Opinion: Society Benefits When Artistic Vision and Politics Intersect by Diana & Walter DuMelle
Bodhi Tree Concerts performs intentional kindness through music. When we founded Bodhi Tree our aim was simple: In our small way to give back to the community, serve local artists, and bring people together, through music.
Now, as we witness a frightening and steady rise of divisiveness and hate, we find it even more important to find our commonalities, and, as cliché as it sounds, use music as common ground to remind us of our common humanity.
Running a grassroots arts nonprofit that is relevant to current affairs while not taking a political stance is tricky. However, programming our season is our way to comment and respond to the world, living our values and hopefully inspiring others to engage and think outside of their normal experiences.
For example, one of our favorite events of the year, Music en la Calle, is a free international music and dance festival every June in the amazing neighborhood of City Heights. Our regular ticket buyers come and get to know a neighborhood they might otherwise never visit. They spend their dollars at local businesses as well as gain awareness of the amazing cultural diversity this neighborhood boasts.
Music en la Calle is inspired by Opera de Tijuana’s epic Opera en la Calle, that has been held every July just across the border for over a decade. Thousands of people flood the streets of a tiny Tijuana residential neighborhood to listen to live classical music and opera from noon until midnight. It is simply the most inspiring day of music we have ever witnessed.
Each year Opera de Tijuana invites Bodhi Tree to their festival, and we host the Tijuana Youth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at our festival. This is our mission in action—artists as cultural ambassadors, sharing music and through it creating respect, understanding, and enlightenment.
There is a fight happening along our southern border. In the news we hear about children in cages, families separated, the need for walls, plus angry, false and racist rhetoric. Cultural exchanges seem small in the face of such cruelty, yet in our small way, in our border town, sharing music with our neighbors in Tijuana shines a light on our common humanity.
Could these performances help reverse reducing a group of people to a stereotype, or make one think twice before repeating an angry chant or re-posting a false tweet? Could we maybe change a mind or two?
Programming our 2020 season was easy, in a way. This year we have arguably one of the most important presidential elections in history, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and a country more divided than ever.
While researching the history of suffrage, it became very clear that so many of our country’s great movements—abolition, suffrage, civil rights—all go hand in hand. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery; however, we still needed the 14th Amendment guaranteeing all citizens, including former slaves, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But then our country still needed the civil rights movement
The 70-year fight for women’s suffrage culminated with the 19th Amendment granting all women the right to vote, yet for many women of color this was not the reality, and we needed to follow up with the Voting Rights Act. Yet even today, the fight for civil rights, universal suffrage, and equality rages on.
These issues are often used for political infighting, but to us these are ethical issues that directly affect our humanity, and we believe that music is a powerful unifying tool to help us remember that fact and perhaps think and feel a little more deeply.
So, our 2020 season begins by facing our American history of racism and injustice with “The Long Dark Shadow,” as well as the long fight for women’s suffrage with “Songs of Suffrage.” We take a break with some gorgeous music of Franz Schubert, followed by the Music en la Calle festival in City Heights, Opera en la Calle in Tijuana, and finally our tradition of “ALL IS CALM: the Christmas Truce of 1914”—when sworn enemies found common ground and came together to bury their dead, celebrate the holiday, and sing!
As artists, we feel it is our duty to play our role in the community and remind our audiences of what is meaningful in life, what brings joy, what makes our human race unique and special, and our lives and values worth living and fighting for—arts and culture.
Walter and Diana DuMelle are the founders of Bodhi Tree Concerts. The arts organization’s ninth season begins on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 22 and 23, with “The Long Dark Shadow,” and continues on March 29 with “Songs of Suffrage.” Bodhi Tree has won a San Diego Brav
o Award, multiple Best of Fringe Awards, a Critics Choice Award, and several Craig Noel Awards.