Last September, when my father died, I had been in South Carolina for two months and stayed for a third month to be with my mother and continue to tend to his affairs. He had died two weeks before my 5th wedding anniversary, and by the time we got around to that my husband and I were too exhausted and paralyzed by decision fatigue to know how to mark the occasion.
Once a ritual when I lived in Columbia, I grabbed a Free Times circular—Columbia, SC’s local newspaper of arts + culture happenings—and almost instantly we had an itinerary: Rosewood Arts + Music Festival, Palmetto Peanut Boil, Soda City Market, and, later that night, the season opener of the SC Philharmonic, a presentation of Dazzling Debussy, which as a flautist I especially enjoyed.
From my 11 years in NYC, I admit, it was the first time that I had seen my city differently, taken seriously the potential of my hometown local arts scene, its possibilities. I still sometimes marvel about the ease with which I cracked open a briny, earthy peanut shell to reveal to my husband its rich delicacy, and then hummed along to Debussy’s masterworks in the acoustic halls of the Koger Center.
When I returned to South Carolina this past September (as I do now, monthly) to mark the occasion of a year without my father, I turned again to the Free Times for solace, maybe distraction, community. I discovered this time a whole new world: The Color of Music festival, a Black classical music festival at Allen University, a historically Black university in town. In addition to hearing the ‘traditional’ Western operatic standards, we were invited to tune in a little deeper to Black traditions in the operatic mode, our heads nodding in unison as the soloist, Laquita Mitchell, tapped her feet and lifted her eyes to the heavens for the Negro Spirituals that closed out the one-hour set, testifying: “My soul is anchored in the Lord!”
This year, again on our anniversary but back in NYC, the artist Chloe Bass celebrated her first solo exhibition, “Wayfinding” with the Studio Museum’s inHarlem series. We ventured to St. Nicholas Park, my old stomping grounds where I loved, and lived, and lost and found myself years ago.
What is all this other than an account of my arts + culture calendar in NYC and SC? I keep thinking of one of Chloe’s statements from the exhibition:
The part of you that says, “I can share myself with another.”
And I think this might be a long way to describe the weaving in and out of our lives, the work of culture. How, even in sorrow, it can offer solace, comfort. As we begin to turn more inward for the coming seasons, as the days get shorter (and, if you’re like me you might want to stay inside more) let’s find bright moments for art—and here I argue of course and always for Black art—to warm us through the cold, sometimes heartsick, nights.