A Letter to My Creative Community

Photo from community paint day at Trinity Lutheran Church. Photo credit Daniel Stout.

To my fellow creators:

In 2016, we experienced one of the most critical elections of our time, an election that regardless of your politics, regardless of whether you woke up the next day in triumph or in travesty, revealed just how divided our nation has become.

Plenty of people have echoed the sentiment that we will get nowhere without being willing to have a conversation with those who disagree with our position. That I wholeheartedly agree with, while also knowing what a cold comfort that is to anyone who feels dropped, betrayed, or scared, or like some conversations have driven divisions much deeper, even with people we love and respect. Even with people we have perceived to be our allies. It is easy to find friends during fair weather. It is much harder during treacherous weather. While many people can agree that something should be done about the world’s problems, very few can agree on what that something is or how to do it.

Painting the Goodman Community Center mural with co-lead artist Emida Roller and Dane Arts Mural Arts.

What I can say is this. Never before has your work been more important. As the artists, the craftspeople, the makers, the tinkerers, the people who learn by doing, we are the missing link between the alleged, hands-off elite and the working class. We are the resurgence of skilled trades. We are the counter movement to the consumption of things that don’t last or aren’t worth taking care of. We are the ones who can change perspectives and strengthen empathy.

We are the ones that through practice, persistence, and passion, prove that every day, creativity is about connection, and that what we repeatedly do becomes who we are. Ours is a pursuit of the mind, the heart, and the hands.

Painting the Trinity Lutheran Church mural. Photo credit Daniel Stout.

There’s a reason that our free speech is so important. There’s a reason that dictatorships go after the arts first, after personal expression first. If you can take or buy people’s means of expression, you can control who they become.

So don’t forget the “why” of what you do, because it’s so important. There isn’t a day when I’m not grateful to work alongside you, in the service and championing of new ideas. We have a lot of work to do. Thank you for everything you’re already doing, for your creativity, brilliance, forthrightness, and kindness. And don’t hesitate to reach out as we continue to work towards our collective wellbeing.

With love,

Jenie Gao

**I wrote and sent this letter on November 14, 2016, to the people who follow my monthly newsletter. It still remains one of my most read emails. It felt relevant to share it again today, with some small revisions. I hope these words are of service to you as you reflect on 2017 and prepare for 2018. Happy New Year.

Photo by Jennifer Bastian. Part of my project, In Unison.

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