With yet another Black person, George Floyd, killed at the hands of the police, all across this country protestors have swarmed into streets, risking disease and death.
When the words of a people are consistently unheard, their bodies will speak. They will march on the streets, they will declare their pain, and they will make art. Artists have long used their bodies, their voices, their music to convey grief and suffering. Not only can the arts express a deep sense of anguish, they also allow us to come together in our shared feelings. They allow us to hold and to comfort each other through the darkest of times, and bring a sense of healing and solace.
Yet solace is impossible without justice. The Office of the Vice President for the Arts stands in solidarity with Black students, colleagues, artists and activists fighting against the racial violence, inequality and systemic injustice that plague our nation. We hold space for the collective recognition of Black lives that have been lost to racial violence, those whose names we now know — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade — and those we don’t.
As a primarily white-led arts organization held within a primarily white-led institution, we are committed to not only standing in solidarity with communities of color, but joining them in this fight. We can no longer afford to be silent on these issues, nor can we afford to move forward as an organization without deep reflection on the ways we, too, benefit from wide-spread practices of anti-blackness and white dominance.
In a wrenching irony of timeliness, the upcoming season of Stanford Live, announced just last week, contains a new co-commission called The Ritual of Breath Is a Rite to Resist, a multimedia song cycle and community meditation on the death of Eric Garner, with whom George Floyd shared his last words: I can’t breathe.
Such creative works can intervene powerfully and imaginatively into the routinization of racial injustice, though we know they do not replace tangible justice-based change. At the VPA, we believe that the arts can strengthen our capacity for empathy and action, and usher in the kinds of transformation the world needs. We work to create environments in which artists thrive, and we work to amplify their voices and visions. And yet we also acknowledge the ways in which we fall short, as cultural organizations steeped in histories and structures designed to uphold white dominance. To truly steward the power of the arts toward equity and justice, we must advance our commitment to enacting anti-racist practices, and transform the organizational structures that we operate within.
This statement is a beginning not an end. We recognize the importance of trusting Black leadership and following their cues. We will be working with our directors at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Stanford Arts Institute, Cantor Arts Center, Anderson Collection at Stanford and Stanford Live, and with our full staff, to design action plans — that foreground issues of justice and equity — to guide our ongoing work. We look forward to sharing these updates as conversations and strategies progress in the coming weeks.