Ari Roth's Speech from the 32nd Annual Mayor's Arts Awards
Presented by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Mayor's Arts Awards are the most prestigious honors conferred by the District on individual artists, teachers and nonprofit organizations. Mosaic's Founding Artistic Director Ari Roth was one of three special honorees last Thursday night at the historic Lincoln Theatre, receiving a special prize for his visionary leadership.
As a part of our Mosaic family, we are honored to share Ari's acceptance speech with you:
"I want to thank the Mayor and the DC Commission for this honor. I’m here because of an amazing team we’ve put together at Mosaic; a beautiful board, staff, supporters, and a squadron of artists. This important evening reminds us of the role the arts play in nurturing a city’s soul.
I came to this city 20 years ago having lost a job I loved in a national search, with two little daughters in tow, and one amazingly supportive, intellectually-nimble spouse. Washington became a place for us to start over; for me that place was the J (the DC Jewish Community Center), where I began working as a first-time producer not really knowing what an Artistic Director was supposed to do!
We had a tiny budget, but there was strong leadership, and I was lucky to ride the wave of a cultural tide where DC theaters grew from 30 to 50 to 85 companies strong. I got to learn by co-producing with 10 different troupes – from Olney to Woolly to Arena — and it remains easy to do so here because we’re a Collaborative City; we are a Welcoming City; we take in artists seamlessly, be they newcomers from across the country or around the world. We Embrace Dreamers.
I had a great run at the J, but it was even greater when I was given the chance to start from scratch (or “was shown the door”, take your pick!) and had no choice but to conceive of the birth of Mosaic. We didn’t start tiny. I took Molly Smith’s advice when she said “Start big.” We did. And here’s what I’ve learned about what an artistic director actually does: • We look into the future and imagine life where there’s stillness. • We hear discourse where there’s silence.
• We intuit need and address it.
• We lead by learning, not just by teaching.
• We create companies that strive for Utopia, but the Utopia we have in mind is one that embraces fullness, not perfection. • We promote joy and fellowship, but respect struggle and conflict and tragedy as an art form because that is the cleansing predicate to catharsis, which heals. • And because this is the 21st Century, we inscribe the values of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access at every strata of our organizations, on stage and off, building community across religious, cultural, generational, and racial lines.
I am proud to have grown up on the South Side of Chicago, with an Integrationist-Hyde-Park-Ethos coursing through my veins. But Washington has given my hometown a run for its money, and like our last great president, I’m choosing to stay right where I am in DC. I have never felt more creatively alive nor supported by a discerning audience than right here – which begets a last lesson:
• Musicals can sell like hotcakes in this town– I know cause we got one, and we’re extending The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues Bessie Smith though Oct 1 – but there’s no place for a Serious Play That Humanizes the Headlines like here in the nation’s capital.
Finally, It is the artist’s dream to be fully known. And it is a happy producer to have the things that you’ve dreamed up and then made with the help of others, be valued by a community, as you have done tonight and on so many nights at the theater. You have made me feel valued, and it’s my job to keep making other artists feel the same. I hope I can live up to that charge — to keep the lamp lit — a lot longer! Thank you."
Ari Roth September 14, 2017