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New president, new era: US artists hopeful | DW | 21.01.2021

Dancers, writers, conductors, visual artists — various top American representatives of the cultural scene have expressed concerns and expectations but mainly cautious hope for the future under a new US administration.

Joe Biden may not be “an orator like Obama, he’s not as snazzy and cool as Obama, but he’s very calm and he knows what he’s doing,” Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jeffrey Eugenides said about America’s 46th president. “If anyone can try to help begin to heal the division of the country, I think he’s the person,” the author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides told DW.

Eugenides said in any case he did not see it as an option “to decide that the country is completely worthless and there is no use continuing the American project.” Asked about his hopes for a new era, the writer said they are, “as the new president will be, mainly pragmatic, trying to steady the ship, trying to take down the level of enmity and distrust.”

Hopes for return to stability

“He’s talking about where we’re headed and where we want to go,” Eugenides said and added that the cultural situation in the country is difficult. He also said he worries about the “huge problem with information and false information.”

The 60-year-old writer remembers growing up with just a handful of networks providing the news — “people trusted them, and there was a shared reality to discuss; now that’s no longer the case.” The renowned author wonders how the administration will tackle “the level of disinformation on the internet — I don’t know how you fix it.”

Artists have high hopes for America’s future under the Biden-Harris administration

‘Resilience and stamina’

Jocelyn B. Smith, a 60-year-old New York-born singer who has lived in Berlin,Germany, for 30 years, also sees a fresh chance for America to heal. “What I’m looking at is resilience and stamina — there is a strength,” she told DW. She added that, from an artist’s point of view, “this is something that we pride ourselves on, and that feels very optimistic for me!”

Visual artist Chloe Piene also hopes mainly that “the nation heal, it is so wounded.”

‘We’ve been holding our breath’

Apart from hope, there is great relief in the artistic community, too. 

“I think for all of us, it’s a huge exhale; it’s as though we’ve been holding our breath for four years, not knowing what was about to happen at any moment,” said Marin Alsop, chief conductor both of the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

The arts, she argued, are not just for the soul, but for the bottom line, too. “Culture in the United States is 4.5% of our GDP. And that’s really huge. I don’t think, as artists, we promote that fact enough,” she told DW.

‘A new chapter’

Some artists, like Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, have quite concrete ideas. “This is the Biden administration’s opportunity to really take us seriously, to really understand who we are, what we are and how big we are,” the American choreographer, dancer and founder of the Urban Bush Women (UBW) dance company, said, telling DW that many women are asking this administration “to create a cabinet position for arts and culture.”

 “We see the economic engine that we are and the loss of that through this pandemic — our voices are important, and not just voices, we provide jobs, we provide training, we provide education,” she argued.

“It’s a new chapter and I can’t wait for it to begin,” the 70-year-old said.


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