We Say YES to the Arts!

Response to “Why Do the Arts Matter?

By Melissa Chapman

Laura Mandel, we at the JCC East Bay couldn’t agree with you more. The Arts matter. They REALLY matter. Art – in its many beautiful forms – ignites our spirits, our senses, our memories, and our hopes. Which is why we’ve decided to double-down.

Back in November, the JCC East Bay launched LABA East Bay, a Jewish house of study and culture laboratory which uses classic Jewish texts to inspire the creation of art, dialogue, and study. Our cohort of fellows, the first on the West Coast, draws from a mix of visual artists, writers, dancers, musicians, actors, and they are no doubt, amongst the top culture-makers in our community.

In this next year of financial uncertainty, we’ve decided that LABA deserves to stay, and should serve as a centerpiece – a crown jewel if you will – for our JCC. We are standing behind this artist community and giving them the space to weave their way through our preschool and afterschool, to create new and radical Jewish experiences for those seeking connection, and to send a message that we believe investing in artists yields great returns. Artists are, by nature and necessity, creative, scrappy, and adaptable. They’re up to the task!

During the pandemic, these fellows have produced virtual care packages, hosted live Zoom study sessions and performances, asked provocative questions, and they have made us laugh. This group of artists are giving of themselves so our community can process, smile, and heal – together. And somehow, even in the middle of chaos, they make it work and help us feel more grounded.

Major funders also agree. The Jewish Funders Network recently launched CANVAS to help support Jewish creatives at a time where performances, showings, and income have been cancelled indefinitely. And guess who one of the first recipients was? LABA.

Now, let’s be honest. Those of us who have arts and culture programs know they don’t often generate revenue, but rather come with a significant financial investment by our organizations and philanthropic partners. We have to thank these donors who have shown great wisdom in helping us continue to unite, entertain, and spark change by amplifying the true impact the Arts can have on us all.

We agree that direct service organizations need our deep support right now. We would also argue that the Arts are indeed serving a critical purpose in our lives. They are keeping us out of the dark corners, reminding us what it means to be human, and letting us know we are not alone.

If – in addition to all of this – as Laura said and studies would show, “Jewish culture is the key to the Jewish future,” then why aren’t we all doubling down?

Melissa Chapman is the CEO of the JCC East Bay in Berkeley, CA.