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This blog was written by our director, Laura Hassler.

Last week, Musicians Without Borders was honored with an award from Fair Saturday in Bilbao. In Basque-country’s famous Guggenheim Museum, a gala evening brought global artists and organizers together to share stories from their initiatives for justice, inclusion and peace. In a city that had re-invented itself around culture, what a pleasure to share the stage with artists and changemakers from around the globe!

As the Award Ceremony’s first speaker, I shared these thoughts about the power of the arts to change the world: 

We are living in times of crisis. I don’t need to remind you about climate disasters, or about wars in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Ukraine; about devastating economic injustice, or about staggering numbers of displaced people, desperately seeking safety. 

There are the obvious instructions for those—and we are so many—trying to work for a world of justice and peace:

We must speak truth to power.

We must stand with marginalized people.

We must work to end war, neo-colonialism, fossil fuel dependency, exploitative economic systems, the hegemony of military might. 

And, in their place: reparations, accountability, imagining and creating alternative structures and technologies making possible a human community that respects and cherishes the planet and all living things. All this is on the collective agendas of today’s social activists.

And then, what about the role of culture, what about the artists? Our role as changemakers is unique, as we bridge the passionate longing for justice and peace with the shared human longing for beauty and truth. 

We can communicate those deep longings with music, painting, dance, theater, poetry, literature. We can speak to the overarching human desire for connection with all that lives, with all that has gone before us and all that will come after us. We can imagine outside the rational, outside the daily, outside the material. We share what I would call an artistic sense of humor about life— and what could be more precious, more helpful in difficult times, than having a sense of humor? 

We can connect people, bring them together in artistic expression– from refugee children to professional artists – explore the territory of human creativity, create alternatives to the narratives of division and enmity. 

Truth is, we may not succeed, we may be quite right in feeling helpless when facing today’s  massive global emergencies. But here too, is the importance of an artistic perspective: daring to explore, not knowing the outcome, expecting the unexpected. Because we will in any case succeed at some level for some people. Wherever we succeed in shifting the narrative, healing and connecting, it matters. And the results of our gradual, cumulative, collective efforts may surprise us all.

In times of uncertainty, nothing is more desperately needed now than imagination, humor and creativity. And I cannot imagine a better place to be than in the space of art.

Thank you so much for creating a moment to bring people together who share an artist’s perspective on a world of injustice, violence, and war, people who continue to find—through their art–  ways of re-seeing and re-imagining how we might learn to live together… in peace. 

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