The art of hope

There's something about hope. Besides springing eternal, when you chose it over fear — as we were admonished to do by our new president in his inaugural address — it opens the door to new possibilities. New ways of seeking and doing. When we have hope, we feel it's safe to give our imaginations a chance to play, to experiment. And we get creative.

It's safe to say that the powerful tide of hope that Barack Obama rode to the White House has inspired a great deal of creativity. What other presidential candidate had his campaign branded by a young Los Angeles-based graphic designer and graffiti artist? Shepard Fairey's mixed-media portrait of Obama with the word "Hope" ended up at the entrance of the National Portrait Gallery. The artist said Obama restored his hope.

And there it was, the ubiquitous portrait, on the sweatshirt worn by our hostess at a potluck breakfast 30 of us attended in her home to watch the inauguration on TV. Under the portrait it read: "Tanzania for Obama." Our hostess and her husband spent many years working in Africa. They both could read the Swahili words on the back of the sweatshirt: "Mabadiliko ya kuaminia" "Change and Hope."

"It's radiant, the happiness," said the news commentator. Many of us, like the millions we saw on TV, were crying and smiling at the same time. We sent up a cheer for Aretha Franklin when she sang "America." We stood for Obama's oath of office. There were hugs, and more tears and cheers. One of the people watching with us works at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and at the conclusion of Obama's speech said, "That was Shakespearean. It was absolutely Shakespearean."

My wife and I were standing next to an old friend who is studying the cello. We all listened in amazement to cellist Yo-Yo Ma play "Air and Simple Gifts" composed and arranged by "Star Wars" composer John Williams. There was Ma, born in Paris to Chinese parents, performing with Israeli-born violinist Itzhak Perlman, Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Apparently this was the first time a president asked a classical quartet to play at such a key moment in the ceremony.

Harlem-born Elizabeth Alexander, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Yale professor, recited her poem. It was the fourth time in U.S. history that a poet has been part of inaugural activities and at 46, she was the youngest to do so.

"Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice ..." Alexander said in homage to the efforts of everyday people to bring arts into their lives and into the world.

Reverend Joseph Lowery has worked for civil rights for many decades. We were all moved by his eloquent benediction. Poetic and poignant, it began with lines from "Lift Every Voice and Sing," ("The Negro National Anthem") by James Weldon Johnson. Lowery ended with his take on Big Bill Broonzy's song "Black, Brown and White."

Singer and activist Pete Seeger performed the day before. He was among the artists from the Kennedy years — a time when our country again seemed full of hope and promise.

Pop artist Robert Indiana took the word "Hope" and turned it into a six-foot tall sculpture. His LOVE word sculpture appears in several cities around the world and on U.S. postage stamps. Indiana raised more than $1 million for the Obama campaign by creating HOPE prints, posters, T-shirts and other items. Graphic artist Peter Max, whose work helped define the '60s generation, painted an installation of 44 portraits of the new president.

Musicians representing practically every genre from classical and jazz to rock, country, folk, and hip-hop were invited to participate in the inaugural concerts and dances. And there were appearances by actors and sports figures.

The Obama Art Report (obamaart, provided a daily blog that linked to hundreds of Obama-inspired creations. A 200-piece exhibit called "Manifest Hope: D.C." was set up to honor the new president and the "yes-we-can" attitude he encouraged. Submissions to the exhibit were arriving at the rate of 20 to 30 a day.

To show how serious he was about his commitment to the arts, Obama drafted his presidential arts platform during the campaign — the first time that has ever happened before a president took office.

"The mere existence of a cultural policy platform is an amazing thing, a good thing," said Richard Kessler, executive director of The Center for Arts Education of New York City. "Nothing like it existed before in the history of our country."

Now that's a creative and very hopeful sign.

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