This Is What We Train For

March 25, 2020

By: andrew simonet

Dear artists,

This is what we train for.

This moment is a health crisis, a brutal one. It is also a crisis of meaning. It is a crisis of connection, of story. It is a crisis of who we are to each other and the agreements that hold us together. And those are things we artists know how to work on.

The script for how we will be together in this time has not been written. Artists will have a huge impact on that story.

My longtime dance collaborators and I used to say: All our art making and community building are really just basic training for some future moment of crisis. We were strengthening muscles for the rupture or emergency to come. And here we are.

Your skills are sorely needed.

If you mostly hang out with artists, you might think your skills as an artist are normal. They are not. Few people have the range, depth of practice, and follow-through to discover and manifest new visions.

Artists navigate the unknown. We go in our studios and ask new questions, pushing away from shore and into uncertainty. In this time of roiling uncertainty, we know how to stay awake and responsive, and how to help others do the same.

Artists build possible futures. This moment desperately needs futures beyond the sobering medical news and the jarring contortions of policies and markets.

We are connectors, conveners, community builders.

We understand rhythm, flow, and negative space. Not everything we do right now needs to be doing. Silence is a way of telling. Stillness is movement.

We bear witness. We listen to and reveal what it is like to be alive right now.

We use what we have on hand to build what we need. We make sculptures from discarded materials, dances out of everyday gestures, music from found sounds. At a time when many are lamenting what is being taken away, we know how to begin with what we have.

We create the images and songs and dances and stories that are needed, that comfort and challenge and inspire, that return us to our deeper selves or urge us forward into transformation.

We build alternative economies based in collaboration, barter, D.I.Y. resourcefulness, and repurposing what others do not value.

We challenge assumptions and reframe the world. How we see this current emergency and how we see ourselves within it will determine how we emerge from it. Artists look past the noise to deeper, more radical possibilities.

I don’t know what your art is. I don’t know your connections to community. But wherever you are, I call on you to unleash your practice as an artist and maker and re-imaginer.

In this crisis of meaning, you are first responders.

You don’t need to save the world. You need only carry your gifts and skills into this present challenge. A concert out your window. A public ritual you and your neighbors can do from your front steps. An expressive moment added to an online conversation. A project to mourn what is lost, a project to invite what is yet to come.

Use your collaboration skills to organize your neighbors, or your D.I.Y. skills to build something from nothing. Or declare these weeks of separation an artist residency.

Make the art this moment needs.

May we be completely safe with our health and bold as all hell in our practice.

This is what we train for.



andrew simonet


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Andrew Simonet is a writer and choreographer in Philadelphia. He is interested in messy, complex humans colliding with rigid systems. He's interested in how unequal everything is, and the stories we tell ourselves about that. He's interested in the stories men tell themselves about everything. He is interested in what bodies know that brains don't. He thinks pretty is the enemy of beautiful. His debut young adult novel, Wilder, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in November 2018. He is currently writing a novel narrated by a young woman with a developmentally disabled brother. He was a founding Co-Director of Philadelphia's Headlong Dance Theater from 1993-2013 who made raucous performance works.

He is an activist and organizer for artists having sustainable lives. Founding Artists U (programs in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and South Carolina) and wrote Making Your Life as an Artist.

His creative work has been supported by the Creative Capital Foundation, The NEA, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The New England Foundation for the Arts, Yaddo, and Ucross. He received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, an Independence Fellowship in the Arts, and a Bessie for Choreography at the New York Dance and Performance Awards.

Find out more about andrew here