Though it went by quickly, there were moments in 2016 that I thought would never end. There were days when the problems facing this world weighed heavily on my shoulders, and it was all I could do to pick myself up and get out of bed. I lost count of all the petitions I signed and articles I shared, in an effort to do something that might make a difference. I was overwhelmed by vicious Facebook debates and Twitter wars, and one depressing news story after another. I can say that it was a year that really brought out the worst in people, and desperately tried to turn us against each other at times. Through it all, one group remained strong and vocal, and kicked some major @$s in 2016. Performing artists were at the forefront of social consciousness and positivity, during a year that seemed to lack both.
In 2016, water became a more prominent issue in the U.S., turning a third world problem into a first world dilemma. From Flint to the DAPL, poor infrastructure and national competitiveness, among other things, have threatened access to clean and fresh water for thousands. Performers across various mediums really stepped up to spread awareness and raise funds to combat these astronomical issues. Dave Matthews gave an impromptu performance for a group of water protectors in Standing Rock. He also hosted a benefit concert in support of the Sioux Tribe’s fight against the DAPL. All proceeds of the concert helped to provide supplies, legal assistance and other necessities to the protestors. As I mentioned several blogs ago, Cirque du Soleil holds an annual charity gala, One Night for One Drop. All the performers and entertainment volunteer their time and talents for free to raise funds for countries without access to clean water. In March 2016 the event raised $6.5 million in one night, and it has raised over $24 million since it’s inception in 2013.
Hip-hop, true to form, remains a dominant voice in bringing societal issues and sociopolitical matters to light. Throughout the year, many rappers showed their support of the Black Lives Movement, police brutality protests and the Flint water crisis through their lyrics and their philanthropy. Meek Mill donated $50,000 to the Flint cause and Eminem, Diddy and Mark Wahlberg joined forces to donate one million bottles of water to Flint residents. Snoop Dogg helped to organize a celebrity baketball game whose proceeds went to providing clean water access, while The Game’s Robin Hood Project pledged $500,000. Detroit native Big Sean donated $10,000 through his #HEALFLINTKIDS campaign and Wiz Khalifa also donated, thus proving to us that stoners can still be aware of their social responsibilities.
Music isn’t the only scene that speaks its mind. Live theatre wasn’t always as “polite” as it is now. A night out at the theatre during the 19th century could be filled with fruit throwing, political debates, and sword fights involving audience participation. Vice President Pence is lucky that the theatre is much more ruly and quiet these days. Broadway’s hit Hamilton has been celebrated for its poignant portrayal of America as a nation of immigrants and multiculturalism. The casts’ message to Pence, urging that he and his fellow administration protect and defend a diverse America, reminded us that the theatre was never a place to hear puppets recite lines, but a place for self and free expression.
Performers far and wide used their talents and platforms to ease the pain of 2016. Move(NYC) celebrated its inaugural year as an organization cultivating diversity through dance and providing young artists with free dance education. Leonardo Di Caprio’s “Before the Flood” brought attention to climate change and The Paris Agreement, and hopefully convinced a few more people that climate change is actually real. 2016 reminded us that wherever we fall on the political and social spectrum, the arts touch us all in some way, and as artists we can make a difference….my pointe exactly.
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” Cesar A. Cruz