“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” -Elie Wiesel
Here’s an activity I do with my art students: we walk through the hallways and class rooms as I point to different things like the carpets, the windows, the computers, and so on, and I ask them if what I am pointing to is art.
We talk about the different types of art, the kinds of jobs artists have, and what goes into making different things we see every day like our laptops and the rugs in our living rooms and class rooms. As one student so eloquently stated, “so basically everything is art.” No, Alex, but yes.
And the cynical will say, “but Liz, you’re an art school kid! Of course you think art is so deeply ingrained into our everyday life that we don’t even see it!” Some may say, “you get paid to do art, of couse you like it! I sense a bias!”
I am an artist and I am proud. I love to teach people art. I love to watch the faces of kids as they discover how to make a painting that looks *just* like the one in their favorite picture books. I love when grown ups come to painting classes moaning and groaning about how bad they are and then leaving with something they want in their dining room. Art is magic, art is pure.
Art goes beyond an excited child. It is how we record history as it happens to us. It is how we grieve and ache and mourn, how we celebrate each other, how we connect, how we understand ourselves as people. Who doesn’t have those songs that mark major times and events in their lives? Who didn’t worship a musician in their teens? Who wasn’t fundamentally changed by a film? Who wasn’t shaken up by a book and if you’re like me, who doesn’t read that book every year just to make sure you didn’t miss anything?
Art is the thread that stitches together the fabrics of the human experience. We live in a great art city. What happens to industry when it is abandoned? It becomes sculpture. Warehouses become studios. Birmingham has the art of a city three times its size and it doesn’t plan on stopping.
So you, yes, you! How can you help Bham’s artists and places of art?
For one, make some art! Write a poem. Sketch with some chalk in your driveway. Pick up that guitar your aunt bought you that you’ve done nothing with for 6 years. Stop pretending art is hard. If you’re not confident enough for something so tactile, take a cool sunset picture and put it on your Instagram. When people scoff and say that isn’t art, tell them they’re wrong, all sunsets are art. Believing in G-d is believing in art. Take a picture of the moon. Look at the moon. Everyone in the world is gonna be looking at the same moon. That’s the most succesful installation piece ever made and we have a full display of it here in Birmingham. It’s beautiful, it’s mind-blowing, it’s amazing. But if you should need more inspiration, Birmingham won’t let you down.
You can go to the Birmingham Museum of Art. It’s great. I love it. I mean it. Not to brag, really, but I’ve been to a lot of art museums. When you’re an artist in a different city, you immediately get taken to their local art museum. The one we have here is well lit, clean, accessible, staffed by amazingly knowledgeable people, and doubles as a history museum. And it’s free! That’s right, free! With, of course, a few exceptions. And for anyone still out there catching Pokemon, it is a Pokestop.
If you’re more into galleries, Naked Art Gallery on Clairmont is a house filled with art from locals that you can buy. I got some pretty sweet pink glittery unicorn skeleton earrings there once. There’s also Art Walk, the Magic City Art Connection, Moss Rock Festival and Sidewalk Film Festival.
If you want to support the arts, the license plate is lovely, but you can also go straight to the institutions. Support the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Not just because I’m an alumni, but because they do great things there every single day, making the next generation of artist the best they can be, and because the students bring their talents to their camps and outreach programs that benefit local elementary school children, teaching their area of concentration to students in the Birmingham system. Go to their performances, see a play, a concert, a poetry reading, an art gallery, all of which have public showing times.
You can also catch concerts, lectures and shows at UAB, BSC, BJCC, Alys Stephens Center and Samford.
If you’re looking to donate or volunteer, Americans for the Arts Action Fund is a good place to start. The Prison Arts Coalition is active in Alabama and helps prisoners cultivate talents in drama, visual art, poetry, and music. You can also donate to a scholarship fund at your favorite camp program. Or send your kids to an art program over the summer. Some good ones to go to? The art museum, ASFA, the LJCC, Samford, and ArtPlay.
The best thing you can do for art in Birmingham is get involved. It sucks, but I sold all the wrapping paper I could in middle school so I didn’t have to give back my trumpet. Most members of a school band or orchestra are familiar with budget cuts. It’s an ugly reality of the arts not being taken seriously. Not taking the arts seriously is the result of blocking one’s humanity, of rejecting need for making the things that are hard to verbalize, of putting truth low on priority lists. Don’t let the truth sink low on your agenda. Show the world what we are in Birmingham, humans teeming with love and light and passion and fury. Live radically, see a musical.