I recently saw the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville. The film is about Educational Children’s Television legend and mastermind Fred Rogers, the creator of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
I admit to crying during this film, but as my family knows, I am easily moved to tears. What has amazed me, though, is the number of people — both men and women — who freely admit to crying during the film. I believe they are not only crying for the beauty of the film and the man who meant so much to generations of children, they are also expressing grief for innocence lost.
Mr. Rogers courageously took on tough topics such as divorce, assassination, and racism in an honest and open way, often using puppets as his spokespeople to let children know that it’s okay to feel and express sadness, fear and concern. He was a mentor and set an example of love, acceptance, and tolerance. Through his art, he made a difference for the children who grew up watching his show.
I can’t help wonder how he would address the times we live in now. I think even Mr. Rogers would have been intimidated by the length and gravity of the list he would face.
A friend in the Arts saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor last night, and shared on facebook that he came away depressed. His post even sounded as if he was even feeling a bit of despair. He recognized that Neville included the protest at Rogers’ funeral to “to shake us into the reality that our country may be lost.”
I admit to sometimes feeling that same despair. Yet I continue to hope and believe that goodness will prevail. Why do I believe this? Because my life is full of good, kind, generous, smart people. Many of them are artists who courageously use their art to spread light and stand up for humanity.
In Robert Reich’s meme at right, #7 suggests “Support Artists and the arts.” To all of my friends who are artists, I add, “Leverage your art to express your beliefs!”
Today, I came from the community television station where I create Conversations with Creatives. There, muralist Alice Mizrachi is doing wall therapy on the south side of the building, assisted by a score of enthusiastic volunteers, all intent upon beautifying the community. The message on the wall is “We Are All Immigrants.” Alice is using her art to create a dialogue.
Last week, it was Olivia Kim‘s stunning life-size sculptures of abolitionist Frederick Douglass that created a stir, causing people to reflect upon and address important issues that were rife in Douglass’ time and that seem to have metastasized in ours.
Next week, it will be a theatrical production, or a musical composition, an arts conference, a dance project, a book, an artist collaboration, a different film or some other wonderful creation that will inspire and encourage conversation and reflection.
As long as there is dialogue, all is not lost. Dialogue breaks down barriers. It is only when we stop talking and the walls of hatred and fear creep so high as to halt communication, that we will be lost.
So I plead with my friend who bravely shared his feelings in a post about the Mr. Rogers documentary to please, please, please don’t give up. We need YOU, we need your work, and we need the enlightenment you bring the world through it, now, more than ever.
To each and every artist out there I say, “Please keep creating your work. Please continue sharing it. Your #ArtMakesADifference. It brings light into a world that has recently grown all too dark. We need you to be our searchlights, helping to bring us through the darkness until we find the light at the tunnel’s end again.”