What a trio! What a message! Lara Downes, pianist, artist in residence at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Yo-Yo Ma, cellist, who needs no further introduction. Aaron Dworkin, musician, spoken-word artist, MacArthur Fellow.
They came together last month at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, where Dworkin is the dean, to record the video you see here: The Arts Wall, released today (May 22). It advocates for the arts “as an essential bridge and bond in our American life,” Downes said.
“I think it’s an eloquent and elegant statement. It’s really about the arts as a unifying force in a time of a lot of division.”
She and Ma perform Poema III by Marlos Nobre, while Dworkin reads his new poem, The Arts Wall.
Dworkin is quoted in a story on his school’s website: “We live in a divisive world where at times it seems that no one is listening to one another. This is where the arts, time and again, prove their power as bridge builders between people of different races, cultures and faiths.
“In this day and age, with all the challenges that lay in front of us, I can’t think of anything more important than finding ways to create a dialogue and open avenues where we can truly listen and learn from one another. The arts have, and will continue to show us, how to do just that.”
The three performers are connected by music, of course, as well as by the Sphinx Organization. Dworkin founded Sphinx in 1996 to address the stark under-representation of people of color in classical music, Ma is the organization’s special artistic advisor and Downes received a Sphinx Medal of Excellence in 2016.
Downes is the director of the Mondavi Center National Young Artists Program, and she is the founder and president of the 88 KEYS Foundation, supporting arts education experiences in California public schools through instrument donations and teaching artist presentations.