All around us are powerful examples of the role the arts play in bridging cultural divides and building understanding and empathy. Two powerful arts events this week, as we celebrate Veterans Day, illustrate the diversity of the American experience. Art, music, poetry, and drama are all in the service of sending us powerful reminders of what’s important and what’s at stake.

You might have noticed the large banner on the side of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, featuring its current exhibit. The topic isn’t pretty or appealing: “Kin Killin’ Kin” – but the story and the lessons are compelling even as they are disturbing. It’s a nationally traveling exhibit by artist James Pate, who grew up in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale and graduated from the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Mr. Pate uses charcoal to explore youth violence in black, inner city communities. Conversations in his own neighborhood, beginning in 2000, gave him the inspiration for this series.


Tonight at 6 p.m., the tough issues exposed by this exhibit will be tackled in a symposium called “Violence as a Public Health Epidemic.” The artist will be part of a panel that also includes City Council Person Yvette Simpson, Cincinnati Police Chief Elliot Isaac, and renowned public health specialists.  Ozie Davis III from the Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation, one of the event organizers, will moderate. ArtsWave and Interact for Health are sponsors, along with the Freedom Center. The event is open to the public. For more details, click here. 

“Kin Killin’ Kin” is a powerful and thought-provoking series of images that reflect artists James Pate’s deep love and even greater concern for the epidemic of youth violence in the African American community. If he were a singer, he would sing about it. If he were a dancer, he would dance about it. If he were a journalist, he would join the thousands who write about it. James Pate is a master visual artist who has directed his artistic vision to one of the most critical social ills of our time…youth violence.”

-Black Art in America, August 2013

In rather poignant contrast, this weekend the arts will be used to focus us on the theme of Freedom, as the Cincinnati Symphony’s “One City One Symphony” community-wide project culminates in performances at Music Hall. The program celebrates the 150th anniversary of the 13th amendment and the legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou, including new works commissioned by the CSO from up-and-coming composers that set three of Dr. Angelou’s poems to music. Golden Globe Award-winning actress Regina Taylor makes a guest appearance as the Narrator.

maya angelou

The program, which will be performed Friday and Saturday nights, is sure to be powerful and moving. (It will also feature the much-loved New World Symphony by Dvorak.) But so too are videos of Symphony musicians describing in their own words what Freedom means to them. Watch them here:

And in honor of those who serve and sacrifice, add your own voice to the conversation: What does Freedom mean to you? Post your thoughts to #CSOFreedom #OneCity #Freedom