by Deborah Kennedy.
What do you believe? At our UU congregation, it should be a common enough question. We throw big questions at our kids in Religious Exploration all the time: challenge the slogans, mess with the easy perceptions. But as adults, I think we tend to self-select our “big questions” in the same way we choose our news or tend toward a musical status quo: Let’s talk about the beliefs we know.
When we opened ARTspeaks in January, I thought we had pretty substantial goals – to increase the number of artistic voices on campus, support local artists and art organizations, and use the space as outreach – a neutral space for discussion of complex themes. I think we’re doing well just 4 months in, but it’s increasingly clear that we have to expect more from the space, from our mission and from our members to succeed. If we are just pretty pictures on a wall, we have failed.
Art speaks. The simple act of putting work on the wall gives it importance, underscores whatever language it uses. Further, we ask our artists to help us understand their work, their intent. We have an extraordinary opportunity to reach out, to ask for views, perspectives, experiences and beliefs other than our own. What could we hear and learn if we searched for art that spoke to our beliefs in uncomfortable ways? What might we all of a sudden not know?
Here’s the heresy: We need to find voices to challenge us in multiple directions. Yes, we need to find voices to challenge us to be more inclusive, to understand privilege and marginalization, to lean into our core beliefs with intent. But ARTspeaks is also an opportunity to understand more conservative views, to stop and feel, not just think, what drove people to their political choices over the past year. Millions of people have reasons for believing differently from many of us. Why? Let’s find out.
ARTspeaks isn’t a room or a program. It’s a statement: Art has a place in the discussion of who we are. It can reach into communities and to individuals we would never know otherwise – people we are desperate to know. And, it’s a dare. Art speaks. May we have the courage to listen, to hear, to shake off our complacency and take action.
We’re way past pretty pictures on the wall.