I’ve been thinking about DéLana’s most recent monthly letter, in which she describes using a local arts calendar to find distraction and comfort in the weeks following her father’s death.
Last month, I missed an event I had been looking forward to, a local Black history and culture festival at which I had been planning to take some photos and pull some highlights for the Red Olive blog.
The morning of the festival, my mother had a seizure and in a blink the weekend became consumed by intervals of rush, worry, and wait: a trip in an ambulance, a series of tests, a period of observation, plastic chairs in ER hallways, running errands and making the bed for her return home. With a new medicine for her daily routine, a check-up scheduled, and the reassurance that, no, this didn’t appear to be the worsening of any of her chronic conditions, we entered the next week frazzled but truly grateful for good news.
For the next few weeks, I focused on work, family, and the occasional escape through television. I didn’t attend any readings, visit any exhibits, or see any shows. When stressed, I often find myself driven by the mantra “maybe when things calm down.” I find myself passing on activities that might help me decompress or re-center, telling myself there just isn’t time. Studies show that I am not alone: a lack of time is the number one reason reported for not visiting historical, cultural, and artistic spaces.
However, research also shows that skipping out on arts and culture events is detrimental to our physical and emotional health as individuals and communities. Visiting cultural spaces increases dopamine, improves our capacity for memory and empathy, and correlates with greater life satisfaction and lower rates of anxiety and depression. Public art spaces also have broader social impact benefits, ranging from interrupting the school to prison pipeline to building local economies.
Inspired by DéLana’s letter and keeping these research-backed benefits in mind, I’m thinking this month about how to view my time-strapped schedule and sources of stress as a driver for my arts attendance, rather than solely a barrier. I’d like to invite you to do the same.
For me, this means asking myself questions including: In what ways can I honor my need for self-care with new habits that incorporate public arts patronage into relaxation or escape? How can arts spaces be incorporated, along with doctors’ offices, into managing my mother’s chronic illnesses? How can I increase my exposure to local arts events—what papers should I read, what accounts should I follow—so that cool events fall into my awareness with the ease that Netflix appears on my screen?
The questions you ask yourself may be wildly different from mine. They may be questions that you, like me, don’t have immediate or static answers to. Continually returning to these questions, though, is a commitment to feel good about. Carving a little more space in our lives for local arts opportunities, including and especially in times of stress, means opening ourselves up to their many benefits in the moments we may need them most.
*This blog borrows its title from the 2015 NEA study from which some of its data is drawn.
Source: National Endowment for the Arts