Kenny Blank Receives Nexus Award; Describes the Arts as First Responders for the Heart and Soul

Nexus Award Remarks by Kenny Blank.jpg

With very special thanks to Veronica and our friends at the Atlanta Contemporary, it is a great honor to accept the Nexus Award on behalf of my colleagues at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, plus our champions for the arts at the Blank Foundation, and everyone here, who works for—or supports—an arts organization in our community.

The word “nexus” in this context has particular meaning for me, because in my experience, success has come from positioning myself at the intersection, or nexus, of many extraordinary individuals who, if I’m lucky, share some of their talent and wisdom with me. A large part of leadership derives from following others we look up to…and a willingness to listen and learn from them.

I’m incredibly proud of what our team at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has achieved in just a few short years, expanding from our city’s largest film festival to a full-fledged organization that now produces a variety of programming throughout the year, and attracts audiences of all faiths and backgrounds. I see firsthand the enormous human capital required to bring a great showcase of cinema to the screen, or original theatrical works to the stage, or world-class art to museums, or the seemingly endless rehearsals needed to land every note of a concert, and every synchronized step of a dance.

And that’s just the physical, mental and emotional effort expended to create the magic that is art. As we’ve learned from the Blank Foundation’s Audience Building initiative: “If you build it, maybe they’ll come?” meaning, it takes even more than great art to create loyal arts consumers. Success can also depend on overcoming other barriers: the whims of traffic and travel distances, parking, the curb appeal of a venue—is it inviting, and what’s to eat nearby—and, of course, can I find a date? Your art may be unsurpassed. But nowadays, that may not be enough to get folks off their phones and off their couches!

So, it takes nerve and fortitude, even audacity, to take on these challenges. There are long hours and sacrifices we make, sacrifices that are shared by our family and friends, including members of my family here tonight.

Which makes art professionals, dare I say, true heroes.

Too strong a word? I don’t think so. Play, if you will, the “what if” game for a moment, and imagine our city without the arts. How might your understanding of the world, your empathy for others, and your own sense of self be different if you never took in that film, that play, that performance, that painting or photograph hanging on a gallery wall…that transported you, that made you think, that made you laugh, that made you feel happy, or that just made you feel something.

The arts are essential, indispensable, vital. These may sound like platitudes on the lips of every supporter of the arts. But extensive research over the past half-century tells us definitively: participation in the arts really does improve lives…unlocking places of joy, excitement, innovation, education, creative thinking and, most of all, expanding our relationships with one another.

Yes, the staff of these arts nonprofits are heroes, and more so now because their contributions come at a moment when we are starved for hope, inspiration and connection. Our discourse has collapsed, and many of our institutions are failing us. For the first time since the 1960s, even our life expectancy is declining, as social and economic conditions take their toll.

With something amiss in the land and in our psyche, the work that arts organizations do is more important than ever. And all who help keep the machinery of the arts running are the first responders, sustaining our hearts and souls.

These dedicated individuals animate Atlanta for us. They bring the city to life. They give Atlanta a pulse—and for audiences, they send the pulse racing.

There are no silver bullets and no magic potions. But we can improve our corner of the world here in Atlanta, through both fierce dedication to the arts and the collective effort of a corps of heroes that rise to the challenge every day, to give all of us access to the imagination of others, and in doing so…a sensory gateway into ourselves.

On behalf of all of those who serve and support the arts, I am honored to accept this award. Thank you.


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