On June 10, Concord Academy celebrated its creative legacy at “Creating Connection: Transforming Models of Art and Cultural Expression to Build Understanding” as part of the Centennial Celebration Speaker Series. Amy Spencer P’13, former co-director of the CA dance program and Centennial Campaign Arts Liaison, moderated a diverse panel of cultural change-makers as they discussed how the arts today are driving social change.
Emily Harney ’94 is a strategic leader in the nonprofit arts sector. Julian Joslin ’05 is a film writer, director, and editor. Zack Winokur ’07 is the co-founder and artistic director of the American Modern Opera Company and a professor at Harvard University.
The panelists shared a deep passion for interdisciplinary practice. “All of us are a testament to the fact that artists are not separate from the rest of society,” Harney said. “You can find your collaborators anywhere. In research scientists, construction workers, in doctors. There are so many places where art can be a strategy or tool that is not in a theater, a studio, or a rarefied art environment.”
Winokur concurred, sharing he recently staged the interdisciplinary show Only an Octave Apart, which combined cabaret and opera singing, acting, and sketch comedy. The LGBTQ+ musical revue addressed gender roles and raised issues about equality and healthcare access. The piece sparked important community dialogues upon its debut, playing in both big cities and rural communities. “We don’t need to be talking in an echo chamber,” Winokour said, stressing the importance of sharing marginalized voices with the masses.
In discussing where he would like to see the arts go, Joslin called for more continuity. In recent years, freelance work models have created an inconsistent and siloed working environment in the arts. However, the panelists hope a new, more unified path can be forged. “To me, what’s exciting is thinking about, what are the new economic models for better creation?” Harney says. She cites the Mellon Foundation’s pilot of a guaranteed basic income for artists as well as its Artists at Work civic engagement initiative as examples of programs changing the narrative. Winokur encouraged philanthropists and institutions to invest in the creative economy to “open the doors” to a brighter future for the arts.
Winokur closed the session by sharing words of encouragement for the next generation of artists: “Commit to what you’re doing, then finish it and do it again, and do it again, and do it again. .. Figure out who you are [and what you want to say], and do it as ambitiously as possible.”