President Obama delivered a tender, inspiring, and thoughtful speech last night in memory of the victims of the recent shooting in Tucson. At first blush, one might wonder what the speech has to do with infrastructure for the arts. It has everything to do with it, because it was a speech about, more than anything else, the principles on which our democracy are based.
Early in the speech, the president noted that the victims had gathered at the strip mall in the desert to exercise their “right to peaceful assembly and free speech.” Where would the arts be without the right to peaceful assembly? We have an answer to that question in the case of the Belarus Free Theatre.
Many of us have been following the story of BFT over the last several weeks, as described in the pages of the Guardian and the NY Times. Larry Rohter wrote “The notion of artists struggling against an oppressive state is always attractive and inspiring, especially for those democratic societies where artists are not subjected to such intimidation.” We’ve read about audience members being driven to performances by cast members after being texted the location of a meeting place minutes before. Catherine Coray notes that audience members are “advised to bring your passport, because you never know when the police are going to show up and haul everyone off to jail.” Aren’t we lucky that we don’t have to do that here in the US? Oh, wait – Arizona’s immigration bill, SB 1070, requires something very similar, so it may be that in the future we won’t be so lucky after all.