Inspiring Empathy

Celebrating Jacob Lawrence with Step Afrika!

Photo: Tao Ruspoli and Marie Noorbergen

“Being a performer of classical music is an inherently empathetic act. We don’t play our own music. The simple task is to try to come as close as possible to an understanding of the mind, heart and soul of another individual.”
 — Jonathan Biss
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Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

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Thematic Programming


The decision to program an entire season around a single theme arose from many months of conversation between Meany’s Executive and Artistic Director Michelle Witt and performance artist and Mellon Fellow Daniel Alexander Jones about art as a creative force for good in turbulent times — a means of accessing our emotions in ways that spark both contemplation and connection.


Michelle began thinking about programming an entire season that encourages us to leave what we know and bravely embrace a new perspective, and she invited Daniel to join her in developing a set of questions and considerations related to this season’s events that we could pose to both artists and audiences with the aim of deepening our sense of empathy for the artists, the work and for one another. Here are some of their answers:

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Gabriel Kahane

Please share a time when you experienced the arts cultivating a sense of connection between people.

“On September 11, 2001, I was a junior in college. The president of the university I attended convened a vigil that night in a lecture hall, and invited students to come to microphones at the front of the hall to share whatever they were feeling at the moment. One young woman, I don’t remember anything about her except that her voice was shaking, came down to one of the microphones and asked if we could all sing ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie. And we all did. And it was ... a weirdly sacred act of communion.”

Photo: Spencer Pinson

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Orlando Consort

What is the role of empathy in your art?

“As we see it, empathy is an essential component of musical expression. Empathy is thus intrinsic to the work of the composer, and to understand the music, it unquestionably helps us to learn about their lives.”

Photo: Eric Richmond

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Ushio Amagatsu
(Sankai Juku) 

What is the role of empathy in your art?

“Empathy is very important in my art. It is the very bridge, in the minds of people, that connects people beyond the differences of cultures or personalities.”

Courtesy of the Artist

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Step Afrika!

Please share a time when you experienced the arts cultivating a sense of connection between people.

“Whenever Step Afrika! travels internationally, we connect with local artists to learn and exchange our art forms. One year, we hosted a camp in Lebanon where we taught kids how to step. The kids in the camp came from different socioeconomic, religious and cultural backgrounds. It was specifically designed that way to bring people together. As one group, they all learned to work together and remain committed to the process. To this day, some of those students are still connected and remain friends.”

Photo: Jati Lindsay