Sab-bat-i-cal, as defined by Merriam Webster, “is a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.”
For the two months of August and September, thanks to the support of the CNJG board and the dedication of the staff, I was able to have a sabbatical to do all that and a whole lot of etc., etc., etc. The experience was beyond my wildest dreams and I often felt that I was moving within an amazing state of grace.
August was a total immersion into New York and its bounty of culture. I blogged about what I was doing, seeing, and experiencing at cultureeveryday.tumblr.com, which you are welcome to check out.
My month included 14 plays and musicals, 10 museums, at least 21 exhibitions, four walking tours, a class in theatre improvisation and so much more. I dove in, ate it all up and on more than one occasion thought perhaps I had somehow gotten a pair of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous Red Shoes that would not stop stepping. September took me to Rhode Island and let me quiet down and reflect. As I rediscovered myself, getting back into shape physically and mentally, I had time to process so much of what I had experienced the month prior.
I was reminded that artists truly are the mirror of our society and we are blessed to have them. If we want to see our most beautiful and our most horrific selves we must have artists among us; we must support the artists among us and we must embrace our artists for they speak truth to power and help us transcend our consciousness.
Very quickly during my cultural experiences a strong thread emerged for me. Throughout the last century (and well before), artists have been at forefront of illustrating how racism, bigotry, intolerance and inequity are cancers on our communities, our country, our world. Artists brilliantly, unapologetically expose us to their damage.
The most profound experience of the month, and the one that really crystalizes my belief in the power of artists was the MoMA exhibit “One Way Ticket” featuring the extraordinary Jacob Lawrence’s lesson of history and humanity tracing the migration of African Americans from the South to the North. I was so moved I had to see it a second time. (Not surprisingly, while there I separately ran into two CNJG members.)
But there were so many examples. There was The King & I production at Lincoln Center, where the staging magnificently illustrated Oscar Hammerstein’s repudiation of bigotry and intolerance in any form. There was the spectacular dance/theatre piece Pearl that traced the life of Nobel and Pulitzer prize winner Pearl S. Buck and her lifelong quest to bridge cultural divides of the East and West in order to help biracial children facing horrendous stigmatization. The elements of these cancers were evident often, sometimes obvious like in the film “Straight Out of Compton;” sometimes quite nuanced as in a mural being refurbished on the side of a building at 92nd and Broadway inspired by Alice Waters’ beautiful and empowering poem “Revolutionary Petunia.”
Many years ago I made the choice to spend my career working for and in organizations that were about improving the lives of others. This is incredibly rewarding work emotionally. But nonprofit work it can take a toll mentally and physically, often because the organizations are scrambling for money. Social sector professionals running any mission driven organization are giving 24/7 attention to the work and the stress of caring for clients or members, donors and staff, even the board grows.
As the tasks mount and responsibilities build there is less and less time for self-care let alone “blue sky/outside the box imagining” that could benefit the organization and the people and communities it serves.
As the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers gets closer to its 20th anniversary year and we think about what philanthropy in New Jersey could and should be focused on for the next decade I’m enormously grateful to have had this time for reflection, creativity, and dreaming.
Nina Stack is President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association of more than 120 funding organizations working in New Jersey. She also serves as a Board Member of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, a 34-member network serving more than 4,000 foundations, corporations and other donors across the country.