Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014
We discuss regularly how it is the arts’ job to push against people’s comfort and also to provide a welcoming feel for all. In light of this week’s grand jury decision, several St. Louis area establishments closed due to the riots. While I understand that there are plenty of concerns about safety and protecting people due to the uncertainty of the riots, part of me is reminded of DC’s own safe space despite the riots. Ben’s Chili Bowl remained one of the few safe spaces during the riots following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination on U Street. Black activists requested that the Ali family restaurant stay open and remain a conflict free zone. The family even obtained permits to operate past curfew. Their patrons during the riots were activists, firemen, neighborhood residents and police officers. It did not matter what your stance was, you checked it at the door and sat together over half smokes in peace.
I saw this article about museums closing in the St. Louis area due to the riots in Ferguson. I know it is for the safety of their staff, but I wonder why close the museums. Why not make them safe spaces where people can come together? There are ways for museums to house dialogues or even places of reflection. Or they do not even have to do any such events, but be there and let their collections challenge and move the people. The Ferguson library felt that way and remained open to provide a safe space despite the riots going on around it. In fact, the country has responded overwhelmingly by donating money to support the library and their creation of healing kits, books on traumatic events and a stuffed animal for community children. The library has allowed meetings for emergency loans or business bureaus to occur when they have nowhere else to go. These museums are in downtown St. Louis, a 20+ minute drive away, but they too could lend community support rather than shuttering. These are the moments that define the arts–when we say to everyone that we are here for our community and its growth and not for our own well being.
Maybe I am alone in these thoughts and safety matters more, but I feel we should stand up for the messaging of the arts and we should engage and support the community.