Though COVID-19 tests our resilience, art and culture will keep us strong

The arts are taking it on the chin right now. As a recent headline in Andres Viglucci’s recent story “Miami’s arts and culture were flourishing. Now, of course, they’re being battered by the coronavirus” declared. Dennis Scholl, head of Oolite Arts, eloquently followed up in an April 12 oped, “Art will get us through this pandemic. Support the Miami artists who create it” with a call to come to the aid of local artists.

In that spirit, I write to say, Miami’s arts and culture will be resilient. Through this challenging moment, art is the one thing that we all will need to make sense of our time sheltering-in-place, “togetheralone” and working from home.

Books, films, music, videos of dancers, actors and performers, and live DJ sets on a variety of social media all are acts of creativity that bind us together and will get us through these traumatic times. I have never seen an event like this in my life, but as a person of color and descendant of American slaves, I have seen more than challenge. Like so many of our immigrant neighbors from Latin America and the Caribbean, I believe in the strength of humanity and the will of people to live free, as proud Americans with the ability to choose our leaders and worship our gods as we see fit.

We are Miamians. This place is potentially America’s crown jewel when it comes to diversity. Our ability to rebound together will continue to show the world what our great spirit is capable of in the face of adversity. And most of us know adversity, have seen or heard of generational trauma within our families or are dealing with it in the present. We obviously know something about natural disasters. We are strong. And, none are stronger than our first responders in healthcare and police and fire departments, in addition to the people working our grocery stores and pharmacies.

Art is a catalyst for sharing ideas that might make for difficult conversations. To continue doing that humanist work, we need your support. Consider supporting a Miami arts organization as you enjoy the arts as we shelter in place and beyond.

Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation President and a poet, and Miami’s own Sarah Arison, president of the Arison Arts Foundation wrote in a recent op-ed that, “In dark times, artists do more than provide light; they create it and sustain it. They help us see and understand what makes us human in the face of fear and uncertainty. They give us the words and songs and dances and images with which to mourn and exalt.”

If we don’t act now, art may not be there for us when we emerge again into the real world. At the hundreds of nonprofit institutions that have fueled the growth of Miami’s vibrant multicultural scene, from the Adrienne Arsht Center to New World School of the Arts, we are facing unprecedented financial hardship. Without support, many of us will not survive this crisis.

The return to a world without art would be devastating, not only to the thousands who would find themselves without a job, but also for artists, filmmakers, writers, actors and performers left without venues for their work. It goes beyond the loss of millions of dollars that these organizations pour into our economy. What about the inspiration they provide to an envision a better world? Think about our pride and joy, Miami’s lauded Design and Architecture Senior High.

Local arts organizations are hubs for education and learning for people of all ages, public spaces where we all can gather, wherever we come from, whatever our means.

And now they need our help.

The Pérez Art Museum Miami’s education department not only is known for its program of arts-based learning, the biggest, next to Miami-Dade County Public Schools, but also for its relationships with social organizations such as the Overtown Youth Center, Guitars Over Guns and the Miami-Dade County Police via our unique partnership Art Detectives, produced by The Links. Inc., and Breakthrough Miami. These partnerships give a sense of how encompassing the term “arts” really is. It literally touches everything.

The window of my office at PAMM looks out over Biscayne Bay. You see PortMiami, Government Cut and, in the distance, the hotels of South Beach. It’s a beautiful view, but more than that, it’s a reminder of the people who have come to Miami — on vacation, for political reasons, to retire. Those who came for a visit, liked what they saw and stuck around. It’s been my experience, having been lucky enough to direct a museum with more than 250,000 annual visitors, that once someone finds themselves in Miami, it’s not long before they find themselves in a museum, or a concert hall, or at a book reading.

Many people are facing financial crises now, but I urge those who are not to consider extending their support to our arts institutions. When this is over, we will all be better for it. We are preparing for that future now. Working with you, patrons, foundations and governmental entities, we will be back up and running, different but continuing to do what we do best — sharing the power of art and its unique ability to connect us all in times of momentous change.

Franklin Sirmans is director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

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