Being an arts advocate, it should come as no surprise that events at Philadelphia’s iconic museums were among the highlights of my Democratic National Convention schedule. The Philadelphia Citizen held a panel discussion on innovation and local government and watch party at the Barnes Foundation.
I’m a policy wonk and civic app developer so the discussion was in my wheelhouse. But the real attraction was the opportunity to view the Barnes collection without the usual crowds. Although I’ve visited the museum several times, I somehow missed that Horace Pippin’s paintings, including "Supper Time," are in the collection.
The painting immediately brought to mind Irving Berlin’s "Supper Time" from the 1933 Broadway musical As Thousands Cheer. Written for Ethel Waters, the song is about a wife’s reaction to the news of her husband’s lynching. The almost daily occurrence of state-sanctioned racial terror fueled the Great Migration.
Americans for the Arts Action Fund held an ARTSSPEAK@DNC panel at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The speakers included Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, and musicians Ben Vereen and Ben Folds.
The panelists discussed the economic and transformative impact of the arts. I dutifully nodded my head when Vereen acknowledged the panelists were singing to the choir, i.e., “warriors for the arts.” But when he broke out in song, I had to fight back the tears.
To be sure, the Tony Award winner can sang, but it wasn’t just any song. Vereen sang the song that inspired me to believe that I would be able to rise above my station in life. I grew up in deep poverty in Brooklyn. While walking the streets of Bed-Stuy, I would sing “The Impossible Dream” from the 1964 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha.
The lyrics inform my lifelong activism and commitment to social justice. Indeed, I’m living proof that art changes lives.