A child looking upwards at a colorful tapestry of mixed media at the art museum.

The Power of the Arts

Author: Secretary Reid Wilson

Lately, I’ve been immersed in the arts – the first ever Earl Scruggs Music Festival near Tryon, Lake Street Dive’s amazing concert at the NC Museum of Art, the NC Symphony’s tremendous opening weekend performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Cherokee dancers at the Trail of Tears conference, and a powerful performance by the Kyiv City Ballet in Wilmington. And I can’t wait to see the NC Museum of Art’s reinstallation of the people’s collection, to be unveiled on October 8.

The arts are important to us for many reasons – for artists to express their creativity, for audiences to consider new perspectives, for children to find their passion, and for communities large and small to thrive with a high quality of life.

I also believe that the arts can be a powerful unifying force, helping us to heal and come together. Why? Let me tell you more about the Kyiv City Ballet.

The ballet company left Ukraine on a previously scheduled tour, just one day before Russia unjustifiably and brutally invaded their country. The dancers have not been able to return home since then, now 222 days.

The Kyiv Ballet extended its original tour just to support itself. Wilmington and the state of North Carolina were proud to be the site for the premier of the ballet’s American tour. Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo gave the company a key to the city, and First Lady Kristin Cooper presented them with a North Carolina flag that had flown over the State Capitol. In her remarks, she shared that her great-grandfather was Ukrainian.

Though the sold-out crowd was excited to watch the ballet that night, the performance was about so much more than that.

We have all seen that horrific atrocities have been committed. But we have also seen Ukrainian soldiers courageously defend their homeland. And we have seen civilians display unwavering bravery and resilience.

I can only imagine how heartwrenching it is for members of the company to follow the news each day, not knowing for sure how their loved ones are doing and gazing with shock at scenes of devastation. And yet, they delivered a magnificent performance.

I’ve never witnessed such an activated, almost boisterous audience at a fine arts performance. The full-throated cheering and thunderous applause made it clear that the audience supported not only the ballet dancers’ wonderful performance but the plight of their entire nation as it struggles to defend itself against the Russian invasion.

Everyone could feel the intensity of the moment, 1,600 Americans expressing their heartfelt empathy and support for complete strangers from thousands of miles away. The dancers were clearly touched by this show of support, and the mutual appreciation between performers and the audience built to a crescendo over the two-hour performance.

This shared experience of the arts connected all of us in a fundamental way. It produced instant bonds. It revealed our common humanity.

When the Kyiv City Ballet is able to return home, they will no doubt have an important role to play in bringing people together and healing their nation’s wounds. I know they eagerly await the day they can do just that.

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