November 9th 2016

Michelle Preston's picture

The daily commute to the SITI office this morning was greyer than usual and it wasn’t just the overcast sky or that New Yorkers have donned their seasonal black and grey ensembles.  No it was so much more than that. The city was tinged with sleeplessness, disappointment, grief, fear, disbelief, and for some ambivalence.  There are those who didn’t dare to hope because they’ve seen enough of the world to expect disappointment, but I wasn’t one of them.  I know I wasn’t alone in that. 

I am at my core a planner, an action orientated person who searches for solutions.  This is one reason why I work in arts administration; to help order creative chaos in a way that allows it to flourish. So as I sit at my desk this morning the questions that run through my mind are: what can we do now?  How can we be better advocates for the issues we find important?  How can we as a field amplify the voices and the stories that simply cannot go unheard over the next four years? Can theater and the performing arts help to heal the cavernous divide in this country and illuminate common ground?   I’m not the only one asking these questions and I certainly do not have all the answers.  But there are a few things that I feel strongly about at the moment.

I firmly believe that our individual differences make us, as a nation, stronger but only if we embrace and celebrate those differences. And the potential for us to let those differences tear us apart…to continue to tear us apart…is significant and looms near in this moment.  But we as a field are uniquely positioned to bring the stories of our human differences to the forefront so that we can eliminate the fear and hatred around them.  As a community of artists we will share OUR stories, which represent the full spectrum of the American experience.  It is one way in which I would like to strive to achieve what Secretary Clinton sees us as: “a nation that is hopeful, inclusive and big hearted.”

I think now more than ever, the arts are a powerful mechanism for international cultural exchange and that work must continue.  US artists will be incredibly powerful ambassadors abroad as we navigate this transition presenting work that may be in stark contrast to what our foreign policy may become.  And US presenting institutions have an incredibly important role in making sure that our citizens have access to international artists so that we don’t fall into cultural isolationism. The road to make this exchange happen may be difficult, but it is important nonetheless.

I also know that many people are angry today and the list of who and why is long and is different for each of us.  I firmly believe that anger is a necessary part of the grieving process and is a powerful motivator to action.  As Secretary Clinton said in her concession speech today,  “never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” So as we process this as artists, as members of one party or another, as a nation, as humans – I urge us all to let ourselves feel what we feel now in an honest way. To practice self care and when we are able, to look after our friends, neighbors, officemates, and loved ones.

Our national theater community has a powerful voice and I have incredible faith that we will use it to disrupt the racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, and toxic rhetoric that has been running rampant through our national conversation.  I eagerly await the creative response to the last 18 months and I’m so proud that I’m here to play my part in it.