“We are always looking for some body whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces.” — Bruce Springsteen
A Note From International Arts Movement
A friend of mine said recently that he had never heard the word “unprecedented” more than in the last week. Of course, I nodded my head in agreement. Even as someone who tends to think in worst-case scenario terms, I don’t often use the word in my day-to-day vocabulary. And yet, here we are, being bombarded with news about “unprecedented” times and circumstances. Our world at a virtual standstill. Life grinding to a halt.
I will admit that as I’ve sat down to write this letter many times over the past several days, I’ve come up short. There are really no words to describe the rollercoaster of emotions that many of us are experiencing each day, each hour, each minute. The list of cancelled plans continues to grow and anxiety levels fluctuate. As a resident of the nation’s capital, I am hard-pressed to think of any other time in our country’s history when the streets have been this empty. Even now, as I sit at the kitchen table in my childhood home, the familiar rumble of cars up and down the street is noticeably absent.
Each night, as I go to sleep, I’ve tried my best to capture the emotions of the day, both for my own sanity and for the sake of history. Someday, maybe, we will look back and share stories about this period of time with our children and grandchildren. When I think about what I want those stories to look like, I find myself returning to two ideas: first, the idea of friendship and second, the idea of grace. At a time when we are practicing “social distancing,” what does it look like to be a friend? Social scientists say that eye contact is key and so I find myself picking up the phone to face-time friends more than ever before. Beyond that, though, what does it look like to have grace amidst a crisis? To breathe deeply and remember that each and every person is experiencing a disruption to their life… whether on a small or large scale.
More than ever, we are faced with the unique opportunity to be a body of people who brings people together, to find common threads of community. Someday, when we emerge from this strange period of our lives, I hope we will do so with a renewed appreciation for generative and generous relationships.
A Note from Makoto Fujimura, Founder of IAM Culture Care
After Angela Markel, the German chancellor’s announcement of the current pandemic to be “‘biggest challenge since World War II,” we woke up to a world of fear, panic and anxiety. But for culture care sojourners those is an historic opportunity to create into the darkness. Shakespeare and Fra Angelico both worked during whole three black plague killed over one third of the population. I wrote about this in “Fra Angelico and the cover hundred year question.” This is an unprecedented opportunity.
My friend Amanda Lindsey Cook just texted me to check in. She says that this pause, this challenge has actually given her new energy to create. “With everything else cancelled I’m making the most of the time we have to go on some interior explorations.”
I just met over conference call with my production team of Fujimura Fellows to confer over all online production of Culture Care Creative Inc to nourish our Culture Care ecosystem. We believe it’s our time to launch our Culture Care podcast! I have already began to post my regular “live from the studio” segments on the Psalms and Kintsugi history on my YouTube subscription link. Master Nakamura has sent a video exhortation from his 6th Dimension Cafe in Tokyo on @academykintsugi Instagram site.
Now that our Lenten Season has now unwittingly become National Lenten Season, to practice social distancing in order to love our neighbors. May we replace March Madness with April Kindness. My Lenten practice will include “adding things” to focus on prayer and loving my neighbors through culture care, and I thought of the following issues particular to the arts:
1) “Social distancing and being isolated” is not unusual for most of us visual artists or writers. That’s how we spend most of our days! Perhaps we have wisdom to give to the world in such a time as this?
2) For performance artists, so many concerts and schools being cancelled, it has been a devastating time economically and socially. IAMCultureCare is considering creating a way to collect tax deduction donation particularly to help performance artists at this time. Please stay tuned.
3) Yesterday, I went to a park with a dear friend and found the parking lot packed. There were families playing in the playgrounds which usually were empty. Even though that may not be advisable now, it gave me hope for the future. What have you noticed that affected people to slow down and spend time with each other?
After 9⁄11, the downtown community, living below Canal Street in TriBeCa in the “restricted zone”, morphed into one of the most delightful community experiences I’ve had. Restaurants were serving coffee even though they were closed, and kids and dogs were running around as we chatted and gotten to know each other. I knew that if you are in the area, you went through similar experiences through being part of our Ground Zero community. Strangers became quick friends, and my neighbors, well, became true neighbors. Much of what we now call “Culture Care” was birthed through such a time, as I had time to reflect on the role of art and how artists can lead in important conversations in society.
Of course, the current crisis is different from 9⁄11. We are to keep even these gatherings to a minimum, but generative thinking often starts with trauma or severe situations. “What if?” questions become more important as we navigate severe challenges and restrictions. So let’s share these ideas by keeping our lines of communication open. We will get through this, and perhaps through such an experience of slowing down and caring for others may birth generative thinking and “what if?” questions.
Yours for culture care,
Notes From the Road
Pete Candler is a writer in Asheville, North Carolina. His current project is a literary-photographic quest along the backroads of southern and personal history in search of the stories that shape us more than we thought. Read and see more at adeepersouth.com
To take pity on people in distress is a human quality which every man and woman should possess, but it is especially requisite in those who have once needed comfort, and found it in others. I number myself as one of these, because if ever anyone required or appreciated comfort, or indeed derived pleasure therefrom, I was that person.
This is the beginning of The Decameron, a massive collection of one hundred stories written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the middle of the fourteenth century.
The Decameron was composed during a particularly eventful time in central Europe, when the Black Plague ravaged the continent. In the book, ten citizens of Florence flee their hometown to seek sanctuary in the countryside. For ten days, they take turns telling “stories or fables or parables or histories or whatever you choose to call them” to one another to pass the time, and to share in common humanity.
Our situation is not so different, and the crisis provoked by the virus is especially acute in Boccaccio’s native Italy. But even there the impulse to create communities out of isolation is powerfully alive. In Boccaccio’s case it was a fictional group of refugees building a micro-community around stories. Today, footage of Italians singing to and with one another from apartment windows, across empty city street, suggests the same ancient urgency to gather around works of art is as pointed as ever.
We may not have a lavish country estate to retire to wait out the contagion, as Boccaccio’s characters did, but we do have this, and that is not nothing. We might not be able to feast together in person right now, but I hope that in this virtual potluck you will find something to nourish you, some food to meet your hunger.
As Marly Youmans puts it in her beautiful poem, “The Hand,” “All I know is story.’ This is true for many of us: story, or song, or image is all we know. And right now it sometimes seems as if that is all we have. It may not be enough to pay our bills, feed the hungry, protect the elderly and infirm, but it is something, and I hope enough to make as all feel a little less alone, a little less overwhelmed, a little more human.
We are going to attempt to recreate a new Decameron for our time. We hope to share 100 stories with you, to provide some of that common humanity Boccaccio’s characters made for one another in their moment of distress. Each day we will share a reading from one of America’s great living writers. Each contribution will be available to read online at anewdecameron.com, and will be accompanied by a work of visual art. Please follow the project on twitter @anewdecameron.
In what we have to share, I hope you will find a hand, too.
- Mako has began to post regular “Live from Mako’s Studio” on his YouTube channel. Please subscribe and send in questions!
- Kintsugi Academy is training leaders and will be designing a kit with designer Esther Mun. Videos of the Kintsugi Academy with Master Kunio Nakamura, Mako, and others will be posted soon!
- Part a confessional and the other exhortation, “Western Stars” is self-produced documentary film about artistic growth, love and discovery of hope. Rob Mathes served as the music director.
- In an effort to help people cope with this unprecedented cultural moment, the Rabbit Room has compiled a list of several resources for those of all ages, including free liturgies from the book Every Moment Holy.
- A guide for leaders in the time of COVID-19.
Header Image: Fra Angelico; “Blessing Redeemer”, 1423, paint on panel.