As we get settled into a second round of confinement in France, we can’t help but reflect on what we were doing at this time last year. Back when we were able to organize in-person artistic activities and cultural excursions around Paris, thankfully, we made the most of it. Last fall was one of our busiest times. We went to several museum exhibits, concerts and solidarity meals. We organized several Soul Food Dance Project workshops and a few of our young members even performed onstage, in front of an audience. We created new partnerships and met several of our current young members. You might have already seen this week’s guest writer in a few photos posted on our website and social media pages from these excursions, as she was with us during this time last year. Stephanie Mooney interned with Soul Food last fall, while she spent a semester studying abroad. She participated in many activities, and put her creative writing and drawing skills to good use. We are delighted to share one of the posts she wrote for us then. The theme is pertinent to the world we find ourselves in today, as we grasp at some way to stay connected to each other and to positive things like, dancing, community, friends, music, and art.
It’s through the arts that people can come together, across different backgrounds and experiences and truly unite. The shared experience of sight and sound have potential to transcend our differences, as they command us to be present in the same space, place, and time. We all know this or have heard of little quotes regarding such a notion here and there. Even though we may have rolled our eyes at the obviousness of such clichés, we can’t let the simplicity of them blind us from their deeper truth: We all need art in our lives, in some way, shape, and form.
I was reminded of this after attending an excursion with Soul Food this past weekend. As an intern for the organization this fall, I’ve both witnessed and experienced first-hand all the work that goes behind not-for-profit organizations. From my short time with Soul Food, it’s become clear that the biggest ingredient in the function of an NGO is passion. It’s an incredible amount of planning, communicating, researching, organizing, writing—the list goes on, that is incorporated into the execution of each and every task. Without passion, the mission and vision of the organization cannot be sustained, as their implementation demands passion to operate. I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to intern with Soul Food while studying abroad in Paris, as it’s provided me with perspective in a field, I see myself potentially working in one day. Yet, on this past Friday night, I was grateful in a different way.
After walking down some stairs through an inconspicuous door on a cool autumn night, I was greeted by a cozy atmosphere filled with people who came together in anticipation of the music we were all about to experience. Soon enough, sound began to fill the room with fast paced melodies and upbeat rhythms that echoed off the walls and into our hearts as we slowly surrendered ourselves to the music. It was in this moment that the power of art became obvious: Art has the power to let us be free. Whether it’s to let loose and dance away the night, or to put a specific message through your own voice out into the world via any sort of creation—it allows us to be free from all of the other demands and obligations life throws our way. It’s through the pursuit of exposing yourself to artistic outlets that these little moments of freedom are allotted to us, to simply be.
So, anytime you begin to feel uninspired by the routine and demands of your day, or the state of the world, or whatever existential dilemma you may be facing, do two things. First, seek comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Second, understand that one of the easiest remedies is to expose yourself to the arts. Write, see, listen, create, and observe. In doing so, you’ll be able to reflect on yourself, and also the larger picture of humanity that surrounds you—because experiencing art commands us to be present in the same space, place, and time. I was grateful to watch the power of art unfold before my eyes that Friday night. Not just to see a group of people enjoying the music before them—but to really witness the monumental role that the arts can play in achieving positive integration. Exposure to art and to artistic platforms is at the root of understanding the culture around you. Art is an interactive reflection between the creator and the audience, and within this relationship beautiful things have the greatest of potential to unfold.