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LeeAnn Dowd

I recently attended the Artist as Citizen Conference in New York City. It was hosted by a non-profit organization called Artists Striving to End Poverty, which uses the arts to transform the lives of youth around the world. For five days, I lived in Juilliard dorms, took classes from world-renown faculty, saw A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (featuring ASTEP member and Tony winner Alex Sharp) and laughed/sobbed with 58 other young artists from around the world. If you are interested in learning more about the conference or in attending next year, check out their website or shoot me a message.

Whenever I use the phrase "life-changing" to describe an experience, there is a part of me that groans and rolls its metaphorical eyes. Technically, every experience I've ever had was life-changing,  because my life changed from one that previously did not include that experience, to one that did. My decision not to brush my hair this morning and then make some iced tea was "life-changing," if you're being technical about it.

And yet.

There is another part of me, one that I've shamed with so much eye-rolling this post-grad year that I thought it had gone away completely. It's the part of me that's like Pollyanna, honestly. It's not technical- it's hopeful and happy, and yes, naive. I rediscovered it during the Artist as Citizen Conference.  

This conference reengaged me in the work of making good- making good art, making good friendships, making good adventures, making good communities. It was a week in which I forgave myself for not being everything, but dared to believe that I could do anything. In short, it's changed my life. I went to this thing expecting to network and maybe see a show- what I experienced, and what I've experienced since, has gone much further and much deeper. Sunshine. Rainbows. The whole nine yards.

As the conference neared its end, there was sense of apprehension. The space we had been in for the last week felt very precious and very delicate. I was worried that the bitterness and despair I'd felt before would come rushing in to fill that space. I also had a nagging sense of deja vu in the midst of this apprehension, a sense that there was an analogy I couldn't remember the words for. As one of the other Fellows headed for the airport with a crown of braids and carpet bag, I realized my deja vu was actually a scene from "The Sound of Music."

Go with me on this.

When her feelings for Captain Von Trapp become too confusing, Maria returns to the abbey. Mother Superior sings "Climb Every Mountain." My mother cries (everytime). The wisest nun of them all says to Maria, "These walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them." 

To me, this was the essence of leaving the Juilliard building that day. I didn't want to go back to my regular life. The world has Nazis who count on me to stay quiet and Captains who force me to confront hard truths about myself. But if I just hid in the abbey and became a nun, who would make chic curtain play-clothes and teach the kids how to sing? Art- in all its forms- is necessary, people. Thank you, ASTEP, for reminding me how much I believe that.

Flibbertigibbet out,