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The (Good) Writing on the Wall

This time last year, I was temporarily living in Lisbon, Portugal where I based myself for two months of exploration, learning, work, and performing. The day my flight landed in Lisbon, I quickly dropped off my luggage and ignored the temptatious combination of jet-lag and a comfortable bed and set off on a bleary-eyed walk through the streets of Lisbon. A mere 10 minutes into my stroll I encountered this *literal* writing on the wall:

Have a mission, plan ahead, question everything, assume nothing, roll up your sleeves, study the past, take risks, dream higher, welcome change, have an amazing haircut, laugh, be curious, pay attention to details. make mistakes, think sideways, do things with passion, don’t forget to play, take it to the edge, breathe. Creativity takes courage.

This little compilation of inspiration took on new meaning for me this year at the onset of the pandemic. When we entered the first collective lockdown in mid-March, all these words seemed hollow. As concert after concert got cancelled, and long-planned opportunities disappeared in a flash, it was a challenge to not wallow in an endless cycle of disappointment and fear.

However, day by day, all of this advice started to make more sense. Even the haircut part. It’s as if this mysterious Portuguese wall of wisdom was meant exactly for our moment.

Over these past months I’ve been in awe of my incredible colleagues and our collective artist community, one of several fields hit hardest by the prohibition of in-person, social activities. Like many other creative professionals, artists have been forced to “question everything,” “assume nothing,” and live the often stressful, physical embodiment of “creativity takes courage.”

A quick visit online and it’s hard not to be blown away by the sheer magnitude of contributions from countless performers and organizations, from compelling DIY home iPhone concerts, to the army of performers performing bedside concerts for sick COVID patients, to high quality made-for-home concerts by major organizations such as the LA Phil and Cleveland Symphony.

Having said all this, there is still a long way to go, especially as we face yet more months of unpredictability and possible regional lockdowns. There is no replacement for live, in-person performance. The plethora of digital offerings can only take us so far, and many digital analysts could probably tell you better than I that average retention for streaming content is measured in seconds, not minutes.

Artists are more important than ever and the work we all do now has an impact, even if it’s just for one person, somewhere and somehow. As we continue being courageous in our creativity, my only hope is that congress and our other elected officials recognize this important work and help to properly fund the arts during this crisis, along with restaurants and other overlooked yet vitally important industries directly reliant on the safe gathering of people. For more on the urgent need for art, especially in the face of a health and safety emergency, read The Empathy Crisis.

So, while there is not yet a magical solution to make everything better, let this Portuguese wall be a guide for you just as it has been for me; Roll up your sleeves, take risks, and dream higher. Creativity takes courage.

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