Sat September 19th
As our 44th President, Barack Obama, moves through his last day in office, he calls on us to step up, to step forward, and realize together the democracy that this country is built on. With endless grace and wisdom, he speaks to the harsh reality that our democratic institutions are broken. Yet, these institutions — of governance, of finance, of health care, of culture — were built by the people and for the people. These are our institutions. They are ours to remake, to reimagine, and to realize as fully as possible.
On the eve of the Inauguration of President #45, we are receiving news of rumors that the Trump Administration aspires to cut — if not abolish — the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. True or not, we are not surprised. We believe, with startling effortlessness, that art and culture can be easily cut from our national agenda.
At the same time millions of people are preparing to participate in protests and actions across the country in the name of democracy, freedom of speech, reproductive rights, immigrant rights, and for the health and well-being of our planet. Artists and arts organizations are doing their part — they are organizing, making work, going on strike, bringing their vast creative resources to the beginning of what simply has to be an epic, unstoppable cultural and social movement that leads us to the other side of this darkness.
In fact, these institutions are the material of our democracy. These are the imperfect structures and the tools that we made in order to deliver on our rights and our values as the people of the United States of America. Our way forward is to take over and remake the very assets that were built to serve our communities. And, we must start with the gathering spaces, the places that were founded to instigate the collective imagination, to nurture the next generation, to build cultural movement.
My organization, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts was already doing the work of transforming itself from a place of passive witness to the creative home for civic action. As Hrag Vartanian states in his recent blog, “resistance is a daily activity, not an event.” Our work at YBCA is the ongoing work of being the place for people of all kinds to come together, to grapple with hard questions, to push forward the best ideas in the form of art, of policy, of poetry, of movement. It is the opposite of neutral.
On Inauguration Day and every single day, we are asking: How can institutions like YBCA across the country demonstrate the power of collective imagination? We chose to be open and free to everyone on Inauguration Day for the same reasons that we encouraged our staff to actively participate in events and actions that matter to them and that we launched a pay-what-you-can membership program.
We throw open our doors, we turn our resources outward, we encourage civic participation and action, we invite creativity in all shapes and forms because we believe that art centers belong to the people regardless of their ability to pay. And, arts organizations have the power to reimagine themselves as citizen institutions that exist to spark cultural movement that will lead to lasting, equitable and just change.