Second-Responders to the arts
An assembly of poets, artists, performers, architects and others, along with various local arts organizations, which can respond rapidly and globally to arts and arts-community emergencies from large-scale natural or human-caused disasters, forced refugee migrations and such, to the persecution or imprisonment of individual artists. Second-Responders to the arts mission would be put artists from around the world on the scene and behind the scenes, working with databases, rescue websites, support equipment, funding support and in other ways to lend aid to restore the arts, artists and their essential work in communities which have suffered catastrophes or had their arts disrupted by untoward events.
Why are Second-Responders to the Arts so important?
Whether it is the persecution of artists who dared speak truth to power, or some disaster which has stricken a community and torn the infrastructure of its arts community asunder, the damage suffered when basic arts creation and performance is severely disrupted is an incalulable loss. The very survival of a community may depend on the quick recovery of its artists and arts capabilities. Certainly, the health, vitality and speed of that recovery will be impacted in adverse ways when the arts are simply left to fend for themselves in the aftermath.
Yet, rarely does the rapid rescue and re-assembly of a stricken community's arts and artists figure high
on the list of first or second response priorities. In natural or human-caused disasters, artists are not generally distinguished from others, and the restoration of their services are not considered "essential". 'First-Responder' principally refers to those who save lives, often heroically, and confront the physical aftermath of a catasrophe. The psychic and cultural aftermath of these events, for which the arts may serve as a principal means to health and recovery, are not very high on the radar of response, when they are considered at all. Often, when artists are unable to regroup and find their voice, the voice of the community itself gets lost in the turmoil. One of the mainstays of a healthy arts community has always been to encourage, develop and amplify the voices in the communities they serve.
When the event is of a more individual nature and poets, writers or other artists subjected to prison and mistreatment for the practice of their art, many worthy advocacy groups from Amnesty International to The Poetry Foundation may tirelessly engage to free these people. Yet the 'arts emergency' feature of the matter may be overlooked, and little done within the local community to insure the "missing voice" remains heard, world-wide as well as locally. Not only can artist Second-Responders help to press for the early release and just treatment for the victims of persecution, but can aid local artists in remaining hopeful and actively engaged on behalf of their victimized members, and give world-voice to them and their comrades.
Moving From 'Town Crier' to 'Second Responder'
Work as an artist, writer, poet, musician or other performer has historically been described as a relationship between the artist and their work, and between the work or performance and its audience. No less, the connection between a healthy arts community and a healthy society is well established. The arts, whether visual or spoken, danced or played have have always been at the leading edge of vitality and resiliancy for our local communities. In the 1950's Alan Ginsberg took the matter to its next stage when he described poets and other artists as "town criers", bringing word of serious issues that often remain undetected by the general public, but looming in the future. Art and poetry have always been an adjunct of change; frequently an initiator of public actions that would otherwise not have happened.
Second Responders to the arts proposes we take this fact to its next logical step: to position
artists and performers of all kinds as Second-responders to global emergencies that seriously impact
the arts and its practitioners.
We wish to develop methods and direct actions, along with collaborative art-response
(in poetry, writing, music, painting, dance and other genre), that can respond quickly to unfolding
emergencies anywhere on the planet and help to rescue and repair damage to our communities and ourselves
at the first signs of impending crises.
There are many kinds of arts emergencies in which Artists as First Responders might engage:
- Natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and the like, that disrupt the capacity
for art to function and serve its community;
- Human-made disasters such as war, famine, refugee migrations and the like;
- Artists who are threatened with imprisonment, censorship or undue pressures
from their governments or other groups that stifle the right of free expression;
- Propaganda and other assaults on the ability of artists to communicate;
- Marginalized and insulated poets & artists (prisoners, indigenous peoples,
refugees, etc.) who would not otherwise know about arts organizations such as '100 Thousand
Poets for Change', 'Arts Action Network' and similar global efforts
interested in their work and in making connections with them.
These are but a few of the kinds of emergencies to which Second-Responders to the arts might
usefully respond and mitigate the impacts of events that compromise our work and our communities.
How might artists respond to such disasters? Actions might include things like:
- Creating works related to emergency events and their aftermath; get and distribute local art productions
about what is happening; use our art to help build morale and provide direction for future recovery. In cases
of artists being persecuted or censored, we can put pressure through our art, with our petitions
and letters; support the victims and inform audiences with poetry, stories, paintings, performances and
other actions that can celebrate the work of the persecuted or express outrage about the circumstances, etc.;
- Let it be known that any tyrant or oppressive regime that attempts to silence the artists and writers within its keep only risks amplifying the voice and message of those it persecutes. To create global megaphones out of prisons; to set free the cries of those who cannot speak from their dark cells and hidden places.
- Helping local artists and performers in a disaster zone or nearby, to get back on
their feet as quickly as possible; to build morale and give voice to their communities;
- Set up poetry, art and other workshops for children and adults in stricken communities;
- To host benefits and other events to raise funds and resources for recovery,
both to the arts and artists, and for other victims in devestated communities;
- To support and participate in events by local artists, to help boost morale
and to inspire and appreciate the work of rescue teams and other first responders
engaged on the ground in the difficult work. To provide entertainment for victims
and rescuers alike.
Where are we now. What is Needed?
Second-Responders is in the formative stage. What we respond to, how we
respond, what actions we can take are all matters up for discussion and our imaginations.
There are already several poets we have identified which are in immediate danger of
imprisonment, torture or worse, and some of us have taken a special interest
in these cases. Other instances wait for additional artist second responders to sign up
and consider actions they might take, individually or collectively, and get involved. If nothing else, we need a one-stop place to keep current on all disaster response situations where action might be called for. At present, there is no single site for all the arts and all those at risk to be described and embraced in calls for action.
One special interest of mine has been how poets and other artists might respond to help with
with early repair of an arts community after large-scale natural and human-made disasters such as
the Japanese tsunami, or wars (too numerable to list), or mass dislocations of people.
These are events in which first-responders are primarily
concerned, as they need be, with saving lives, providing food and shelter and restoring
effected communities to habitable conditions. The disruption and devastation to the arts
generally receives a very low priority, when it is considered at all. Yet, the sudden separation
of communities from their capacity to express themselves through art may be one of the most serious
and long-term adverse consequences of such disasters. We have seen this, for example, in the bombings
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where it has taken more than fifty-years for the people
who suffered those events to find their voices and begin to relate what happened in
story, song, poem, dance and other genre through their most accomplished voices.
Save a few poets, such as Shiraz and Tamura, the silence has been a great impediment
to full recovery as well as global understanding of what these events meant to a culture
and a people - damage that still lingers, even a half-century later .
Imagine how quick organization and support of local musicians in New Orleans, even as
rescue was still underway and clean up only begun, might have accelerated the recovery
of that city after Katrina. Consider how, for instance, the band on the Titanic, though
they didn't survive - was instrumental in saving lives and maintaining calm. Or, how
quick aid and reestablishing arts communities after the Fukishima tsunami, or the Hati
earthquake might have helped save lives as well as laid a foundation for the
future recovery, hope and vitality of those communities.
What might artists as second-responders actually do in an emergency?
How second-response from the global arts and poetry community might intervene and assist is entirely
new ground which needs to be explored. It is hoped that Second-Responders to the arts can begin
to discover these role potentials among ourselves, take actions and perhaps set examples for others
to follow. Though we may not be crawling through the rubble and putting our
lives at risk in our forms of 'second-response', our rapid action may make an
important, even critical contribution to a stricken community's ability
It is entirely speculative at this point about what arts second-response teams might find
useful as an aid in arts recovery. One thing we can do is to build contact databases of local arts
groups and artists throughout the world that can at be on hand in case of an emergency. We can
use those to contact known groups and individuals to see if they are safe, what the situation is
on the ground, what kind of support they might need for themselves and to get their organizations up and
going as quickly as possible. We can help distribute work related to a disaster or
other events to others in their community and globaly to keep the world informed.
We might organize to send art supplies, laptops, whatever is need to get the arts back on its feet at quickly as possible. We might solicit notable artists from around the globe to go and participate in their events to bring attention to the needs of the people, to console and boost morale and give hope and express solidarity. We may simply let the communities and people effected by a disaster know that they are not alone.
One thing remains, and it may be the most useful of all the things that second-responders might do:
Often overlooked in the press of recovery efforts, invisible to those striken by a disaster, is the damage to the capacity to dream. In a disaster, this may be one of the worst caualties of all. Second-responders to the arts bring with them natural skill sets of imagination and the art of dreaming. Not only can this be conveyed to the victims of a disaster, but it is something that can be transferred to them to use as they see fit.
of workshops, internships and hands-on training and in a hundred other informal ways art, creativity and imagination can be passed on, from performer to audience, from teacher to student and from person to person. The capicity to dream not only brings with it new energy and and resilience in the face of adversity, but it may also prompt a community to rethink and re-envision what they may want their lives to be like in the future.
Some communities may want to recreate what they had in the past. That is good, too. It is equally possible that some will dream about a future very different from the one they had before. They might consider a carbon-neutral community surrounded by cooperative farms, where before they were only the usual assortment of shops boardered by subdivisions. Others might wish to develop a solid platform for its own local enterprise and sustainable industry rather than depending on attracting outside investement as they had always done.
It doesn't really matter what form a community's vision might take. Only that it has the capacity to consider options that may have never been considered or have been completely unavailable before. One of the horrors of a disaster is that everything has been destroyed. It is also true that one of the advantages may be that the people who have suffered it now have a clean pallet to work with in rebuilding. They have the opportunity to realize possibilities for themselves and their children that simply weren't there in the past.
Those options become possible only when a community recovers its ability to dream. Second-responders to the arts are in a good position to help that process along, perhaps more than any other profession or response.
In addition, a community that is awake again and dreaming about its future may be able to stave off the exploiters of shock doctrine that invariable show up to redesign stricken communities in ways that mainly profit themselves, sometimes at the expense of the former residents.
Long-term a solid second responder organization might help a stricken area plan, develop and fund its own permanent art and performance centers where the people of the community can go
foster their own skills to rebuilt and sustain their new community. A place where they can invest in their own future and that of their children.
Again, all of this is speculative. But, with artists, imagination is a fundamental part of their job.
It is not hard to imagine putting those skills to work in an organized way to help others.
What Needs To Be Done Now?
Our first and greatest task, now, is to form a large enough group to take on
this job of midwiving the idea of artists and performers as second-response teams
to aid the recovery of the arts in places where it is damaged or threatened. If you
are here, reading this, then we hope you will seriously think about becoming involved,
if only to lend your ideas and imagination to the creation of a powerful instrument for
positive and progressive change. There are many directions and instances crying for help.
What we need to do is get busy and see how we might answer that call. Speak to your friends
and arts organizations that you work with. Ask them how they might like to be involved,
and ecourage them to join us in actively responding when and where the arts capacity of
our communities is compromised or endangered.
Please, hit the
email button above and let us know that you wish to be onboard. There
is no obligation on your part to do any particular thing or take any specific
action. What you do, if anything, is entirely up to you. But, without your
participation, Second-Responders to the arts, simply will not happen.
steward and temporary facilitator.
Second-Responders to the arts