These were among the many wondrous sights that trailed me and my motorcycle from downtown DeKalb to our campus one warm and sunny Saturday afternoon last May.
It was colorful. It was noisy. It embodied creativity come to life on foot – or wheels. It was ARTIgras.
Our public celebration of the arts brought children of all ages into the streets, wearing costumes, banging drums, sporting oversized masks and expressing themselves. The parade that I led kicked off art exhibitions, musical performances and opportunities to try your hand at creating something – or to become a work of art yourself.
NIU is doing it again next weekend, and we’re making it bigger.
ARTIgras will begin its second year at 7 p.m. Friday, May 6, with “March to Bourbon Street,” an evening of art, music, dance and theater at the Egyptian Theatre. The main event, including the return of the Arts Parade, steps off at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at the corner of Third and Locust streets.
For our amazing students and faculty in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, these two days make the creative process a focus of the community. The same is true for their counterparts in other colleges and members of our university community who also appreciate, nurture or perhaps produce the arts.
These events reinforce our deep commitment to the arts and humanities. Teaching, promoting and inspiring creativity are core to our mission.
The arts prompt us to examine and interpret human culture, and ourselves, in different ways. They help us to think creatively and consider the design of our physical and social landscape and, potentially, to identify and solve vexing problems
Songs, poems, paintings, movies, sculptures, books, dances, photographs and more touch our hearts – and sometimes our nerves. Their impact stays with us long after the music has faded, the curtain has dropped or the exhibition has closed.
Consider the reaction to the recent deaths of iconic musicians Prince and David Bowie: Each of them crossed traditional personal boundaries and challenged us to question socially defined roles.
Most of their fans had never met them – their only connection was the music – but they suffered the losses like close friends or family. They paid tribute on stage and on social media, purchased the music anew or dug out old copies and, mostly, remembered what made them love those sounds and messages these rock poets created for us.
How marvelous the arts are in building bridges across very diverse lines.
It was wonderful to see the diversity of the crowds mourning both of these great artists. Strangers of all ages, races, ethnic backgrounds, social classes, sexual orientations and genders were drawn together, united by their love of this art form, compelled to share hugs and tears and join in spontaneous singalongs of the hits.
These artists – just like authors, poets, sociologists, philosophers, historians, psychologists, journalists, political scientists, literary scholars and others – helped us to understand and explain what makes us who we are, why we think and act the way we do and how we can improve.
Our excellent NIU faculty in the arts and humanities pursue similar goals and work to prepare the generations that will ask, explore and answer those questions in the future.
Please join my wife, Dana Stover, and me next weekend for ARTIgras. It will thrill your senses, arouse your imaginations and maybe teach you something about those with whom we share this community.