When the Tony Award-winning musical The Bridges of Madison County played at Dayton’s Schuster Center recently, the show was accompanied by an art exhibit featuring local bridges. The play was beautiful to watch, with an imaginative bare-bones set evoking various farmhouse rooms, the eponymous bridge, and other locations in a warm and inviting rural landscape that felt quite familiar.
Likewise, the delightful artworks captured treasures in our midst including a number of Preble County’s covered bridges. The bridge paintings, photographs, and sculptures spoke of history, heritage, and intrinsic values, stirring memories, inviting further exploration from viewers. The play communicated in much the same way, reaching out and touching audience members with its romantic story, gorgeous music, and compelling characters.
All of which reminded me that bridges are an apt metaphor for the arts. Bridges connect one thing to another; the arts build bridges not only between artists and the public but also across generations, cultures, and eras. As with most things involving unique human beings, not all art speaks to all people. But when a meaningful connection is made, lives are enhanced.
When iconic Dayton artist Bing Davis curated an earlier Schuster Center art show, his written introduction to that exhibit eloquently stated the value to society of artistic expression and insight: “The joy, the sorrow, the pain, and the hopes for a community or nation are reflected through creative arts.” He went on to say that the arts may not always have solutions to all the problems in society, but do have the energy and power to identify things to celebrate and preserve, to reveal questions worthy of broad consideration and discussion.
Actually, Bing Davis himself symbolizes the concept of art building bridges. If you’ve ever had the distinct pleasure of meeting the tall elegant 77-year-old African-American, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the aura that radiates from the man. He pays tribute to his own heritage and culture in his moving work, which has won international acclaim as well as local recognition. When some of Bing’s art was on display at the Dayton Art Institute a few years ago, he was in and out of the building on a daily basis to refresh the fresh flowers that were components of one of the pieces; his personal interactions with DAI patrons during that period were astounding. White youngsters from rural schools were spellbound by his illuminating explanations of the pieces on display, many of which referred to painful periods of Black History; those students gained deep insight into another culture through their encounter with the man and his art. Bridges were built, which can only enhance relationships.
Bing’s own words succinctly sum up the power of the arts to bridge gaps, to reach across unknown barriers. “To more fully gauge the temperature of a community, we need to listen to the songs it sings, the words it speaks, the dramatic events it performs, the movement of its dancers, and the images that hang on the interior and exterior walls,” he states.
When I hear certain old hymns played or sung, I’m immediately connected once again to my dear grandmother who was born in the 19th century. When I listen to today’s music, I’m linked to my precious 21-year-old granddaughter. When I visit an art museum, I can be transported to past eras or whisked to an unknown future. I can be thrilled by a classic ballet performance that recreates scenes enjoyed centuries ago by aristocratic Europeans or invigorated when modern dancers create a different magic with their creative motion. I can experience the excitement of avant-garde theatre as well as the classic plays of Shakespeare. You can do all that, too. The arts build bridges; enjoy the connections.