May 2020 Culture Care Newsletter

  • Posted: May 15, 2020

In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A Note From International Arts Movement

I found myself standing in the aisle at the grocery store recently, waiting for a stranger to pass me as we both navigated the narrow space, our hands filled. I smiled, out of habit, only to realize that my mask covered any hint of my expression. It struck, though not for the first time during this pandemic season, that the way we express ourselves as a culture, will most likely fundamentally change when we emerge from this strange period of time. It’s been more than two months since I’ve offered a handshake to someone, hugged anyone outside of my family, or exchanged polite smiles with a stranger in the grocery store. 

Like so many other people, I’ve thought a lot over the last few months about the things that I miss in the age of social distancing. What are the practices that I want to continue? What are the things that I will never take for granted again? What are the things I don’t miss? Dinner party with friends. Warm embraces. Smiles from strangers. 

We live in a world knit together by countless moments. Most of us go about our days, unaware that a story is being pieced together, line by line, through the things we do and say. Every once in a while, I find myself grasping the gravity of this: a particularly beautiful sunset, a delicious meal, the warm breeze on my face. Moments like these make us acutely aware of the blessing it is just to be alive. But, more often than not, we move from place to place, from thing to thing, from person to person, at a breakneck speed, too consumed in our own schedules to notice sunsets and food and breezes. For perhaps the first time in many years, the entire world has been forced to pause, forced to reckon with the story we are telling. 

Suddenly, we miss those moments. We miss the familiar smile of a stranger in the aisle at the grocery store. And yet, we have an opportunity: to turn the page and continue to write. To tell a new story, one filled with hope and expectation. One made up of ordinary moments, of a world coming together, smiling behind masks of fear and despair and worry, united in a shared struggle. We press on in the midst of this season, knowing that all hope is not lost. 

A Note from Makoto Fujimura, Founder of IAM Culture Care

Dear IAMers

In a month, Hilary Teachout Grant has raised nearly (hopefully over, by the time you read this) $30k to benefit artists with micro-grants all over US. The second round began a few weeks ago in particular attention to artists in India that we have been connected with (With each $1000 donation: 50% still going to US based artists, with two other India artists benefiting). Many of you are receiving this newsletter for the first time as you have applied to these grants. I will continue to endeavor to raise funds for you, so please encourage people to give and apply.

Our Culture Care Creative podcast team is working hard to deliver quality ten episodes starting in mid June. Our Kintsugi Academy team is preparing their first remote workshop to train leaders at the end of this month, and training will continue throughout the summer. We are going guinea pig” runs of the initial kits and membership, but all of you receiving this newsletter will be able to participate, no matter where you live, starting, hopefully, mid June. Please follow @academykintsugi on Instagram or Twitter and we will be updating you.

This pandemic has produced mind numbing realities now, with Mumbi, the Maximum City”, now becoming a ground zero” of the pandemic, and other cities around the globe struggling to keep up with the sick. Japan has already experienced a second spike, a trend which I am sure US will follow. The shut down has caused an economic stress unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. To have lived through 911 and Lehman shock, and finding myself saying that is more than surreal, but that is the reality we face today.

So what is our role as artists and creative catalysts? I have been posting (both in English and in Japanese) some of the questions sent in by folks on my YouTube channel, a practice I began as a direct response to our crisis. Hilary Teachout grant came out of my response, and Terry Teachout (WSJ theatre critic)‘s heroic journey to save, and love, his dear wife who required a double lung transplant which they waited for nearly ten years. To have received news of her passing after the operation was as devastating of a news to me, a straw that broke the camel’s back” experience. Every day, casualties mount, and the news have not been able to capture the totality of the losses, revealing what is already a dearth of good journalism as one of the major fractures of our time.

But as my own responses have shown, it is time to focus on making, and taking advantage of the technology given to us to steward — it is time for us individually, in our small communities to continue to create out of our darknesses, to rise above” in a way that I charged the students at last year’s Commencement address here and now such a sweet and tender memory of our ritual of celebration. To graduate” means to rise above”. All of us will need to graduate from our normality” of our pasts into a new paradigm. Culture Care is a path toward generativity in such a time as ours. As we launch Kintsugi Academy not to fix, but mend to make new”, we are reminded of both the cost and infinite golden weight of our hope. May we all rise above” with millions of graduates of 2020 who will not gather to celebrate this year. That punctuation in our normality” may indeed be a unique memory, a marker given to students who will mark this time, a passing of the broken cup of shared sorrows. Let their fractures mend, and may we together to pour gold into their lives.

Yours for Culture Care,

Mako Fujimura, from Princeton

Culture Care Spotlight: Tiffany Thompson

Tiffany Thompson is a singer, songwriter and community convener who uses music to convey a message of courage, hope and our need for a love that is greater than ourselves. Her journey has been anything but straight. Her love for people, music and the connection made when those two things collide brings her more joy then the most glorious of sunrises. The debut single off of her DANAE EP, Direction,” was a semi-finalist in the Song of the Year contest and has garnered over 160K streams on Spotify. The poetry collection she turned into a record celebrated the art of an unknown poet: Rosetta G. Kelly. The songs she wrote for Makoto Fujimauras New York City gallery exhibit fuse ancient themes with modern melodies. During this pandemic season, we asked Tiffany to share what creativity looks like: 

Tell us about your journey into songwriting. 

When I was a little girl, I found that poetry was of great solace to me. As the youngest of three, I often got lost in my own imagination, and poetry helped me get a few of those ideas on paper. Getting lost in my own head was augmented by the fact that I jumped cultures a few times growing up: Iowa to Russia to Texas. Having the ability to take ideas in my head and translate them to paper with the words, rhythm, and rhyme brought a deep sense of joy into my little heart. 

I’d always played piano and sung, but it wasn’t till our move to Austin, Texas at age 11 that I started merging the poetry and music into songs. Much of this had to do with the fact, I quit” piano for guitar. The simple chords, movement, and freedom of the instrument sitting in my lap gave me a sense of creative confidence birthed my first few songs. 

Over the next two decades, I wrote 100s of songs and release a bunch of records. I loved the creative high of starting off the day with an idea or melody or nothing and ending the day with a new creation. I’m a notorious editor, and nothing is ever good enough. I would write and rewrite songs for months. Sometimes they got better, often they got worse.

At the beginning, my journey into songwriting was about self-expression. Over the years, however, it’s become more about enjoying the creative act and finding people to collaborate with. For me, I find it’s much more enjoyable to create with good company than alone. 

Describe your most recent album/body of work. 

Lotuses & Mimicry is a true collaborative project. I would never come up with the ideas or had the boldness to create it without the encouragement and friendship Makoto Fujimura. 

Mako and I met a decade ago at a Washington Institute gathering; he was speaking, and I was playing. I remember talking with him afterwards, and he said, your voice will be best suited for the margins.” As an aspiring pop artist that wasn’t exactly the encouragement I wanted to hear, but I appreciated it nonetheless. At least my voice was suited somewhere! 

Flash forward 10 years, Mako invited me to journey with him in New York. It started as a single collaboration for the opening of his Silence exhibit at Waterfall Mansion and evolved into a full record.

Each song on the project is a reflection, or I should say, a refraction of Mako’s creative essence. The title track, Lotuses & Mimicry, was built off a poem he wrote to honor the passing of his father. Waterfall Embrace harkens to Mako’s love for T. S. Eliot and the Waterfall Mansion gallery. And the first single, 2 A. M. is a reflection on the hopelessness, aimless wandering of night — a sort of sound of silence song. 

I had the songs – some more fully formed than others. And it was Mako’s idea to partner with IAM friend and producer Daniel Smith. Daniel — an incredible songwriter and visual artist — brought together a group of musicians that truly entered the spirit of the record Mako and I were hoping to make.

Lotuses & Mimicry is about loss, grief, and looking for the specs of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel. 

How does your work as a singer and songwriter provide you with a path in the wilderness” during this pandemic season? 

I chose to release 2 A. M. at this moment in time because it is a song about the wilderness. When I first moved to New York from Nashville, I was in the season of desolation. I rented an apartment in Long Island City, and at night, I would look for hours at the specks of light coming off Manhattan apartments. I had a cheap keyboard but loved the sound of two chords that became the verses of 2 A. M. I would just play them over and over — losing sight of time and tempo, just letting the notes move. It was a comfort in the midst of a seismic change in my life. It wasn’t till many months later that I even thought about recording 2 A. M.

My hope is that the freedom in the creative process of these songs shows people my little path toward rest and joy in shadow. Perhaps a small candle for them to snag and find their own paths. 

What are some patterns of creativity that have emerged for you in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?

I’ve struggled to write full songs during the pandemic, but I am committed to a few creative practices. 

First, I write every morning in my journal. Sometimes for a while – other times for not too long. I give myself a lot of grace on the output but am committed to showing up each day. 

Second, I’m blessed to be staying in a place with a lot of birds and a big kitchen. These are things I don’t have in my normal life in New York City. I’ve channeled some of my creative energy into those spaces. Experimenting with fried rice and just sitting on the dock watching birds fly around. Neither directly impact my music making muscles, but they are helping me see things I don’t normally notice. And for me, that’s essential to the craft of songwriting.

Third, release things you’ve been holding back on! As I mentioned, I have a tendency to try to make things perfect. I’m very excited to begin the release of Lotuses & Mimicry over the coming weeks. As it enters the world, I know I’ll have fresh space in my heart to create anew. 

Web Links

  • Thoughts from a bad Catholic at the end of the world.
  • Caring for culture during a pandemic. 
  • Art is a study in abundance.
  • The burdens of epic, quiet silence during the pandemic. 
  • America looks better from the bottom up.
  • The ache.
  • A series dedicated to breaking ground for a world renewed. 

The Veteran in a New Field, Winslow Homer, 1865, Oil on canvas.