Embracing the Arts in an Era of Disruption
By Patrick Gaspard
Imagination is the ultimate disrupter. Whether through film, music, dance, or other mediums, art provides space for collective imagination. When faced with unjust systems that seem insurmountable, imagination can encourage us not only to aspire to achieve change, but to actively pursue it.
That is why a belief in the power of imagination is central to Open Society’s new program, Culture and Art. With rights and freedoms under attack around the world, we are increasing our investments in the arts because we know that open societies can neither exist nor flourish without them. Instead of hunkering down in the hopes that this storm will pass, we are pushing even harder to support those who are responding to the present crisis with boldness, fearlessness, and creativity.
What we want, as the Pakistan-based dancer and performance artist Sheema Kermani says in the film above, is to support artists who remind us “that there are possibilities, there are alternatives to the kind of lives [we] are living.” But the arts can do more still. As we see in the story of the Belarus Free Theatre—whose founders live in political exile but nevertheless continue the theater’s work—creation, imagination, and artistry can also be acts of dignity, or even resistance.
One of the pressing questions, though, is this: At a time when many of the rules we once took for granted no longer apply, how can we connect with people and support them as they exercise their true power? How can we give them the resources and the political support they’ll need to take the heroic step of imagining a better tomorrow, to realize, as Kermani says, “that there are possibilities”?
Art is part of the answer. And with Culture and Art, we hope to empower those with the gifts and imagination to keep searching, to keep pushing, and to keep asking these fundamental questions.
Until December 2020, Patrick Gaspard was president of the Open Society Foundations.