Jafferis’s Call to Action at Arts Awards 2011

Aaron Jafferis

Courtesy of Judy Sirota Rosenthal

This year’s Arts Awards was yet another terrific tribute to some of the most phenomenal artistic talent we have in the Greater New Haven area, and a a great celebration of the support for our arts community. And while all of the recipients gave gracious and beautiful remarks during their acceptance speeches,we want to bring further attention to the remarks from Hip-Hop poet and Playwright Aaron Jafferis. Below is Aaron’s speech in its entirety. We hope you enjoy his moving words as much as we did.

I’m so grateful to the Arts Council for this award, and so grateful to all these other places in New Haven that I think they’re actually trying to honor with this – the places crazy enough to let me teach there: Collective Consciousness, Bregamos, the Sister City Project, IRIS, Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, Fair Haven Clinic, Connecticut Mental Health Center, New Haven Public Schools, ACES Educational Center for the Arts, and so many others.

I’m particularly grateful to all the teachers – schoolteachers, friends, coworkers, and my parents – who taught me. Because making art is easy compared to making a kid. The initial act of kid-making may be easy, but after that it gets hard. If you mess up a work of art, you revise it or throw it out or hide it in your closet. If you mess up a kid, you…send him to juvenile detention, or jail, or wait for him to kill someone or be killed.  That happened a lot when I was a student at Hillhouse and ECA – there were about 30 murders a year in New Haven, just about what it is now, but then I knew the young people getting shot, or had friends who did. So I was angry as hell at all the arts institutions in New Haven that weren’t doing anything that had anything to do with us.

I’m not angry anymore, because I am those arts institutions. And I don’t know those kids anymore. And art can’t do anything about murders – that’s the economy’s fault.

Speaking of the economy, we have a Percent for Art program where 1% of funds for New Haven public buildings must go to put art in them.

What if there was a Percent for Youth program where a percentage of funds or at least efforts – from any art institution or program or multimillion dollar playwriting fund I benefit from – had to go to New Haven youth?

What if the percentage correlated exactly to the number of youth, or young adults, or people in general, killed in New Haven each year? Next year, we’d each be putting in at least 31%. What if our livelihoods were at stake – would we then bust our behinds to make art for and with New Haven’s toughest kids?

What if it’s not the economy’s job, but rather the job of art to cry out the value and beauty of life itself?

What if art’s job in this city is to teach, always and better and stronger, the value and beauty of life itself?

What if the 31 murders in New Haven this year mean we as artists are not doing our job?

What if we made art for and with New Haven’s toughest kids as if our lives depended on it?

What if they do?

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