September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

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From: Dylan Kidd x
Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2001 21:37:15 -0400
To: Sarah Tuft [private]
Subject: FW: Open letter from David R. White -- BESSIES AT THE BARRICADES

Is this bullshit or the Truth?

From: x
Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2001 12:53:32 -0400
To: x
Subject: Open letter from David R. White -- BESSIES AT THE BARRICADES

Open letter to the arts community from David R. White, Executive Director
of Dance Theater Workshop
September 16, 2001


This is the second introduction written for the 2001 New York Dance
and Performance Awards, otherwise known as the BESSIES which will be held
as scheduled at the Joyce Theater on September 21, 2001 at 7:00 pm. The
first, proofed and formatted, replete with ironic references to the
retirement of Jesse Helms and a reflection upon the culture wars of the
1990's, was blown away on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. Of course, it
was not blown away like the souls at the World Trade Center, in five rings
of the Pentagon, or in a field outside Pittsburgh. The BESSIES are about
a certain kind of survival: there was in the original text an allusion to
the independent artist as a "survivor" of a true-life cultural reality
show. No more. On Tuesday, the notion of "reality show" took on a whole
new meaning, in New York and around the world. When two people grasp
hands and jump from the shattered windows of a molten tower, lit up by a
hijacked jetliner, live and in color, all realities, not just cultural
reality, are forever changed.

NIMBY - this political acronym has long stood in the politics of
social services, low-income housing, functionally integrated education and
across amber waves of immigration, for Not In MY Backyard. It is also a
luminously useful term for the glaring absence of experience and the
immaturity of general consciousness of war and mass destruction visited at
home in the United States, a void of empathy that has existed for well
over a century. Over the same period, most of the world's people have
suffered excruciating moments of sudden death, occupation, forcible
displacement, and economic dismemberment, not to mention horrendous
killing fields and mass graves. On Tuesday, not only did unimaginable
catastrophe and havoc explode in America's backyard, it detonated in the
middle of what we have quaintly thought of as America's artistic downtown.

Critic Lucy Lippard once wrote that American artists don't
understand what it means for art to be dangerous. She didn't mean edgy
and post-modern and inscrutable and unpopular or even endlessly
monotonous; she meant politically and perhaps physically and
claustrophobically dangerous to those who make it and to those who need
it. Suddenly a visual artist, sleeping over in his studio workspace
(provided by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council) on a World Trade Center
tower's 102nd floor is missing. Suddenly, the wide-open plaza stage,
which had recently been home to LMCC's Evening Stars dance series, has
been memorialized as a burial mound at Ground Zero. As numbingly tragic
as all the losses continue to be, the fact is that art-making and its
public engagement only now will become truly treacherous, a rubble beneath
the feet of our community as we pick and choose, format and proof our
private beliefs and our public expressions in the wake what is becoming an
emotional state of emergency. What happens next in all of our downtowns,
only God or time knows.

Over the 17-year history of the Bessies and this ceremony, the artists,
writers, curators and producers on the BESSIES Committee have sought to
revisit and underscore certain indelible traces of work, whether as an
event or over time, inventively conceived and persuasively executed. This
is not science, to be sure, but instead a provocation of memory,
convictions, even ideologies that precipitate and sustain debate within
our community. The BESSIES process ultimately embraces argument to remind
us of all of the real achievements in our midst and perhaps of the shared
challenges ahead.

For all the above reasons, and because of the impossibly painful
circumstances of the past 10 days, we have decided to let the Bessies
ceremony go forward, celebrating the award recipients and their
accomplishments from the past year, of course - but most urgently, using
the occasion as a reaffirmation of our identity as a committed,
interdependent community. We are rescue workers like everyone else, but
our jobs lie in the reconstruction of the means and relevance of coherent
public expression, and the primacy of free and creative spirit in that

The faces of the September 11th victims, are, in fact, the faces of the
world. As much as the individuals those images capture, the world itself
is a grievously harmed victim of Tuesday's extreme violence. The smell of
war is in our air, and there are frightening micro-spasms of ethnic and
religious persecution. And that's the old-wine-in-new-bottles that we go
home to tonight, after the celebration and communion is over.

If Bessie Schönberg could be there on Friday, she would add to her
resonant admonition to the artist audience of earlier Bessies evenings -
Be wild! - to, now, Be Brave! And we would go further:

CREATE, as if your life depends on it;
ACT, as if the lives of others depend on it.

David R. White
Executive Director and Producer, Dance Theater Workshop
Founder and Producer, The BESSIES

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