Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise Song for the Day ...and for the Nation

Elated, having just watched our new President's inaugural address, and with the Bush administration a quickly-fading memory, I write this entry, in part, to extend best wishes to a man who brings new hope for the country as a whole....and expecialy to all of us who are artists and lovers of the arts.

The new President took the oath of office today with the first-ever presidential arts platform that was drafted during the campaign. While it lists eight strategies, including increased funds for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the three top priorities are:

•Expanding public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations

•Creating an Artists Corps

•Publicly championing the importance of arts education


"The mere existence of a cultural policy platform is an amazing thing, a good thing," says Richard Kessler, executive director of The Center for Arts Education of New York City. "Nothing like it existed before in the history of our country."


Barak Obama's commitment to the arts comes partially from his own experience. He recently said, "When I was a kid, you always had an art teacher and a music teacher. Even in the poorest school districts, everyone had access to music and other arts." While this preceded research on such well-known modern concepts as the "Mozart effect" – which details how the study of music enhances mental performance – a certain common sense reigned. "People understood that even though they hadn't done all the scientific research," He added, "children who learn music actually do better in math and kids whose imaginations are sparked by the arts are more engaged in school."

Food for thought. (This President will keep us well-nourished, I'm sure...)


As soon as I checked my email after the ceremony this morning, I found that this photograph of me signing the amazing Arlene Elizabeth's beautiful origami mosaic likeness of Barak Obama is being used in an online article about Elizabeth Alexander, the poet who read that beautiful piece at the end of the ceremony:
Art by Arlene Elizabeth; photo credit: Dr. John E. Freed


Please click here to watch Ms. Alexander recite her poem, "Praise Song for the Day"

PRAISE SONG FOR THE DAY

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

–Elizabeth Alexander



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Stacy Alexander