What’s more important: putting voice to the works directly affecting your community right now? Or doing that thing you promised you’d do a year ago? Or do you care?
If the photo used at the top of this article raises your blood pressure a little, makes you mad, makes you sad, or gives you a kick in the pants to do something, anything, right now… good. The intention of the photo is to spur you to some action, emotion, and empathy while keeping you informed about what happened in early October when Hamas brutally maimed, raped, and slaughtered 1400 Israelis, some of them as they slept.
When was the last time you saw something at your local nonprofit arts organization that made you feel that way?
Working backward in time, Israel went to war against Hamas because Hamas killed Israelis, because Israel suppressed the rights of Palestinians, because Palestinians killed Israelis, because they fought back against the collective troops stationed by all the Arab countries at their borders, because Israelis were Jews and not Muslim and therefore “blood suckers,” “brothers of apes,” “killers of the prophets,” “human pigs,” and “butchers,” (according to some translations of the Quran) because Jews fought for and achieved the first country from which they would never be expelled (see above), because 6 million Jews were killed at the hands of Hitler and his axis partners, because the German far right (with no small help from American industrialists like Henry Ford) believed that Jews were keeping the White people down after World War 1, because poor Jews were being chased out of Eastern Europe and into Germany, France, and America by Bolsheviks and, before that, Czarists and Cossacks, because because because because because.
When I was an actor in my 20s, I met with a potential manager who said to me, “You people are so funny.” I responded drily, “Oh yeah, that Jonas Salk, he was a crackup. And Einstein used to put a lampshade on his head at parties.” The manager laughingly replied, “Yes, and David Brenner.”
Still think Jews have no moral equivalency issue with other victims of hate crime in America?
When Black Lives Matter protests occurred all over the country Jews organized at their places of worship to form groups to join the marches. They even got together to place this ad in all the major newspapers and news websites across the country:
If you can’t read the ad (and I know it’s quite small), here are some key parts:
We are Jewish organizations and synagogues from across the racial and political spectrum; from different streams of Judaism; whose members trace their lineage from countries around the world. We speak with one voice when we say, unequivocally: Black Lives Matter. We support the Black-led movement in this country that is calling for accountability and transparency from the government and law enforcement. We know that freedom and safety for any of us depends on the freedom and safety of all of us.
When Hamas slaughtered 1,400 civilian Jews in Israel on October 7, was there outrage from the Black Lives Matter movement?
“Black Lives Matter Grassroots stands in solidarity with our Palestinian family who are currently resisting 57 years of settler colonialism and apartheid.”
So, while I know it sounds trite, do Jewish lives matter? If they do, maybe mattering is not all that it’s cracked up to be.
This month and next, will you see depictions of the stingy, nasty, selfish, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge at your local nonprofit theater where there’s clearly a makeup decision to make the nose larger? Maybe a bit of a dog whistle there?
Make no mistake: Israel’s hands are not clean. Although, they did warn: “Never again.”
“We have seen the mounds of corpses and visited the camps where they killed us. . . . By our sides were the ghosts of those who were no longer, whose blood was shed like water because Jewish blood is considered cheap. We saw their outstretched hands and looked into their burning and soul-searing eyes that peered into our very being and heard them say: Never again. Promise us. Never again.” – Meir Kahane
And, with Iranian funding for Hamas’ inclination to wipe Israel off the map and kill every last Jew on the planet, maybe Israel was just backing up those famous words with actions. Cruel, horrible, frightening actions, to be sure, but not unusual for a war.
In all wars, civilians are killed and debased. Ask the folks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki about that. Or ask your Japanese-American friends whose families whose land was stolen from them as they were forced into camps in the 1940s. Or the families of the millions of Indigenous people who were gruesomely slaughtered in the name of something called “Manifest Destiny.”
Everyone in the US has dirty hands, including groups that had been cruelly subjugated. I just want peace. Palestinian peace. Israeli peace. No more killing, hostages released safely, and reasonable people sitting at tables trying to put an end to the hate. But maybe that’s just me.
How’s your local nonprofit arts organization dealing with all this? Are they helping their community handle all this obliteration? Oh, and how did they handle Russia invading Ukraine and killing thousands? How are they handling a group of people in congress who want to end democracy as we currently know it to create a theocratic plutocracy, which is a combination of pseudo-Christian evangelists (like the Puritans, only dressed better) teaming up with the wealthiest 0.1% of the country to create the kind of tyrannical kingdom that the Founding Fathers feared?
Art is political. Art, in fact, is never not political. The purpose of great art is to contextualize, galvanize, inform, and catalyze a response. Even the most banal examples of entertainment owns its controversies and mischief. After all, as my old friend and boss Eddie Gilbert once said, “The only businesses that utilize great quantities of heavy red velvet are theaters and brothels.”
That subversive quality of art can help nonprofit arts organizations move past their desires to adhere to the ill-conceived and detrimental notion of “art for art’s sake,” the idea that is killing arts organizations that have no desire to use their charitable status to be, as they ought to be in 2024, charitable.
The biggest problem is that it takes so long to create a perfect depiction of the issue — a play, a ballet, an art exhibition, etc. — that by the time the work is finished (years later), the issue might no longer be urgent. The world might have moved on, making the art often become moot.
But what if your nonprofit arts organization chose to benefit the community’s issues before anything else? What if you saw that the conflict between your own neighborhood’s Jews and Muslims stemming from the Israel-Hamas War had become dangerously hostile? What would you do — right now — if you could stop the hate from killing people?
You can. And you don’t have to wait years. Just do something now — right now. LIKE THE ARTICLE YOU’RE READING RIGHT NOW, it might not artistically perfect, or even great. But if it lowered the emotional temperature or brought clarity, wouldn’t that be worth it?
And wouldn’t that be a charitable cause that would service your community? After all, it fits the requirements of Section 501(C)(3), “lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency,” doesn’t it?
You have read Section 501(C)(3) of the IRS code by now, haven’t you?
Alan’s new book, “Scene Change: Why Today’s Nonprofit Arts Organizations Have to Stop Producing Art and Start Producing Impact” will be published in just a few short weeks! CLICK HERE TO PRE-ORDER IN THE UNITED STATES. (It makes a great holiday gift, so I hear.)
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE. If you live in Australia, CLICK HERE. And, of course, it is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other large bookstores. If you can’t find it, just give the bookseller the ISBN: 978-1-80341-446-1. They’ll know what to do.
A few advance copies may be made available for those booking conferences, reading engagements, and speaking engagements. Recruit your local bookstore, conference panel, or boardroom to get a visit from Alan.
For a limited time, Alan can offer a free copy for every board member of your nonprofit arts organization when you sign up for a consultation. Contact him at email@example.com for details.