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Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. Collins, OAC Arts Learning Coordinator Chiquita Mullins Lee, and 2021 Ohio Poetry Out Loud State Champion Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores at the 2021 Ohio Poetry Out Loud State Finals Competition

Like Music to Our Ears

I recently read the headline of an article titled “Coming Back? It Makes No Sense,” and I thought about the team at the Ohio Arts Council and the many, many arts organizations and artists we serve, and the audiences who rely on us, both in Ohio and around the nation.

The idea of “coming back” is like music to our ears, when we take a moment to let ourselves dream again. My mind went right to imagining performances of every genre, whether inside beautiful theatres, repurposed spaces, or outdoor pavilions. And then I began to think about the hundreds of thousands of hard-working arts administrators, actors, musicians, photographers, marketers, promoters, producers, and on and on—all those who somehow kept going, kept their incomes and livelihoods afloat however they could, rarely left their home offices or front yards, and just kept on working. They kept engaging, innovating, imagining, and doing—all to ensure the arts remained central to our mental and physical health during a global pandemic.

To you, I say, thank you. Thank you for staying the course. Thank you for arts content delivery in new ways. Thank you for sticking your neck out to say, “Wait, we’re here and we’re not going down!” That made sense.

At the writing of this article, Governor Mike DeWine announced expanded vaccine eligibility for all Ohioans 16 years and older by March 29. Again, the reprise of that music to our ears—we’re coming back. Certainly, and tragically, so many of us have suffered loss—of a cherished tradition, of a milestone celebration, of a job, of a loved one—but we are resilient, and we are coming back.

And Ohio’s robust health care system is a big reason why we can come back. Thank you to the nurses, doctors, techs, and hospital and medical center administrators who barely left their stations to ensure we were taken care of during the health crisis. Thank you to our wonderful essential workers who gave up so much, sometimes leaving their own families for weeks and weeks, to ensure Ohioans had care, tests, vaccines, food and basic needs, and so much more. Thank you for risking your lives to keep us as healthy as possible.

When I had my first vaccine in early March (guess how old I am?), my husband and I went to Secrest Auditorium and Music Hall in Zanesville—and for once, I wasn’t there for a show. In fact, it was the first performance space I’d been in for a year! I knew the exact location, could imagine going in the building, wished it were for a performance, but ultimately I was so thankful it was open to serve the community. I’m not sure if I imagined it, or if I remembered it from their website, but the words were “We will soon be announcing new performances and shows.” Again, we are coming back.

Thank you to all the arts administrators and board members who lead the work of our arts venues and organizations across Ohio. Thanks to all who have made their spaces available as vaccination sites. Your commitment to community has never gone away.

Last March, my team—the fabulous professionals at the Ohio Arts Council—went to their homes to work remotely for what we thought might be a few weeks, maybe a month or two, if it was as bad as the projections seemed. None of us could believe the crisis on most days, and we would say, “It makes no sense.” And we would find ourselves exclaiming that phrase, “It makes no sense,” over and over during a long list of milestones over the past 12 months. As time passed and work continued—and even accelerated as our agency proactively provided economic relief—we kept our fast-paced stride. Most folks thought we were at the office because our work was—and remains—business as usual (except for travel restrictions).

We promised ourselves we wouldn’t waver. We didn’t move away from our mission to fund and support quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically.

We have much more to do, many pivots to consider and make within nonprofit business models, and new and exciting modes of service delivery to perfect. As long as our public health trajectory continues toward recovery and we keep safety in mind, we are well on our way toward flexing our resilient, creative, and free artistic spirits to come back in full. If anything, our next generation of leaders are already more prepared for the unexpected, more adaptable to worldwide impacts, because of their 2020 (and 2021) experiences. We are all more focused on what can be and will be because we are now fully paying attention … we’re together and we’re ready for next steps, new opportunities, and a positive way forward!

Thank you to the transformers, virtuosos, and catalysts who are leading us away from normal into something not yet fully realized, something that some will say, “this makes no sense.” Let’s not listen to the nay-sayers: We’re coming back—did we ever really leave?—and we’re stronger and smarter for the experiences. At the Ohio Arts Council we still believe that the arts are better when we all work together … that makes sense!

Until next time,

Donna S. Collins signature

Donna S. Collins
Executive Director

Featured photo: Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. Collins, OAC Arts Learning Coordinator Chiquita Mullins Lee, and 2021 Ohio Poetry Out Loud State Champion Monserrat Tlahuel-Flores at the 2021 Ohio Poetry Out Loud State Finals Competition, broadcast virtually from WOSU Studios on March 5. Photo by Terry Gilliam.

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