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Letter: Can art unite us? Communities should make that commitment
10132018 CHICAGO ART
A girl writes on a chalkboard outside the Art on Sedgwick storefront studio Oct. 18, 2015, in Chicago. The chalkboard was installed to get people interacting on a street where few people stop to chat. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)

The Associated Press article by Melissa Irvine in the Sept. 30 edition, “Can art unite a deeply divided neighborhood,” was particularly inspiring to me. Art, music, movement, words — these are all such powerful sources of connection and healing, both personally and collectively. Taking these creative forces into neighborhoods, communities or schools can provide opportunities for individuals to safely express themselves and to build and strengthen relationships with people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences. 

Too often these creative modalities are inaccessible to individuals in the community. Participating in a “professional” art class, taking music lessons, going to a yoga or dance studio, these can all involve significant costs, time, reliable transportation, child care, etc. There is also a misconception, demonstrated even in this article, that one is not an artist (and thus cannot create) unless they are an artist. These barriers prevent individuals from accessing some of the most powerful tools available to them, to everyone, for healing and connecting. 

Locally, more agencies and schools are incorporating creative arts into their spaces. Community art centers are offering scholarships for individuals who can’t afford classes. Many individuals with specialized training in art, yoga or dance are volunteering their expertise with free classes for groups on a regular basis. However, many of these opportunities are aimed solely at youth. 

While engaging youth in these activities is immensely important and can fuel a lifelong practice of incorporating creativity into their lives, I would love to see more opportunities for intergenerational conversations and creations to emerge. A community that embraces arts for all, with safe spaces for expression, conversations and connections across multilayered divides. This is the type of community and space that really could “unite a deeply divided neighborhood,” community and world.

Erica Autry


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