008

Earth Day '08

By Paul Gordon Emerson

Art has a role to play (literally and figuratively) in the political questions of the day. That role can be direct and political. But it can also be communal and very non-political. Both matter.

The Green Apples Earth Day Festival on the National Mall is Sunday, April 20th (Earth Day itself is two days later, on the 22nd). CityDance is dancing on the main stage of what is being called the Flagship Event of a worldwide festival. Its an honor, an extraordinary honor, to be invited.

My God-Daughter, Lucy, is 17, and she said the other day that "her entire school is going." Her passion is two-fold for the day, and herein lies a part of the power of art on a day like this that few other more traditional, and political, participants can claim. That power is to pull people in. Its an irony that so often we complain in this field that we can't sell enough tickets to shows, that there isn't enough interest in our programs and blah, blah, blah. Earth Day is just one example of how that isn't -- and must not -- be true.

Earth Day is about fundamental things --- the need to change our practices on this planet, and our stewardship of it -- if we aren't going to be talking about beach front property in Orlando and the consequences of watching the entire Delta in Bangladesh vanish beneath the surface. But to get people to "buy-in" to fundamental things you often have to make such fundamental things something that feel like a positive and not like a penalty. You have to build community. You have to inspire. You have to draw folks together in common purpose, not divide them in the petty details of difference. Earth Day is a deep and defining opportunity to do this, and art is serving a vital mission in making it happen. It is a source of unity -- the celebration of the art as well as of the message that will be on the concert hall stage.

Its a safe bet that at least as many people are coming to see The Roots as to wander the booths of all the business, NGOs and not-for-profit organizations who are there to demonstrate their "green-curriculum vitae's." And its absolutely the truth that more people are into the idea of listening to Chevy Chase or Chris Rock than the Senate Majority Leader. Rock is there because he believes. Whether Harry Reid (the Majority Leader) can convince anyone of the same is unimportant -- he holds the power of change in a way none of the rest of us do. But that's not the point. The point is that people are being drawn in by the art as much as well as by the cause -- and many are simply being drawn by the art. But they're coming, and that -- particularly in Washington -- is how movements begin. Celebrating the day opens the door to positive ways of changing, and of getting us together to say "this is how we do it."

There are going to be political statements from the artists, as there should be. But while all the focus is on the politics of the day, its too easy to forget that you can inspire change without a sledgehammer, and that its often more effective, and more lasting, when you realize that it doesn't all have to be heavy. There's nothing wrong with taking on the question of a heating planet by doing things which are cool.

No comments: