We are our own wish, our own promise

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On Saturday, November 5th 2016, before the world got so much darker, several hundred people gathered at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to celebrate the YBCA100 — the 100 culture makers who are most inspiring our work as an organization. It is important to be clear that this is not a celebration of artists. This is a celebration of what we can do when we bring together creative change makers. As my colleague and dear friend Marc Bamuthi Joseph says “Arts centers celebrate artists every day. This is ornamental and a wasted opportunity. The potency lies in strategically deploying artists to create social connections and palpable inspiration…to normalize a sense of accountability to each other through the public imagination.

These are people like Imani Gandy who is fighting for reproductive justice; Kimberly Bryant who is founder of Black Girls Code; Ana Teresa Fernandez, an artist whose work erases borders; Dan-el Padilla Peralta who speaks to the undocumented and the incarcerated; Jeff Chang whose book We Gon’ Be Alright is more resonant than ever. It is collectives like Black Lives Matter, now a global movement; the Ovarian Psychos a feminist bike brigade; SOUL — the school of unity and liberation — an education movement; The People’s Kitchen. . .

How can there be an equal vote if we don’t have equilibrium?

Democracy — this idea that we each have a vote, we each count — needs equality, it depends on equity, it implies shared prosperity. But, how can there be an equal vote if we don’t have equilibrium? How can we operate a democracy that raises up inspiring leaders and effective systems and is shaped and inspired by the voices of the people if we have catastrophic inequity? How can people infuse their vote with power if they are ignited by fear and scarcity-driven hate? How is this a democratic result?

It happened because we have lost sight of each other, of our own strength, and of where we can go together as human beings.

This election happened this way because we do not have equilibrium. It happened because people are scared and they are struggling. It happened because we have lost sight of each other, of our own strength, and of where we can go together as human beings.

Lets shift this fucked-up narrative. Lets understand and put to action our collective strength. Lets turn our cultural resources out. Lets unleash artists, arts organizations, culture shifters and future makers to the restless work of helping us realize our humanity.

Every arts organization in this country can choose today to turn its creative assets to the work at hand — the project of reinventing our democratic aspiration. Museums, concert halls, theaters and cultural centers of all shapes and sizes must unite to assure that no human being lacks connection, lacks inspiration. Together, we will name and bring to light a new world that is infused by the brilliance of a collective imagination that is so bright, so empathetic, so powerful that every single person votes with conviction and with compassion.

In the words of YBCA100 honoree Danez Smith

“we are our own mecca we are the first brick thrown last brick in our new home we are our own wish our own promise our own throne.”

In this brave new world, people believe that their voice matters. They vote not from a place of fear or scarcity, but from a place of inspired humanity. We finally understand that without inspiration, imagination, and connection, we can’t see and realize a future that is better.

It is cultural movement that we need. And it is our cultural institutions that must lead the way.