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From Chaos To Clarity:
The Price To Be Paid

Closing Keynote at the 21st Annual Meeting
National Performance Network

by Alice Lovelace
Miami, Florida

This speech was delivered by Alice Lovelace at the 21st Annual Meeting of the National Performance Network (NPN) in Miami, Florida, December 8-12, 2005. The NPN is a coalition of adventurous, artist-centered presenting organizations. The NPN supports the creation and touring of performing art that is often not supported by other systems and structures. Emerging artists, culturally specific artists, experimental artists, community-based artists, and artists whose work is considered controversial or challenging find opportunities and develop relationships with NPN Partner organizations. Through performances, residencies, and commissions, artists reach new audiences and communities to create an ever-expanding network of like-minded cultural workers across the country.For more information on NPN and its programs, visit

When I huddle with friends I have known for more than three decades, the conversation eventually turns to the good old days -- the years 1977, ‘78, ‘79, even 1980. The final years I can remember when community artists were valued, funded, and even appreciated in some circles. I’m talking about the days before we were abandoned and betrayed by those we thought were our allies.

Before the National Endowment for the Arts, along with state art agencies, and even some local art agencies, sought ways to transfer funding for the arts from the hands of those who create art -- the artists. Soon many private donors, corporations, and foundations followed their lead. Without our own funding, we became wards of the state. Before long we began to split and divide into our little circles, circling up the wagons for protection, and to keep the money flowing to our particular discipline.

What those dark days taught us was that everybody wants a piece of the arts. Business wants our ability to innovate to infuse their practice. Schools want our creativity to inspire students to see connections between core subjects and real life. The mayor wants us to help the cities to figure out how art can anchor economic development. While the Chamber of Commerce wants us to create festivals to sell our arts, our creations, our souls to tourists.

But no one wants to fund the artist. No one wants us for who we are and what we bring. What A. B. Spellman called in his opening keynote -- and I paraphrase -- the intuition that accompanies the social view. We make them feel the change that is coming even before they know it. They fear us because at the core they fear art, that sudden departure from the expected.

Indeed, those days of the ’80s and ’90s were dark days, just as these days of this new century continue to be dark. But because of organizations like the National Performance Network, the Network of Community Centers of Color, Alternate ROOTS, the National Association of Arts Organizations, and others too numerous to name we have established a network of committed artists and organizations. Together they make sure the doors of funders stay open, and that our policy issues stay on the table.

When I sat in the NPN opening session, I listened to the creative introductions and all I could think was how powerful it was to witness the diversity of people, of lifestyles, and disciplines in that room. What I witnessed was the true United States. Every gathering, in every community should display this kind of diversity and representation, and togetherness; this sense of a shared journey, a destination of the mind. You are an amazing group of artists and presenters.

Melissa Foulger, co-artistic director at 7 Stages in Atlanta, uses a quote from Gandhi at the end of her emails, which I will paraphrase: show them the truth and they will see the beauty. My experience during the course of your 21st. Annual Meeting has been all about truth and beauty.

Every performance, showcase, meeting has encouraged me. How do we multiply the insight, the artistic mastery, the truth telling we have witnessed during this annual meeting? How do we duplicate the willingness to struggle with social issues like cultural democracy, race, equal access, and sexual identity in a truth telling and beautiful way?

I ask this because our nation is in danger, because the world is in danger. And like A. B. warned us, the impulse to fascism has not died in America so we must build a resistance to the fascism. In this battle for the hearts and minds of the human family, you represent the front line.

We must speak our mind, our heart, and our conscious in a way that cuts the old into new patterns. We must create a strategy that evolves from our time, and from what is available to us. We have shoulders to stand on; giants in our movements who have brought us thus far and we have each other. We must be a conscious for a nation that is greatly in need of our gifts. It is not enough to believe in that art can facilitate positive social change, we have to act on what we believe.

What do you believe?
I believe a smile will open doors physical and mental

What do you believe?
I believe everyone should belong to a union.
What do you believe?

I believe

I believe a teacher should earn more than a quarterback
believe the devil walks the halls of Congress
I believe I was born to dance
believe apples are the perfect food
believe Stevie Wonder will live forever
believe Bob Marley is a modern day messiah.

I believe in the founding Mothers
believe in rabble-rousers
believe we are all outside agitators.

I believe the youth will save the world from adults
believe in Kwame Nkrumah and a United States of Africa
believe in Marcus Garvey
believe all power is illusionary.

I believe we can feed the world.

I believe we are all going to Hell -- wait a minute!
I believe this is Hell.

I believe justice is the world’s greatest gift,
a noble word provoking change, demanding a shift.

I believe in revolution.

A true revolution of the human spirit; a 180 degree turning away from this living death in order to embrace life. And how do artists, how does the arts, create a revolution? By doing what you do so well, by speaking truth to power. We are called to draw attention to things we believe are important; to be the national memory.

Anyone who follows what passes as ‘the news’ understands that there is a sorrow filled sack of lies masquerading as the truth in this world. When a story comes along that tries to shines a light deep into the true nature of the world, those who call themselves our leaders immediately flood the ‘news’ market with their spin. The more important the story, the less time it remains on the people’s radar because the media believes they would rather know how Britney Spears lost all that weight after having a baby. Anything important for the people to know remains in the ‘news’ for about 2 minutes before it is shoved off the stage.

When Harold Pinter accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, he sent them a video of his lecture titled “Art, Truth & Politics” in which he made the following observations.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory [of truth] since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days “conscience"? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? [Pinter asked] Is all this dead?

My own experiences with the news and lies include items like the ongoing comedy of our President and his advisers to the Enron scandal. Like a six line story on the last page of the national news section in my local paper that admitted that while the FBI did know that a gang of men had pulled off bank robberies in order to finance the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma, the FBI declined to pursue the matter.

Or the story about the respected coach at a respected college who was found to have fabricated his resume. Or the forest ranger that spent a summer going around burning down the national forest. Or the plethora of death penalty cases that have been thrown out because of the diligent work of law students through the Truth Project.

Or the scientists in Japan who are working on a pill that will make human feces smell like roses or butterscotch, so you could be walking through a field of shit and not even know it. Because I’m a poet all this made sense to me it was all connected because it’s all about lying, lying, lying until the lie becomes the truth.

And in my mind it becomes a poem:

This One’s for You

This is for all the dicks in charge
from Cheney to the other Dicks at large
for Bush G. and this sidekick, Junior
all their oil advisors and right wing crooners

spreading lyrics of fear-doomsday tribulations
upsetting the balance of human relations
with a bomb for tit and a bomb for tat
cutting human programs while execs get fat

shut down critics with a bogus flag flap
signing gang style at their pressroom raps
tell you to sacrifice your child for the nation
ship their kids off on European vacations.

Scientist say there will come a day
when you can’t tell shit by the smell of it
when the evil mind will look good to you
when police will spy while being fed
cause the real police is in your head.

While the country burns by the hands of its own
we recruit a national military for loan
expert in the hunt for suspicious dark faces
though America’s terrorists are avowed white racists.

You got Eric Rudolph--young McVeigh
and a host of others we protect to this day
from the Ku Klux Klan to Christ Identity
the FBI gives them immunity

and to you and me they give the third degree.
Racial profiling, wire tapes
give the illusion that religion
is the cause of this mass confusion.

But, scientist say there will come a day
when you can’t tell shit by the smell of it
when the evil mind will look good to you
when police will spy while being fed
cause the real police is in your head.

Playing by the rules takes a hit these days
even coaches lie on their resume
false convictions thrown out each day
false evidence, bad lawyers, court cost to pay.

Businessmen lie about corporate profits
pensions disappear into Swiss banker's pockets
what makes a CEO worth 500 million dollars?
while a teacher is treated like a dog on a collar,

yanking education like a hambone treat
blessed by the government ruling elite.
Children don't expect a quality education
society schools them on diminished expectations.

This is the poem that never ends
cause the craziness goes on and on my friend
you drop a bomb on my tower
I drop a bomb on your wedding
tears for all the victims I find myself shedding
up from the depths of my depression
come these newsworthy items that bear confessing.

Cause scientist say there will come a day
when you can’t tell shit by the smell of it
when the evil mind will look good to you
when police will spy while being fed
cause the real police is in your head
in your head
in your head
in your head.

The path our nation has chosen is tragic. Our job is to support each other and increase the ranks of truth tellers. We must figure out how to invade every city, every neighborhood in this land in order to tell the stories that are waiting in the shadows to be told. Like the story of MOVE in Philadelphia, the story of the Laotian immigrant, as well as stories from Black and White Appalachia.

In the face of hurricane Katrina, we in the United States now understand what other people in the world live with everyday. We understand that to be at the mercy of government is to be left hanging, a kind of lynching. The tragedy that played out along the Gulf Coast opened eyes across this nation. People began to look around their city, their neighborhood, and lo and behold the same offenses we decry in New Orleans were all around them. Now that our eyes are wide open, will we stay awake or go back into a big sleep?

You see this little light of mine, this one life of mine; I’m gonna let it shine. I look out and I see your lights shining. Our task is to open as many people as we can reach, reach as many hearts as we can, until more people let their lights shine, and the lights shine through the lies and things change.

Not just for the people of Iraq. Not just for the displaced people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but for all the people living in the USA. We do this for the people in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean; for those on the continent of Africa, Asia, in Europe. Because the truth is once I saw the drama around the hurricanes play out on television, I realized that we are all refugees, we are all temporary residents, and the powers that be are ready and willing to evacuate us at their pleasure.

They want our little piece of land for a Wal-Mart, take it and call it imminent domain. They come to save the city with their dollars, developers and their gentrification and we have to move. They want to privatize the world, the prisons, and our children’s education. And they shout to the people: “Get on board! Get on board!” But many of us, especially the artists like you and me who work in and with a complex diversity of communities, are not on board. Our task is to bring some truth, some beauty to the devastation and degradation we witness.

I want to read a short section of an interview with the late John Lennon titled "Power to the People" conducted by Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn. In this interview John talks about growing up working class, about his political commitment and how making rock and roll was his act of rebellion. That he always sought, wanted to do more to make true change.

John felt we could only create real change by:

[M]aking the workers aware of the really unhappy position they are in, breaking the dream they are surrounded by. They think they are in a wonderful, free-speaking country. They've got cars and tellies and they don't want to think there's anything more to life. They are prepared to let the bosses run them, to see their children fucked up in school. They're dreaming someone else's dream, it's not even their own….

We've got to start all this from where we ourselves are oppressed. I think it's false, shallow, to be giving to others when your own need is great. The idea is not to comfort people, not to make them feel better but to make them feel worse, to constantly put before them the degradations and humiliations they go through to get what they call a living wage.

There are those who look back at the ’60s and see mistakes. I look back at the 60’s and feel a deep debt; deep gratitude that people young, and old, brown, black, and white stood together irregardless of class and station to shove the United States into the 20th Century. They opened doors and tore down barriers. They pulled back covers and exposed who was sleeping with whom. They liberated the conscious of the United State then sparked a global revolution that reverberates even today.

We see it in the struggle of women to be free of the inhumane ritual of female circumcision. We witness it in the determination of the untouchables in India to defeat an antiquated system of discrimination. We must not let truth and beauty slip away. We must become the recorders, those who contextualize; like Jazz, we must stretch the human imagination. In addition, we are called to use the lens of Katrina, to force people to look, to peel away the layers of someone else’s dream, help them to see their true destiny.

Because what we witnessed in New Orleans was not of a moments making.

not of a moments making

On this day of parable and hymn, there is no room for any dancer. Planetary doors remain locked by politicians, all with advance reservations for the day of earthly destruction.

So no, they would not fund the levy, not the school nor the teacher, there were no buses, and no they did not care for the elder or ill. Not even the dancers were saved, for art was jettisoned to make room for golden idols and temples to gold.

In this age of lent and sacrifices, you are the manna on their altar. It is your scripts, your poems, your paintings, your photographs, your sculptures that they burn. Those encapsulated memories, those images that never please those who take all pleasure unto themselves -- leave the artists drunk on fumes of oil, of funeral pyres.

In this millennium of empires on earth, heavenly dynasties in the sky the global rulers stalk any actor, any writer who dares create graven images that belie the lie told long and sure by the power brokers from land to land. They insist, “Let them eat the bloated bodies, the fouled reputations of the poor, the stagnant air of a sickening senseless selfishness floating in a brew of flood water and oil.”

No cries of art can reach the empire seeking soul, the imperialist heart. To Halliburton goes the spoil, while artists toil to lay bare the plan of the elite to escape at the Rapture then outsource the Earth.

In the face of shattered levies, we witnessed suffering and shame, but not of the moments making.

How many people died of starvation before the hurricane?

How many homeless slept under our bridges, below our sight line?

How many children, elders died for want of medical care?

Whose situation went unattended by bright lights and news reporters?

Whose cries cannot be heard in the den of the holy trinity where prayers of one world global control are offered at altars of oil, information, and land?

The voice and pen of art are moot in the land of media where the people are not invited to partake of the banquet.

Pass me my dancing shoes, my paints, and my pencils. Pass me the clay, the canvas. Let me sing you a new Blues for a new day is here, and a new art is rising.

In the face of the flood we stand naked exposing a deep persistent poverty in the heart of America. Bear witness to the crucifixion of art, of memory -- this cultural starving of the American South.

We have stopped swallowing excuses --

Every day on this planet is filled with disaster.
Every nation shoulders its share of the pain.
Every people pay homage to stale old masters,
headmasters, grandmasters who for every reason
drain us of our laughter. This is their feeding season.

It is a time for art to stake its claim to the human psyche
for any key to these days of man-made catastrophe.
Let us salvage every pain, every death, and every slander.
Let us render of this pain all the dreams that were slain.
Let us make of this a prescription -- to remedy the ills of our soul.
Let us give rise to a new art --
stunningly simple
simply prophetic
a living prophecy.

But, a prophesy requires a vision? What is our collective vision, our 100 year plan? How long are we willing to work to see it implemented? Who will follow us? How diligent will we be at nourishing the vision, at keeping it alive? How shall we transform the cultural landscape of our nation?

I am calling for a vision that unites us as artists with our allies as we struggle to transform the cultural landscape of our nation. The Arts discussed and debated in context of US society from labor, to the environmental movement, even among housing and hunger activist. Between those working to end global rush towards a one world economy; to those working to alleviate suffering and a growing disparity between the poor, the working poor, the middle class, and those who rule over us all.

I am happy to share with you some personal news; I have been hired by Project South in Atlanta and the USSF National Organizing Committee to be the Lead Organizer for the first and historic United States Social Forum. The USSF will happen early summer 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia. The United States Social Forum uses as a model the very successful and democratic World Social Forum.

What is the World Social Forum? The World Social Forum is a place where activist and organizers can come together to “pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, to formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action.” It does not advocate on behalf on any party or government, but does encourage cooperation and networking among organizations “engaged in concrete action towards building another world.” The first WSF attracted 200,000 people in 2001 to the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil. A decision was made to encourage others to attend and hold their own Social Forum.

Grassroots Global Justice -- of which Project South is a member -- felt it was time a version of the World Social forum was mounted in the United States. They identified several key points to address the long debated question of why should we have a U. S. Social Forum? I agree with them all, but one key point in particular connected me to this process, that, “a United States Social Forum could be an important step in building national movement in the United States.

It could provide a space for organizations that have not worked together historically to begin to develop a national and international vision and strategy.” I imagine a unifying vision that allows us to build on all we have, that will focus on our ability to be agents of change and reminds us of the morality of our positions.

As artists working to change the world we have to let it be known that we will no longer travel under the radar. The world is changing; the U.S. has to change with it. The question is will freedom survive our thirst for war funded by a rising national debt. There is a movement afoot, what are you willing to do to see it succeed?

When you think of social change, think big. There is a world ripe for the taking; a social conscious to be won. A leap, a sudden departure, a revolution to be waged.

Published in In Motion Magazine February 5, 2006

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