The Powers of Art in Times of Uncertainty
With millions of people either in lockdown or on the front lines battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and continuous socio-economic and political crises in Southwestern Asia and North Africa, we all need a reminder that art can build bridges across differences, and relays messages of resistance, resilience and hope.
Audrey Azoulay, head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stated the following on the first celebration of World Art Day in April 2020: “Bringing people together, inspiring, soothing and sharing: these are the powers of art”. And these powers are needed today more than ever, whether to face divisions, or address self-isolation, precariousness, loss, traumas and vulnerability.
However, keeping the arts alive and kicking requires a multiform support of artists, arts organizations and creative enterprises, both emerging and established, marginalized and visible; it also requires listening to the diversity of artistic talents and promoting the democratization of art or access to art for all.
In that sense, Dar al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture has launched NABAD, an innovative program that encompasses art intervention, outreach, empowerment and art content production in Southwestern Asia and North Africa.
This program emerged in response to the August 4 port explosions in Beirut, and strives to become a beacon of support for artists and creative enterprises in the region, with a focus on marginalized arts and culture communities — youth, women, minorities, vulnerable groups, etc.
The Beirut explosions left more than 200 dead, over 7,000 injured, 300 000 homeless, and they wrecked an already fragile art and cultural scene. Indeed, major art galleries and museums were either partly damaged or completely destroyed, along with countless smaller art venues and enterprises which play an important role in supporting their local communities: from providing a hometown feel for localities and personal customer service, to sparking healthy competition with larger competitors and encouraging innovation and creativity by adding unique spins on the artworks and activities they offer.
NABAD is a heartbeat embedded with the larger beating heart of local and regional arts and culture life, a vital impulse of hope amid war, destruction and instability, and a driving pulsation towards social and community transformation. In other words, it is a call to participate in a strong impetus for a culture of peace and social inclusion by tapping into creativity, as art brings us closer together and helps us live with one another.
It is also a call to pay tribute to and support artists who are engaged in transforming their communities and strengthening the links between artistic creation and society although they have to face multiple challenges during these unprecedented times.
Engaging with art and harnessing its powers are urgently needed, as many feel untouched by the problems of others, or are overwhelmed, disconnected, not empowered … And this is where art can make a difference, as Olafur Eliasson states: “art can mitigate the numbing effect created by the glut of information we are faced with today, motivate people to turn thinking into doing (…), encourage us to cherish intuition and uncertainty, and help us create points of contact that take us beyond an us-and-them mentality to a broader idea of what constitutes WE”.
By Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Director of SPNC Learning & Communication Expertise, University Professor, & Visual Artist.
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