What Is the Role of the Artist in Society? By Michael McElroy

Monday Apr 27th, 2020

Blog > What Is the Role of the Artist in Society? By Michael McElroy

As a stage and film actor for the past three decades, my life has been inexorably shaped by art. When we explore past generations and the civilizations they inhabited, in almost every case, the window into their world has been through art. Architecture, music, clothing, and visual and performing arts illuminated the lives of the people, what they valued and how they interacted. In times of joy, transition or unrest, the images captured, songs written, films created have provided snapshots of the world and challenged society to either face itself or to set into motion what it could become. At the center of every moment of conflict, civil disobedience, celebration, and transformation, the heartbeat has always been art.
And now, here we are in a time of confusion and unbelievable sorrow. Coping with unprecedented uncertainty and unemployment, dramatic shifts in education, and surrounded by and enduring great losses of life. In this moment, society necessitates that we disconnect as the best and only path towards healing. At this unimaginable crossroad, we, the artists, have a choice. We can surrender to this darkness, frustrated, paralyzed in our solitary existence, or we can do what artists have always done: work to reflect society and the complexity of the human spirit. We can create, contemplate, and collaborate.

In this mandatory time of isolation that threatens to suffocate our world, we can be the oxygen that thrusts breath and movement into the world to bring hope back into our lives. Let your artistic process in this moment give voice to pain, joy and hope. Let your artistic vision be a beacon in this lonely time. Let art, in this powerful moment of disconnect, connect us all.

In the future, when we are long gone, this moment in time will be studied and interrogated to understand the people existing in this moment. What will future generations, learn about us as a society? It is my hope they will see our empathy, our resilience and a surge of art that will leave them awestruck. As artists, we are ministers, teachers, guides, antagonizers, mentors, empaths, who through our gifts and craft, dig deep to give voice to the issues we grapple with and experiences we celebrate. As a teacher, both on the stage and in the classroom, encourage your students to be galvanized by life to produce art of all forms. We are two-way mirrors that reflect and illuminate the world we live in. We are thinkers and innovators interrogating not only what is but what will be. We are the heartbeat of civilization.

Michael McElroy (1985 YoungArts Winner in Theater) is a Grammy Award nominee and the founder and director of Broadway Inspirational Voices—for which he won a Tony Award for Excellence in Theater. He has performed in numerous Broadway productions, is the associate chair of Undergraduate Drama and Vocal Performance in the New Studio on Broadway at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts as well as the director of Diversity Initiatives for Tisch Drama.