Quarantines can’t stop the creative spirit

May 01 2020

Quarantines can’t stop the creative spirit

“Human beings are bound together across oceans through the spirit of creativity.”
–Tony Ciaravino

Perhaps one silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud has been the profusion of performance art shared online. Although we cannot attend concerts or plays in person, we can enjoy music and theater from all over the world in our homes. In fact, with the number of companies providing access free of charge, we may be able to see and hear more artists than ever before. This raises a few questions. In these difficult times, why do artists need to create and why do audiences demand art? In addition, what lessons can our Keystone students learn from art and artists during this time?

A scene from a spring production of “Through the Looking Glass.”

To understand the answers to these questions, I asked Keystone performing arts teachers Tony Ciaravino, Gabe Gonzales, and Gypsy Pantoja for their thoughts on the role of the arts and artists today. Music teacher Mr. Gonzales explained that it may not be that artists are necessarily creating more art as much as they are sharing it in a different way. “As a performer this pandemic is creating alternative ways of thinking, whether it be through performance or life. It may seem that there are a wide variety of performances being created, but really the performers have adopted and adapted different platforms for their art, online and through other means. These reinventions may seem new but it really shows their resiliency in who they are as a creator of art.” Artists can teach our children a set of skills, an adaptable mindset, the ineffable beauty of art, and the resilience necessary to survive and flourish in a world characterized by unpredictability. This is crucial when young people feel a loss of control and agency due to circumstances beyond their control.

Theater teacher Ms. Pantoja, or Ms. G. as the students call her, describes the restorative role that artists play in society. “Artists, at least, the ones I know, are always trying to unite and use their art to bring people together whether to be uplifted, to reflect, or even to mobilize a movement.” By witnessing the creativity of performing artists, our children can find solidarity

Attending a performance in person or via Zoom also allows young people to connect with another person through the language of art, and discover a new way to see the world. As Mr. Gonzales pointed out, “Collaboration — even if an audience member is watching or viewing the connection — is validating that the art exists not only for one but for all. Creation of art is personal and the artist sharing this gift brings us closer together with themselves as to why they enjoy creating said art.”

Ultimately, artists enable us to see our common humanity with others when we feel isolated from one another. While this may be true all the time, it is all the more relevant when we are physically-distancing from one another and homebound. As Mr. Ciaravino, or Mr. C, says, “Times like these only serve to fuel the creative spark in all of us. Artists are here to put life in perspective, to help us process grief, to allow for the celebration of our shared humanity”

Beyond the individual artist, I wondered, what role does art itself play in times like these. While appreciating the arts as much as anyone, I decided to ask someone much more knowledgeable than me, the highly respected Director of the McNay Art Museum and friend Richard Aste, what role the arts play during a pandemic. He said, “The arts are vital to the health and happiness of our community. Connecting with beauty through a single work of art (visual or performing) is connecting with education, entertainment, and empathy. Beauty brings meaning to San Antonians—every San Antonian—and we all deserve more beauty in our lives, now more than ever.”

As we watch musicians play, choruses sing, and actors perform, we are doing more than soothing our souls and consoling ourselves, although these are extremely important. We are engaging in an act of defiance against an unseen and deadly virus that threatens our physical, economic, and spiritual well-being. The arts enlighten, inspire, and awaken us, and in the process they give us hope in the eternal and unquenchable human spirit. What more could we ask for as we open our computers and tune into a play or a concert?

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