Written by Siobhan Mullally
Siobhan Mullally for A\J: How do you maintain the sense of uniting people and fostering partnerships online especially for an event that revolves around those fundamental drivers of relationships?
MZ: That’s a question that we really need to answer because people are missing hugs and they’re missing communal singing and holding hands and dancing with other people … There’s something about a live, in-person celebration of art that is not just emotional and aesthetic, it’s really visceral. Your body is involved in the process of appreciating the thing. In these disembodied times, we have to try to set the stage, so that people can approximate that feeling in their imaginations … You do it first of all, by creating an event that is timebound. We made sure that the festival ran from Friday to Sunday, as it normally would, and that the videos were up for that time period only … All you can do is give people music and a pre-recorded performance and hope that their imaginations will fill in the rest, so really what you’re providing is a spur for their creativity.
“We need art. Even though we have no idea why we make art, it’s such a human mystery, we need it.”
SM: How can you continue to encourage environmental learning in an online world?
MZ: The pandemic has provided us with a pause that we would not have had perhaps otherwise and I’m grateful for that because it halted our commonplace activities like driving cars, taking planes, and we’ve noticed the quiet in the skies, the return of animals. And we’ve noticed that our carbon emissions have lowered. People are paying attention to that and wondering if we could make the world anew as a result. The pause is a moment where, because the pandemic was coincident with racial violence and other cultural cataclysmic events, we’re all asking ourselves, “how do we go forward in a way that is generous toward our planet and all of our people?” … I have been doing a lot of work on carbon emissions and reflecting on the internet infrastructure. What is the carbon, water, and land footprint associated with that infrastructure that we’re now using, and that video use, as people have shifted to working from home and as people are streaming more and more entertainment, including our festivals, because of the pandemic? Those are interesting questions that we’re asking ourselves.
SM: What have you learned from this experience that will inspire your work going forward?
MZ: Well, some of the beautiful things I’ve learned is that there is an incredible thirst for art. It’s really meaningful to people and sometimes we take that for granted. Think of the inauguration for instance of Joe Biden, and the poet who came out, Amanda Gorman. Think of how many people have quoted her words. That’s what art is for. To enrich your perspective, to give you a new experience, challenge you. I think some of us have forgotten that. So, what have I learned? We need art. Even though we have no idea why we make art, it’s such a human mystery, we need it. What will inspire my work going forward? We know that we can manage in a really crazy time. We know that if we have faith in what we’re doing, in our mission, in the value of all of this art, then there’s nothing to stop us from trying something new.
“We know that we can manage in a really crazy time. We know that if we have faith in what we’re doing, in our mission, in the value of all of this art, then there’s nothing to stop us from trying something new.”
SM: How do you thrive in your work and what drives you forward every day?
MZ: I surround myself with very independent people who are skilled, many of whom are creative, but most of all, people who are problem solvers. To go back to your other question about what the pandemic has taught me is that artists and arts organizations are more accustomed to uncertainty than I think a lot of people are, because we pursue ambiguity. That’s a very common artistic process, to be in the dark with something that’s troubling you, that you’re interested in but don’t even know what it is, and you move toward clarity. If that’s a process that you inhabit every day, then when you are hit with a pandemic, it’s easier for people in the arts to explore that. I think that having a high threshold for ambiguity has made this experience quite comfortable in some ways, and it has allowed us to thrive. And what drives me is the love of my community. The conviction to give art to people is a noble profession because it’s a way of channelling love and enthusiasm and ideas and stories to people to make them come alive.
“The conviction to give art to people is a noble profession because it’s a way of channelling love and enthusiasm and ideas and stories to people to make them come alive.”