Let’s be honest, 2015 was not a great year for human beings. The image of the little Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi washed up on the beach in Turkey, a searing emblem of what we fail to do for each other in times of need, was almost too much to bear. And yet, despite — or perhaps because of — so much sorrow and injustice in 2015, it was a great year for the human spirit, with people everywhere turning to those most human of all qualities, creativity and courage, to express hope for a better way forward.
When no one expected it, there was President Barack Obama singing the old Christian hymn and African-American spiritual “Amazing Grace” at the eulogy for the pastor at the South Carolina church where nine black church members were gunned down by a white supremacist. When same sex couples at last won the right to marry everywhere in America, they made millions of photographs celebrating the joy of their vows — and the removal of one more roadblock in their struggle for equality under the law. And in France, just days after terrorists killed 89 audience members at a rock show, people streamed back into the clubs and concert halls across the country to celebrate music and their refusal to be frightened out of their way of life.
And the Bay Area was no exception. Months after the satirical illustrators at Charlie Hebdo magazine were massacred in Paris, Oakland street muralist Antonio Ramos was senselessly murdered (though not with terrorist implications) as he painted with fellow muralists under an East Bay overpass. Years of displacement of poor and working-class residents of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose due to higher and higher costs of living continued unabated. And all the while arts spaces and arts organizations throughout the region continued to lose their leases and close their doors in the face of unrelenting rent hikes.
But none of it seemed to dampen the resilient, creative spirit of the Bay Area. Carnaval, San Jose’s Summer Jazz Fest, and the Hiero Day hip-hop fest in Oakland drew tens of thousands. So did our museums, galleries and countless public displays of art. And everywhere, even in the hardest hit neighborhoods, people kept singing and dancing and making their art. With special thanks to Bay Area’s Michael Franti and Spearhead for their song “Let it Go,” and to our colleague Kelly Whalen for capturing the region’s amazing irrepressible spirit in this KQED Arts’ video montage, we wish everyone a happy and truly creative 2016!
David Markus is the Executive in Charge for KQED Arts