February 7, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

African-Americans have always had a strong connection to the arts. When our ancestors were enslaved, laws prevented them from very much of anything, but nothing prevented them from expressing themselves through song. Essentially, music became a lifeline and a way to escape the brutality of daily life. From there, music became one of the focal points of black social and cultural practices, and it is still one of the ways in which we affirm our black identity. For this reason, the tradition of black art is one that is worthy of our support.

The economic crisis has been felt by all, including black arts organizations that rely on government funding. Last year, Congress voted to cut a quarter of the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. For arts organizations in communities like Milwaukee, that means tightening the purse strings even more; but we must continue to nurture the artist in our children by giving them a way to express themselves. Simply put, we must maintain our community’s black arts organizations.

Our artistic legacy is one of the things that links black youth to the past. Organizations that promote blacks in the arts enable African-American children to experience an important part of their culture. They also stimulate creativity and impose discipline, which will help their academic performance. It is also an emotional outlet; when hard times come, artistic expression can bring sanity and clarity.

One of my favorite poems is “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes. I have always found the following lines particularly poignant: “Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool, He played that sad raggedy tune like a musical fool. Sweet Blues! Coming from a black man’s soul.” A clear expression of black sorrow and the struggles in the face of oppression and discrimination, the poem is a wonderful example of the black arts tradition. Arts are, for us, is an essential part of who we are as African-Americans. It is precarious to ignore its value and importance. Without the help of state or federal funding, arts organizations will rely on the communities they serve to help them stay afloat. Our culture has one of the oldest storytelling traditions in the world. It is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to cultivate artists who will tell our stories.