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Commentary: The arts have the power to heal

As we approach that fateful day in August when the Ferguson tragedy took place, I am again reminded of the power of the arts.

On a recent trip to Japan, our guide told us of the Maeda Clan, rulers in the city of Kanazawa in the16th century, and how they turned from the sword to using the arts and culture to reunite and heal Japan after 150 years of civil war.

Back home some of the reactions to the Ferguson situation expressed through the arts were incredibly moving and powerful. Some art projects were actually begun before August 9.

Part of a Washington University project entitled, "The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative" with the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, the Center for the Humanities, in partnership with the College and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design, has launched a four-year Urban Humanities Initiative on "the Divided City." The goal is to bring humanities scholars into productive interdisciplinary dialogue with architects, urban designers, landscape architects, legal scholars, sociologists, geographers, cartographers, and others around one of the most persistent and vexing issues in urban studies: segregation.

The St. Louis Art Museum featured in their "Currents" exhibition, Brooklyn based Mariam Ghani who has a fellowship at Washington University. The Ferguson protests in October happened to coincide with her time here and she is producing a short film for the museum based loosely on the noir novel "The City and the City," by China Mieville. Part of the film, a fictional narrative with elements is drawn from St. Louis' past and present. Part takes place in Kinloch which is close to Ferguson and has had many similar issues.

Susan Colangelo also began her project St. Louis Story Stitchers before August 9. The Story Stitchers is an artist collective dedicated to documenting St. Louis through art and word to promote understanding, civic pride, intergenerational relationships and literacy. They produce artworks, projects, publications, and public forums that make visible the spirit and experiences of the people. I saw one of the multi-disciplinary performances about Tillie's Corner, an African American market founded by an incredible woman, Lillie Pearson, that was only recently torn down. The family pulled old videos and photos and high schoolers and family members stitched together quite a story for a performance at the Kranzberg.

Cecilia Nadal's Gitana Productions whose motto is “Global Healing Through the Arts” recently put on a production entitled, "Black and Blue" by Lee Patton Chiles. The original play was about hope and healing, exploring assumptions that all black men are dangerous, and that all cops are bad. The play was performed at several venues including the Missouri History Museum and the St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and was free due the importance of the play for St. Louis.

I attended an incredible morning at McClure High School in Ferguson in May. Over the last several months, Norleen Nosri, a Clay Artist-in-Residence at Craft Alliance Center of Art and Design, has worked with the students, faculty, and staff to bring the event to life. A small and dedicated team of student designers crafted the clay bases which held the porcelain cups which we drank from. The cups displayed the hopes, dreams, and wishes of the entire student body, inscribed by the students themselves. It is the hope of all those involved that the art-making experience will help aid in the healing of the community and the students who call it home. The event was entitled "CommuniTea.”

The arts community in St. Louis is thriving and really cares about putting it all back together and working on our problems. I, for one have all the faith in the world that the arts are our saving grace.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.

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