Dance students rehearse on the Pines tennis court.
With Election Day around the corner, Americans will soon choose the leaders who will guide our country through one of the most fraught periods in modern US history. The impact of COVID-19, economic instability, racial unrest, and a wide array of issues only intensify this moment. Mounting anxiety is understandable.
Disagreement and debate about the right path forward during election cycles are normal, yet our country is particularly divided. According to the Pew Research Center, the political polarization of the United States has intensified dramatically in our students’ lifetimes, with deepening animosity among partisans toward members of the opposing party. Political commentators compete to talk over, rather than with, one another. Social media algorithms curate content that reinforces our existing beliefs. Mailboxes are filled with flyers attacking political opponents.
In the midst of this division, I have experienced daily examples of remarkable student art and artistic unity. Consider the Arts Academy’s “Collage,” our fall multidisciplinary showcase of student artwork and performances. This year, with the Interlochen campus closed to the public and students and faculty following strict social distancing protocols, “Collage” seemed all but impossible. But as you’ll read about in this issue of Crescendo, administrators, faculty, and students were determined to preserve this 40-year-old tradition.
The triumph of “Collage,” however, is not an exception. During every presentation on campus this fall, I have been amazed at how our students continue to exceed all expectations. Each polished performance and recital reflects rigorous training, constructive exchange, active listening and learning, and, I’m sure, some creative tension along the way. But in these performances, there has clearly been no “us vs. them;” there has only been “we,” achieving something remarkable that no one person could accomplish on their own.
I don’t pretend that our artistic community is some utopia, but I know we have people of integrity with a range of political affiliations that come together in service to Interlochen. Alumni, students, staff, faculty, trustees, volunteers, and donors hold myriad views on public policy, but find common ground in our artistic and educational mission.
I’ve thought often recently of the unlikely friendship of two late Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Despite profound ideological differences, Ginsberg and Scalia were close friends, especially through their shared love of opera. While their diverging views played out regularly in the courts, their kindred spirits found connection in the arts.
Ginsberg and Scalia’s love of opera first made headlines when the two appeared as extras in Washington National Opera’s 1994 production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Their shared passion was further commemorated by Scalia/Ginsburg, a comic opera by Derrick Wang that was inspired by their official legal opinions.
“The opera is really touching because it shows two people who interpret the Constitution differently but genuinely like each other,” Ginsberg said about the opera. “The last duet we sing is ‘We Are Different, We Are One.’ Different in the way we interpret written texts, one in our reverence for the institution we serve, the Supreme Court of the United States.”
I encourage our community to find strength in our differences, to listen actively and openly, model civility, and to draw sustenance from the shared spaces we foster in the arts.
With best wishes,