Community and Art

Tonight at the D.C. Area Community of Communities meeting, we’ll be discussing the connection between the arts and community. I’m excited about this conversation in part because I believe that community rebirth and renewal is not possible without a signficant contribution by the arts. I strongly believe that little acts of creation are in fact instances of new creation, of God’s kingdom on earth and by encouraging others to do the same, we begin to live into the new reality God has in mind. One of my strong hopes and dreams is to be a part of a live-in “arts” community, meaning a community that makes efforts to promote and teach art in the neighborhood but also creates art within the house.

On my way to hopefully one day birthing this dream, I’ve begun to participate with the Sitar Arts Center. Sitar is doing almost everything that I would think is essential to teaching the arts to kids. They employ a small administrative staff and then recruit over a hundred volunteers to teach classes. This model frees up so much more of their donation and grant money to go directly towards facilities, instruments, and serving students directly. As a result, and because of the wondeful staff and 10 years of true service to the kids, Sitar has a beautiful facility with really state-of-the-art equiptment and instruments for kids who can’t afford them. Eighty percent of the kids come from families with lower incomes, and the tuition is sliding scale based on household income and number of people in the family, and we serve over 700 kids a year. I currently teach four piano students and a class of music theory. They do a lot to bring kids in who are susceptible to temptations as they enter their teenage years.

I love it here; the staff are dedicated and creative people. The world needs more places like it, and my own hope would be to be a part of starting something similar in another part of the city.

I think there’s also an intricate, and not very often explored, connection between peace making and the arts. I think a more concentrated effort at using music to teach peacemaking amongst young people is an essential part of seeing communities built up. The arts can be inspirational; who wants to live in an ugly place? We need to help our communities become places of beauty that people want to keep beautiful. This relates to a theology of place, something that I think Wendell Berry excells at, but also more recently, my old housemate and friend, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, is writing about in his new book The Wisdom of Stability, which I highly recommend.

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