This week, as I complete my final report for a 2012 Individual Excellence grant from the Ohio Arts Council, I want to thank publicly not only the OAC for its widespread support of the arts in the State of Ohio, but also the citizens and its political representatives.
My Excellence Award enabled me to take the summer to focus on a variety of writing projects, including completing a book-length translation of Russian poet Arseny Tarkovsky, guest-editing and writing the introduction to a “focus” on Arab American literature for American Book Review, writing my own poems, writing book reviews, and revising my book manuscript Sand Opera. Without this support, I would be compelled to continue teaching over the summer months; I cherished the chance to turn my full attention toward my critical and creative writing.
The Excellence Award gave me time to concentrate my attention and energies on my writing, first and foremost, but it also affirmed that the judges who chose my application believed in the value of my work, and provided external confirmation that I am on the right track. I would say that it has allowed me the chance both to forget momentarily the immediate concerns of financial burdens and be in solitude with the work, and to highlight the importance of my art as something that speaks to a broader community.
Of course, we exist not in a single community, but in many overlapping communities—our neighborhoods and towns, our counties and regions, our state and our nations, and of course, our global communities. And these are merely the geographical rings of community—we connect to people of common interest, faith, or goal as well. The artist’s role is multivalent in communities—sometimes to reflect the community’s hopes and dreams, sometimes to shed light on its realities and failings. What art can do is to remind us of who we can be, in our best moments, and how we can move together into a future that is sustainable, just, and peaceful. Art is not merely for the elite, nor should it cater to particular interests or classes; its job is to dilate our sense of what it means to be alive, and how to live more intentionally, more honestly, and more joyously.