Stand­ing and singing in the face of vi­o­lence

How our artists have an im­pact on so­cial is­sues — in Hamil­ton and be­yond

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Deirdre Pike is a free­lance colum­nist for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor. She sings with Sin­gin’ Women, a choir of women with mixed ex­pe­ri­ences of hous­ing and home­less­ness and look­ing for new mem­bers. Con­tact Deirdre at dpikeatthes­ or @deirdrepike if

In 2008, I took what I hope will go down in his­tory as the last air­plane flight of my life. Be­ing a bit of a chicken, I pre­fer a more grounded lifestyle and, sur­pris­ingly to many, find cy­cling around Hamil­ton a safer yet equally ad­ven­tur­ous al­ter­na­tive to trav­el­ling the world.

How­ever, the trip was his­toric for far more im­por­tant rea­sons than be­ing my fi­nal feat of fly­ing. Renée was pre­sent­ing her mas­ter’s the­sis, “So­cial Lo­ca­tion, Mo­bi­liza­tion and Glob­al­iza­tion: The Role of Art in Cre­at­ing So­cial Change in Hamil­ton, Ont.” I had no idea what she was talk­ing about.

We’d been to­gether just two years and I’d never re­ally known an artist, at least not any­one that iden­ti­fied as one like she did. It is central to her be­ing. Renée likes to say I’m an artist too be­cause I play gui­tar and sing and write sto­ries for you. It doesn’t feel the same. Those are gifts I’ve been given and I’m happy to share but they’re not first in the lineup of things I would say make up my iden­tity. For peo­ple who call them­selves artists, like Renée, it’s at the top of the list.

Now I was stand­ing in a room full of them in Lei­den, Hol­land. Lei­den is home to the Nether­lands’ old­est univer­sity (1575), the one from which the tulip was in­tro­duced to the world. It is also the birth­place of Renée’s grand­fa­ther.

Peo­ple were gath­ered from around the world to dis­cuss “In­clu­sive Mu­se­ums,” in­clud­ing three of Renée’s cousins who lived nearby. Who’d a thunk it? A full house lis­tened in­tently as Renée ex­plained how artists were hav­ing an im­pact on so­cial is­sues in Hamil­ton, Ont. As an out­sider to both the art and the aca­demic world, I was fas­ci­nated.

I used to think more shal­lowly about the pur­pose of art, see­ing it mostly to soothe, en­ter­tain or con­jure up re­li­gious sto­ries. Now, ev­ery­where I look I see how artists use their gifts to com­mu­ni­cate prophetic mes­sages of so­cial change around this mad, mad world.

A brief glance at my cal­en­dar re­minds me of my lat­est close en­coun­ters of the arts and so­cial change kind.

Alder­shot High School in­tro­duced me to the lo­cal Tot­ter­ing Biped Theatre on April 12 at the Hal­ton Dis­trict School Board’s Day of Dif­fer­ence. Trevor Copp and Jeff Cox have taken the tra­di­tion­ally gen­dered ac­tiv­ity of part­ner danc­ing, where the man leads and the woman fol­lows, and added the Liq­uid Lead, an equal­iz­ing move on the dance floor which they then use to nav­i­gate deeper con­ver­sa­tions around ho­mo­pho­bia and sex­ism. Their rhyth­mic and flow­ing TEDx talk is chang­ing hearts and minds.

The last week­end in April we at­tended the 26th an­nual Lon­don (Ont.) Les­bian Film Fes­ti­val, North Amer­ica’s long­est run­ning and Canada’s only fest of its kind. Part of the week­end’s mer­ry­mak­ing and so­cial chang­ing events in­cluded a con­cert head­lined by Alysha Brilla. Brilla uses her third album, Hu­man, to is­sue a clar­ion call for peace through many of its sin­gles, but No More Vi­o­lence en­tered solidly at No. 3 on the CBC Top 20 adult-alt mu­sic chart, and is ar­guably the most pop­u­lar au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion piece in her cur­rent queue.

On June 3, I’ll be en­gaged in two more art­for-so­cial-change events. Dur­ing the day, lo­cal artist Sylvia Nick­er­son is lead­ing the paint­ing of a funky Dr. Seuss-like weather sta­tion in the Beasley neigh­bour­hood to draw at­ten­tion to women’s home­less­ness in this city as part of the 100in­1­ events. An­other lo­cal re­sponse to the same is­sue is Sin­gin’ Women, a choir formed six months ago to en­gage the com­mu­nity in this and other so­cial jus­tice is­sues through song.

That same night I’ll be at the Lin­coln Alexan­der Cen­tre for a Queer Cabaret pre­sented as part of the Mat­apa World Mu­sic Se­ries. Guess who’s com­ing to town? Alysha Brilla is bring­ing her mes­sage through her mu­sic to the Ham­mer that night.

I like to start my day with a mu­sic list I’ve cre­ated called “Still and Still Mov­ing.” One of Brilla’s songs, Ahimsa, in­spires me from there. “This world is mad. This world is mad. This world is mad. But I still sing a song. Yes, I’m still singing a song.”

I am grate­ful for artists who are glo­ri­ously mad enough to stand in the face of vi­o­lence and sing a song.

Ev­ery­where I look I see how artists use their gifts to com­mu­ni­cate prophetic mes­sages of so­cial change around this mad, mad world.


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