What "Hamilton" can teach us
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. If you don’t know who he is, then you’ve been living under a rock. He’s the Tony-winning creator of Hamilton. And if you don’t know what Hamilton is, that rock is on the moon. Why do I bring him up? Because there are many parallels in Hamilton to the arts community.
Our Founding Fathers sometimes acted like divas and drama queens in their quest to forge a new nation independent of the taxation without representation mentality of King George III. Or so it seemed to that monarch across the pond, who sings “You’ll be back”. But it was really passion that they were exhibiting, the same passion that can be found in the creative community because there can be no creative success without passion.
Hamilton pits states’ rights against federalism. Under states’ rights, the states have considerable autonomy to pass, enforce and interpret their own laws and pursue their own public policy programs. Arts organizations can be likened to states’ rights advocates. Each is independent, producing goods for consumer consumption and pursuing their missions as determined by their governance boards. They are also often struggling to make ends meet.
Federalism combines a central or federal government with regional governments, in this case, the states. It creates a power division but the involved parties are of equal status. In the arts community, this occurs through the power of collaboration and partnership. Arts organizations retain their individual identities, but come together in a collaborative effort for the good of the community and the respective event.
And so in Hamilton, strong personalities clash, and maneuver, and seek to represent their state in the most positive way to gain what they can in the Constitution they are writing. Tempers flare. Alliances are made and unmade. And one song in particular strikes a chord- “The Room Where it Happens” Let’s face it. Everyone wants to be in the room where it happens. Having a seat at the table. Some more than others. That’s not a bad thing. Because it shows involvement. And dedication. And passion.
For too many years, arts organizations operated in silos. Everyone was dependent upon the same limited dollars to remain relevant and afloat. And the rap was that arts organizations could not and would not ever get along, perhaps because of the perceived competitiveness for those same limited dollars. The arts missed out on one noticeable funding opportunity because of this belief. Unlike the description of our country in Hamilton, the arts were oftentimes not young, scrappy and hungry, but like George III, complacent in a belief system. For the arts, it was that going it alone was the only way to survive. That is no longer the case.
There is a feeling of renewal in the arts in our community that started a few years ago. There is a feeling we are on the cusp of an arts explosion. Perhaps things have sped up due to the DMC initiative. But it would have happened eventually because arts organizations, artists and community arts leaders are rising up to promote the arts and collaboration. If people want to be in the room where it happens, they need to build that room.
As with the forging of alliances years ago that led to E Pluribus Unum, we can all retain our individual arts identities (states’ rights) while speaking with one voice through collaborative efforts so that the arts community is viewed as a strong, central community pillar as well (federalism).
To paraphrase Alexander Hamilton through the voice of Lin-Manuel Miranda, let’s not throw away our shot.