By Jan Worth-Nelson
Maybe it feels like we have to, but we can’t think about water all the time. We can’t worry about water all the time.
We can’t be depressed about politics all the time. We can’t be sad about Orlando — and now Baton Rouge, and now Minneapolis, and now Dallas, and now Nice, and now Turkey — all the time. We can’t be angry about gun violence all the time. We can’t mourn the extinctions of blameless creatures all the time. We can’t be afraid of the zika virus or saltwater leaching into Miami all the time.
It’s just too much.
Sometimes we have to turn to the bracing curatives of art. Sometimes that is part of our mourning. Sometimes we have to turn to the consolations of music. Sometimes that is part of trying to move on.
You’ll notice something about the June hard copy issue of East Village Magazine: almost everything in it is about art. And when it comes to art and music in the city, what a time of celebration we are enjoying in the midst of our woes.
An amazing new gallery has opened up at the corner of Court and Saginaw streets, the thrilling Mott-Warsh collection of works from African-American artists and the African diaspora.
A signature sculpture outside, a giant “thought bubble,” is also a bench, inviting passers-by to stop and chat, taking a selfie perhaps knowing that inside is a stirring history of long-neglected and under-appreciated work with provocative stories to tell. (You can sit on that bench, curator Stephanie James wants people to know.)
Ground has been broken on the expansion of the Flint Institute of Arts, and the skylight bright rooms to come will host glass blowers and metal casting.
A “makerspace” in an old building on Grand Traverse which a hundred years ago was a factory for the Dort Motor Car Company is being rehabilitated to offer space for 21st century entrepreneurs.
And the walls of blighted buildings in five of the city’s seven wards are being transformed by a partnership between young and experienced muralists in the “Gallery on the Go” project.
These are not the death rattles of a dying city. These are markers of a city’s bloom, a city’s resilience. These are signs of a city still capable of being provoked and enraptured, still captivating itself with beauty, still surprising itself with energy that feels like love.
The weekend of the Orlando shootings, a concert violinist with Flint roots, William Harvey, was staying with us as he passed through Michigan on part of his 50-state “Cultures in Harmony” tour.
That Saturday, we drove him by his first childhood home, which he hadn’t seen since 1987. When we pulled up in front of 1910 Montclair, he jumped out and exclaimed, “Oh my god, that’s the house. That’s the house where I got my first violin.”
He has never forgotten the moment when his life as a musician took off – in an upright colonial on a quiet, green College-Cultural Center street. We had breakfast at Steady Eddy’s, and then he played for a dozen of us, all neighbors and friends, in my living room.
In the decades since his childhood in Flint, Harvey has had many adventures, including founding and conducting the Afghan Youth Orchestra and performing as concertmaster in an orchestra in San Juan, Argentina.
His Afghanistan experience especially marked him. In a country fraught with bloodshed and extremism, music was a powerful and sometimes perilous counter-action.
That mattered when we got up on Sunday morning to the terrible news about Orlando. Harvey did what he does best. He picked up his violin. In another room, I let the music roll into my heart. If music that gorgeous exists in the world, I told myself, there still is hope.
And the musician got his start in Flint, a place so often associated with decimation and struggle. As one of our neighbors said, with hopeful pride, “He is one of our children.”
During a pause, I called Harvey into my writing room. I’d been crying.
“I feel so lucky to have that music in my own home, in Flint right now,” I said. “Tell me something I can put in my article about all this.”
He was in a hurry. He wanted to play more music. But he understood. Violin still in hand, his thoughts coalesced.
“No one who truly listens to music can deny the dignity and worth of every human being,” he said.
“The logic behind that is that if we respond to something that communicates without words, we have to consider that someone else will respond to it as well. I view music as a radical affirmation of the humanity we all share.”
We can cherish the radical affirmation of our shared humanity here in Flint.
For example, Fridays in June there was chamber music for free at the Flint Institute of Music: brass quintets and cellos and even tambourines – and cookies afterward. Tuesday night there’s free jazz at Soggy Bottom – and they’re packing the house every week. There’s music at St. Paul’s Episcopal and Shakespeare – at least for this year — at Kearsley Park and the Flint Youth Theater.
So, brother and sister Flintoids, it seems that we are soothing our hearts and savoring reminders of how humans can create some pretty grand counter arguments against brutality and ruin.
Not to mention fun: three cheers for the lightness of being and a couple of good cocktails at the bar.
As you may have heard, this month marks the 40th anniversary of East Village Magazine. In 1976, as the nation celebrated 200 years of raucous, inglorious, and occasionally noble survival, Gary Custer and his little band of volunteers first published this magazine out of an inconspicuous Second Street storefront.
Custer, a much-beloved Flint original, a man of unassailable journalistic ethics and a passion for neighborhoods, never stopped believing in the city and in the necessity to tell the city’s stories.
When he died last year, the little crew who decided to carry on have never let his values be far from our thoughts. Custer never made a penny from his Don Quixote endeavors. Despite his curmudgeonly bluster he loved East Village Magazine and the city that birthed it. He would have despaired at the water crisis. But we also think he would have believed wholeheartedly in the signs of life that are the arts in Flint today. It is in this spirit that we dedicate this issue to him and to the unlikely, plucky project he brought to life.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.