Art more vi­tal than ever

The cast of the Broad­way mu­si­cal “Hamil­ton” made news this past week­end af­ter cast mem­ber Bran­don Vic­tor Dixon read a pre­pared speech ex­press­ing his con­cern over the in­com­ing Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion fol­low­ing a per­for­mance at­tended by Vice Pres­i­dent-ele

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

“We, sir, we are the di­verse Amer­ica who are alarmed and anx­ious that your new ad­min­is­tra­tion will not pro­tect us, our planet, our chil­dren, our par­ents, or de­fend us and up­hold our in­alien­able rights,” said Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, the na­tion’s third vice pres­i­dent, as his fel­low ac­tors joined hands. “We truly hope that this show has in­spired you to up­hold our Amer­i­can val­ues and to work on be­half of all of us.”

The next day, Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump tweeted that the cast “ha­rassed” Pence and should apol­o­gize. He said the theater should be a safe place and such a thing should not hap­pen.

Such a thing as free speech should not hap­pen? In a democ­racy?

The Associated Press re­ported Pence said in an in­ter­view that “Hamil­ton” was an “in­cred­i­ble pro­duc­tion” in­volv­ing a very tal­ented cast. Pence said he heard boos and cheers when he walked into the Richard Rodgers The­atre with his nephew and daugh­ter on Fri­day night to see the show. He said he told his daugh­ter: “That’s what free­dom sounds like.”

In­stead of tak­ing the cast’s right to free speech per­son­ally, Pence sup­ported the tenets of democ­racy by ac­knowl­edg­ing their right to speak out, even if they were in dis­agree­ment with him and the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. Asked whether it was the right time and place for such a speech, the AP re­ported, Pence de­clined to give an opin­ion and said he would let oth­ers de­cide for them­selves.

While we don’t agree with many of Pence’s po­lit­i­cal view­points, we be­lieve in and sup­port his mes­sage on free speech. We think that’s just the right stance for a high­level gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial to take when com­ing face-to-face with the free and art­ful ex­pres­sion of the ci­ti­zens he is to lead.

In a re­cent es­say, nov­el­ist Toni Mor­ri­son ad­dressed the im­por­tance of arts dur­ing tur­bu­lent po­lit­i­cal times. Mor­ri­son has been hon­ored with the No­bel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture and the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, among other dis­tin­guished awards. She is also an ed­i­tor and pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Prince­ton Univer­sity.

The es­say, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” pub­lished in the 150th an­niver­sary is­sue of “The Na­tion,” ex­plores the theme of the artist’s strug­gle il­lu­mi­nat­ing the wider hu­man strug­gle. It as­serts that in tur­bu­lent times, the artist must not give up. In fact, dur­ing such times, the artist must per­se­vere.

Mor­ri­son tells of a time, in 2004, when she felt help­less and afraid. She couldn’t work. But a friend re­minded her that it was pre­cisely then she needed to sound her voice. Af­ter con­sid­er­ing this ad­vice, Mor­ri­son came to a re­al­iza­tion.

“I felt fool­ish ... es­pe­cially when I re­called the artists who had done their work in gu­lags, prison cells, hospi­tal beds; who did their work while hounded, ex­iled, re­viled, pil­lo­ried. And those who were ex­e­cuted.”

The tools of po­lit­i­cal op­pres­sion, as Mor­ri­son calls them — “oth­er­ing,” lim­it­ing art, schol­ar­ship and jour­nal­ism and dis­tract­ing with toys, dreams of loot, and themes of su­pe­rior re­li­gion — are real and cur­rently be­ing wielded in dan­ger­ous ways.

Art coun­ters po­lit­i­cal op­pres­sion. And it must not be si­lenced.

While we don’t agree with many of Pence’s po­lit­i­cal view­points, we be­lieve in and sup­port his mes­sage on free speech.

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