The Dark Gift that Sheds Light

Cleveland’s great jazz saxophonist, Ernie Krivda was eloquent in his acceptance remarks for his receipt of a Creative Workforce Fellowship this week.  He was one of 20 artists who accepted their fellowship awards at the December board meeting of the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC). 

While jokingly thanking the county’s cigarette smokers for their obsession with tobacco – their obsession funds the arts and these fellowships – he also said that artists were similarly obsessed, “with this dark gift that sheds light” referring to the artist’s compulsion to make work. 

Each of the other 16 artists who were present (three could not attend) delivered their own heartfelt comments of gratitude and I was impressed with how each felt that the fellowship award also conferred an obligation to the community which made it possible.  Here’s a few that struck me as particularly poignant.

Conductor Domenico Boyadjin:  “I came from Europe because of the Cleveland Orchestra.  The plane landed and magic happened.  I never expected to find such a rich arts community.  Cleveland is my home from now on.  I will use the award to give free concerts.”

Actress Chris Seibert: “I started at the Beck Center when I was 10.  I went away for 10 years – forgive me.  I came back and found my ‘tribe.’ I just want to make you proud.”

Playwright David Hansen:  “There are challenges and opportunities in any time.  It’s a question of what we do with them.  The work I will do in this fellowship year will be my gift to the community.  I won’t forget it.”

Percussionist Neil Chastain:  “I see this as a tremendous obligation to continue my work and share it with children in the Cleveland schools.  I will finish my book for teachers and kids so that any teacher can begin to have a way to make music with children.”

Poet Sarah Gridley: “I work with words and I’m having a hard time finding the right ones.  I will have to reflect carefully on how to use this gift responsibly and responsively.”

And finally, there was choreographer David Shimotakahara who, after stating he did not come prepared with a speech, burst into a joyous, spontaneous dance of celebration that said as much if not more than words could ever have.

This was a great day for Cleveland and its county’s creative community.  While I have not done the research, and risk being wrong, I do believe that these Artist Fellowships are among the most generous given by any city in the country that uses locally generated public funds to support the arts. 

Good for us.