Being a theatre major is a dream come true for me. I’m lucky enough to be spending my college years studying what I love so I can go out into the world and do what I love for the rest of my life. But while I feel like I have found my calling, I’m not immune to the quintessential college existential crises about my major and career path. When I see all the pain that the world endures, I can’t help but think that my arts-based majors are useless. If I feel so passionate about changing the world, should I perhaps change my major?
I know I’m not the only person in the arts who grapples with this. How can we justify our commitment and love of the arts when there are other careers that would more directly enable us to aid a broken world that so desperately needs fixing? Enter: arts activism column.
As an artist, I want to create art that I think will help make the world a better place. As a journalist, I want to promote those ideals for others and open discussions on how to do that. I’m a confused — and very privileged — college student who, by no means, has all or any of the answers to these questions. There are many other people in and out of The Daily who are doing this work, and by no means do I want to be a part of erasing their voices — I want to uplift those voices.
There are BIPOC arts-based activists at Michigan who are doing the work I want to write about, and I hope to give them a platform to share their work and experiences. There are BIPOC writers on The Daily, and I will learn from their writing and follow their lead. This column is simply a way for me to do what I can to help and to help bring the arts into conversation with activism. If we all assume we don’t know anything, that we aren’t the right person to talk about it, that someone else will, nothing will ever change.
While theatre may not seem as impactful as environmental justice work or civil rights law or political lobbying, it can still change the world in a different way. Literature, the media, television and the arts are as much a creation of the society we live in as they are methods of creating it. What we see on these platforms influences how we see ourselves, others and the world around us. It gives us a guide book for not only how to act but what we consider possible.
If all we see from our favorite shows and movies are hegemonic, heteronormative narratives — white boy meets white girl — then that’s all we’re going to expect from society and those around us. Writers and creators have so much power in shaping public perception of large issues, and that creative power can enact significant change if used responsibly.
So what happens when that guidebook — the one that delineates where arts border up against activism but are unable to break boundaries — is torn up? When movies have BIPOC protagonists, when musicals uplift LGBTQIA+ narratives, when the media includes equitable coverage?
In this new wave of arts activism, I’ve watched (virtual) performances that uplift BIPOC voices and narratives. Both by normalizing the underrepresented communities and de-normalizing the overrepresented, the arts can change the world.
My goal with this column is to discuss changes that can be made in the arts to create a more positive society, to explore where artistic endeavors have fallen short, to uplift the voices of those already creating change.
There are so many arts organizations on and off-campus that are using their platforms for social change: an environmental activism piece from last year titled “And We Look On,” Jose Casas’s “Flint” from two years ago, the Zoom “Freedom Fundraiser” from this summer, just to name a few.
Through interviews, in-depth research and coverage of impactful organizations, I want to be a part of the movement to make arts more equitable and, in turn, explore how arts can make the world more equitable.
Daily Arts Columnist Dana Pierangeli can be reached at email@example.com.