Today, January 18, 2021, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national holiday. Some will dedicate this day to service, others to reflection and remembrance. Our country is experiencing divisions today that clearly tell us that Dr. King’s work remains unfinished. However you choose to mark this occasion in honor of a great American, let it be a foundation for building a more perfect union – one that recognizes the humanity in all of us; one that seeks justice and pursues equality by peaceful means; one that allows each of us to live without fear, without prejudice, free to become all that we can be without the visible and invisible barriers of racism, poverty, intolerance, and ignorance.
Dr. King dreamt of such a union, and accomplished so much in his tragically shortened lifetime toward making that dream a reality. As artists, teachers, and students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, let us take a moment – many moments – on this day to remember and reflect, and then lift our artistic voices in service of Dr. King’s dream, even though at times the task seems daunting.
Let us remember the words of the great American writer Toni Morrison, who in 2015 issued this inspiring call to action:
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.
One way to think about art is that, across all of our forms and disciplines, and across time and space, art distills meaning from chaos. If we’re open to Morrison’s instruction here, we can find new (and vital) meaning and purpose for our work in this moment. We often say that the arts create community; on this day, let us take a good look at whatever communities we are part of, and think about how our art might begin to re-create them in honor of the life we celebrate today.
-- Rick Davis, Dean