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Healthy Arts Create Connections between People

October 2, 2013 / ,

Mark Fields has been the managing director of The Grand Opera House in Wilmington since December 2006, having previously served as executive director of the South Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Glassboro Center for the Arts. A life-long arts administrator, Mark has also worked for the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia; the Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville, TN; the Santa Fe Opera; and the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis. Mark was one of the founding board members for the Delaware Arts Alliance, a statewide advocacy organization. As a sideline, he teaches film history at Rowan University and is the film critic/columnist for Wilmington’s Out and About Magazine.

Healthy Arts Create Connections between People

In early 1990, within six months of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was working for a performing arts center in South Jersey when we hosted a concert by the Red Star Red Army Band and Chorus.

redstarThe 150 musicians and dancers from the group took the stage with many of them proudly wearing their Russian military uniforms. After encouraging the audience to stand, they won over the crowd with a rousing performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” encouraging everyone to sing along. Immediately after that, the band launched into another tune, less familiar to American audiences, the Anthem of the Soviet Union. To my surprise and delight, every member of that audience stood respectfully, and then clapped warmly at the end. Just imagine that: people whom we had viewed as bitter enemies dressed in once-ominous uniforms singing a song that extolled an ideology we all detested, and without making a conscious decision to do so, we as a group responded with acceptance and grace.

That concert made friends out of former enemies, and remains for me a memorable example of what I have believed all my life: the arts bring people, even very different people, together. In the same way, I’m truly convinced that the arts can take a town and make it into a community.

How? I think there are several important reasons.

shutterstock_121007071The arts create an opportunity to come together for a shared emotional experience. Whether it’s a concert by the local glee club or the community theater group doing a play, a performance is a moment when we set aside whatever else is going on in our busy lives and experience the same thing…not as individuals but as a group. Together we laugh, together we cry, together we are transported by the life-changing magic of the arts. That is a powerful bond to forge between people, one that creates both memories and connections between us.

Sharing our cultures makes us friends, not strangers. The quickest way to understand another person is to share the culture from which s/he comes. The arts have always been the medium through which we express our identity, both as individuals and as a group. If you understand my music, my theater, my art; then you have begun to understand me.

shutterstock_3740929The daily presence of art in our lives opens up opportunities for lively dialogue, and even impassioned debate. Think of some of the great conversations you’ve had about a movie or a TV show, a musical concert or a piece of public art. Art can provoke strong reactions and opinions, and the discussion of those feelings provides another opportunity for connection among people.

The arts celebrate creativity, teamwork, and innovative problem-solving. Study after study has shown that children who are educated in an arts-infused environment are both better students and better citizens. If it works in a school, imagine how it could positively affect an entire community.

Shared emotional experiences, mutual understanding and respect, opportunities for the exchange of ideas and opinions, creativity and teamwork. If you ask me, these are the essential building blocks for a quality life, and for a quality community.

Related blogs:  The Town of Whitehall discusses the role of libraries in communities: https://whitehallde.com/should-we-stop-building-libraries/

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