“Decide Not to Surrender. That is Strength.”

By on 4 September, 2018 in Art, Sarah Thornton with 1 Comment

“There are four things in life that will change you: love, music, art, and loss. The first three will keep you wild and full of passion. May you allow the last to make you brave.” -Erin Van Vuren

Friends, this has been a rough month. Sure, it has been a bit more humid and hot (thank you, August in Alabama), but we are used to that. On the larger scale, our country faces the constantly moving “feed” of the nation’s news cycles: trials, looming elections, more mass shootings, and the loss of several impactful politicians, playwrights, artists, and advocates. In Montgomery, our artistic community has suffered a lot of loss in the last few weeks. We’ve lost talented friends and artists who have dedicated their lives to creating and sharing their gifts. We’ve lost the campus of a beloved arts high school. And the hits just keep on coming.

In my younger days, I was in a hauntingly depraved and powerful dark comedy by Doug Wright called Quills. (The New York Times called the play “raffish”, and I can’t think of a better word for it.) The story is about the Marquis de Sade, a sadomasochistic writer who is being kept in an insane asylum. The Marquis’ wife implores the leaders of the asylum to stop her husband’s stories from leaking out to the public, as the nature of his stories is tarnishing her reputation. In spite of the asylum administration’s efforts to keep him from writing, the Marquis finds more new ways to smuggle his work out of the walls of his confinement. When they take away his pen and paper, he uses wine and bedsheets. When they take away his wine and bedsheets, he uses his own blood. He whispers lines to the inmates around him and they pass his stories down the rows of cells and out the windows like a game of “Telephone.” While full of sex and insanity, murder and gore, the deeper meaning of the story is paramount: censorship and suppression cannot stop art, because “in conditions of adversity, the artist thrives.”

While the recent losses in our artistic community aren’t the result of censorship, that message has been on my mind a lot. Artists have had to face a lot of uphill battles, loss, and misfortune for centuries, and yet we keep creating. We keep fighting to paint, to sing, to dance, to act, to play our instruments, to write, to photograph, to film, to design because we must. Art comes from a deeper, almost primal, place, and what it gives to society is the soul, the heartbeat, that makes life bearable and meaningful. The recent loss of some of our fellow artists is heartbreaking indeed, but I am reminded that they leave behind legacies of their creative spirits. I’ve heard so many stories recently about Bill’s performances in theaters and teachings in classrooms, about Ziggy’s songs and mentorship. Their lives and their work touched people and left a lasting mark on the fabric of the artistic story in our community. That allows them to live on.

On August 18, Booker T. Washington Magnet High School lost two buildings on their campus. The first was lost in a three-alarm fire that claimed the entire building and everything inside of it: the library, the photography studios, the visual art, broadcast media, and computer and technology programs, the counseling office, and the cafeteria. The second building was lost due to flooding and smoke from the fire next door, and in addition to several classrooms, also contained the school’s theater and theater programs. Thankfully, no one was on the campus at the time of the fire. But the loss of all of the equipment and history, as well as a lot of the students’ work and art spanning back over years, is devastating. As a proud alumna from the class of 2002, my heart aches for the current students and faculty. My mind flies back to the impact that the school had on me and so many other students who were encouraged to grow in their study of art since it became Carver Creative and Performing Arts Center in the early 80’s and eventually BTW Magnet in the mid-90’s. The school means a lot to many people. The loss is great, but the outpouring of love and support from the community and alumni all over the country has been truly inspiring. I look forward to seeing the beautiful art that is created out of this adversity.

If you want to help BTW get back on its feet, school supplies can be sent to the Alabama PTA: 470 S. Union Street, Montgomery, AL 36104. For a list of supplies needed and other ways to help, visit the FAME website at https://www.btwfameboard.org/fire-aug-18-2018. Donation checks can be sent to: FAME, Inc., P.O. Box 2426, Montgomery, AL 36102 or made online on the FAME website.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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  1. Sandra Nickel says:

    Sarah, thank you for putting into words what so many of us are feeling. And thank God for art and artists and all they mean in our world.

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