Skip to main content

November 2023 Culture Care Newsletter

  • Posted: November 10, 2023

Do you want to know how you might win the culture war? It is to care for culture, it is to love your enemies, facing the devastation of ground zero. I have thought about that, struggled with it, and of course that is an impossibility. Of course that might be something that only an artist can say, because art is about making impossibilities possible, to give you a portal of this new vista that may not have existed before.” 

- Makoto Fujimura, speaking to ARC conference attendees on November 1

A Note from IAMCultureCare

Greetings from San Francisco, California! I have momentarily escaped the increasingly cold, wet northeast US, and am here this week attending and speaking at a musicology conference. Makoto Fujimura (founder of IAMCultureCare) has also been traveling to the UK to speak to global leaders. More on both of those below — lots of exciting things happening for Culture Care right now.

Just a reminder that you can still fill out our quick survey here if you haven’t already. To those who have, we would love to continue the conversation. Please get in touch if you are interested in submitting something for our community, whether that’s art, an essay, a Culture Care news item, or anything else! You can email jacob@internationalartsmovement to submit content for consideration or for more information. We are so grateful to those that have already done so, and look forward to regularly including community submissions going forward.

A Note from Makoto Fujimura, founder of IAMCultureCare

As a Culture Care steward, what do you do when you are on a major international stage with speakers that includes the likes of Jordan Peterson, many Members of the UK Parliament, and four former Australian Prime Ministers? The recent Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC) inaugural conference gathered over 1700 leaders and opened with former US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, and the first international speech (via video) of the newly-appointed Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. Even if the event is supposed to be a non-political gathering, the storm of Culture Wars inevitably takes over. Oh, and you only have 12 minutes! This was my situation last week, and I was told last-minute that we were running behind schedule, so I had to cut down my prepared speech even further. I decided to cut my speech in half a minute before I stood on the stage, so that I would be able to slow down the presentation to seek the Presence of God (without mentioning Jesus) in a non-religious setting. 

Welcome to my studio,” I started, and I prayed to try to find the eye of the storm” in the bright, blinding lights of the stage. My job was simple, to be a peacemaker, a culture care agent in the midst of a culture war storm. I thought of Sen no Rikyū, who refined the ancient tradition of tea into an art form of peace during the feudal war period of 16th century Japan, inviting some of the most violent warlords to tea. I needed to find a way to serve peace, and the aroma of Christ, to those who would listen. Of course, I was also keenly and painfully mindful that bombs were going off in Israel, Gaza, and Ukraine; children and innocents were being slaughtered even as we considered a better story”. 

Thanks to Baroness Philippa Stroud (one of the organizers and who invited us), I had two of my major pieces, Water Flames — Vermillion and Charis, behind me as I spoke — works that were inspired after becoming a survivor” of 9/11/01. These paintings had already been speaking before I got on stage, whispering over the last two days to prepare the ears of those who might be willing to listen. 

Take a listen to the talk, mine as well as what spoken word artist/pastor Joshua Luke Smith did during this conference. Both of us stayed in the eye of the storm” without knowing what each other was about to do.

A border stalker must improvise to communicate. Afterwards, a former Prime Minister of Australia told me, that was the most moving presentation of the gospel without mentioning the name of Jesus that I’ve ever heard.” Culture Care gives us the language to speak of Christ without Christianese”, and invite a world full of fear and cynicism to a fruitful conversation. What may seem to be an impossibility is also a pinhole of generative outcomes. 

A Culture Care Soundbite from Jacob

Silence and Music, or an introduction to Arvo Pärt and James MacMillan

Over the past few months I have been reflecting more and more on the role of silence in music and art/life more generally. Paul J. Pastor recently wrote a great piece in Ecstatic (included in the Web Links section at the end of this newsletter) about the Finnish national epic Kalevala and how silence is a difficult but necessary component to produce great art”. Similarly, Troy Kirk’s guest reflection in last month’s newsletter also discussed the silent act of beholding” in Kintsugi. This week I am presenting at a musicology conference on contemporary composers Arvo Pärt and James MacMillan. Their music comes from a place of similar kenotic, silent receptivity, and (like Troy reminded us), intentional, active silence opens us up to a potentially transformative experience.

Arvo Pärt’s distinctive tintinnabuli style (a reference to the bell-like triads that form the basic structure of his music) arose after an eight-year period of compositional and creative silence following Soviet censorship in his native Estonia. During this period, Pärt studied medieval chant, filling hundreds of notebooks with simple musical lines and creating a totally original musical style. The silence of those eight years is also present in the music itself as Pärt frequently notates specific (and relatively long) periods of stillness between musical phrases, as in his Beatitudes or The Deer’s Cry. The power of these works is in these moments as the music seeps into the listener and offer space for reflection and connection with something transcendent.

For James MacMillan, the role of silence is more philosophical. He has frequently spoken or written about how his music arises from a silence that is one of presence rather than absence. Yet silence is a source of musical material for him as well, such as in his symphonic rendering of Shūsako Endō’s novel Silence or profoundly at the final movement of his Seven Last Words from the Cross which musically depicts Christ’s last breaths. On the face of it, MacMillan’s music is much more dynamic and conflict-driven than Pärt’s both in subject and musical language; but for those that are willing to sit within that conflict and behold the abyss of human suffering” (as MacMillan has often put it), there are incredible moments of emergent beauty as well. MacMillan’s Miserere is a slightly more accessible example of this, and if you have the time to listen to any of these pieces I encourage you to listen to this one. I hope you find a moment this week to be silent and aurally behold” these works.

For further listening: 

Some other cool pieces to check out are Pärt’s Which was the son of… (a surprisingly fun setting of a biblical genealogy) and Spiegel im Spiegel (if you’ve heard anything by Pärt, this piece is probably it, and it’s a great example of his tintinnabuli style). MacMillan’s Advent antiphon O Radiant Dawn is a frequently-performed fan favorite; some other fantastic pieces that are a little further afield are his Since it was the day of preparation (wonderfully odd instrumentation, unfortunately on Spotify or Apple music only), or Who Shall Separate Us commissioned for the late Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.

Web Links

  • IAMCultureCare celebrates our own Alissa Wilkinson who is now the movie critic for The New York Times! Alissa has been an important part of our community since the early IAM days, served on our staff team, founded the affiliate The Curator Magazine and has been faithfully doing her culture care work at Vox. We are so thrilled that her immense gifts are being recognized and look forward to reading her critical review of films in NYT.
  • Report from Azusa Pacific University where Makoto Fujimura recently gave the 2023 James L. Hedges Lecture on The Shock of the New New”.
  • Paul J. Pastor writes for Ecstatic on the role of silence in the creative life.
  • 17 lessons for life and art from Maria Popova at The Marginalian.
  • Nathan Beacom at Plough calls for a return of the Lyceum as a local forum for liberal arts education and dialogue with neighbors.
  • A paywalled but poignant obituary from The Economist for Ofir Libstein, an Israeli mayor who died in the October 7th Hamas attacks. He was an example of Culture Care along the Israel-Gaza border: he started an annual flower festival to create beauty in the desert, and he was planning an economic zone that would have benefited both Israelis and Gazans to promote peace on the border.