Arts Prove Their Worth During Pandemic and Amplifying Racial Equality

The Straz is back and we really couldn’t have picked a better month for our return.

Live performances return to the stages of the Straz in October. Coincidentally, October is National Arts & Humanities Month (NAHM) — an annual celebration that shines a spotlight on culture in America.

Arts, humanities, culture – it’s what we do here.

From Broadway extravaganzas to intimate theatrical productions, from the heightened emotionalism of opera to the subtle shadings of a solo acoustic performance – the Straz’s offerings run the gamut of human expression.

You’ll see performances that comfort you, and performances that challenge you; art that shows how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

Photo: Rob/Harris Production, Inc.

Culture can be found all around the Straz, not only on its stages. The lobby of Carol Morsani Hall serves as a gallery for exhibits of local artists’ works. New works by contemporary sculptors stretch from the lobby to the mezzanine.

There’s also The Cube, painted by local artist Eric “esh” Hornsby, which displays graffiti art which changes regularly.

The Cube is in a new location with new art for the Straz is Back Block Party on Oct. 16. The other panels will be painted live during the party.

On its website, Americans for the Arts, the group behind NAHM, credits the arts and humanities with playing “a critically important role in getting us through the COVID-19 pandemic and in amplifying the need for racial equity across the country.”

The Straz is committed to the health of its patrons, performers, artists and audience. Proof of vaccination or of a negative Covid test are required to attend any indoor, ticketed event at the Straz. Beyond pandemic precautions, the Straz is committed to the benefits of the arts as a path for personal and communal health, wellness and life enrichment.

The Straz also has declared its commitment to advancing racial equality. From its website:

“We promise to do more to support the lives, art, stories and culture of those who are Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color. And we promise to hold our institution accountable.

“Listening. Learning. Sharing. Taking action. Advancing ideas and solutions to accelerate social justice demands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

Our Voices of the Community virtual town halls provide a safe space for sharing stories and experiences, and highlighting topics or pieces of art created by or about Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color (BIPOC) or groups.

Alice Santana has been on the frontline of The Straz’s response to both the pandemic and the struggle for racial equality that intensified following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020.

Santana, then Interim Director of Education and Community Engagement, already was working long hours to “stabilize” the Patel Conservatory, innovating formats that allowed students to continue their creative pursuits safely.

The impact of Floyd’s death “really was a gut punch to a staff that was already struggling, trying to survive the pandemic.’”

Santana and Community Engagement Specialist & Artist in Residence Fred Johnson led a listening session for the staff of The Straz. Santana and others thought it was important to issue a statement to declare The Straz’s commitment to racial equality and the battle against racism. Santana credits Straz President and CEO Judith Lisi for her unequivocable leadership and support regarding the statement and The Straz’s continuing efforts to combat racism and to bring more diversity to the programming.

The Straz already was presenting the Arts Legacy Remix program, which highlights different cultures and music genres.

Our next free Arts Legacy REMIX event takes place on the Riverwalk Stage on Oct. 15.

“We work with local organizations and artists who help us curate and make each one of these events unique,” Santana said.

Santana, now the Vice President of Education and Community Engagement, knows the efforts to achieve equality will be ongoing. Her outlook, though, remains positive.

“This is a time for listening and getting to know each other, and not being afraid of our differences,” Santana said.

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