Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

Getting There

If you build it they will come,  an expression that has become such a part of the culture, it is parodied.  Akin to that is, “if you present it they will come.” There are a lot of other ‘ifs’ affecting the “they will come” and one of the largest and most overlooked if not ignored part of this is  “if they can get there”.

How stunning to consider that your audience, your participants, your learners, are out there, but they can’t get to you. We understand this as a community in terms of education and provide school buses for  children to get to school.

In this part of the world, one sad, sustained and yet- to-be surmounted obstacle to audiences, income, access, participation, experience and joy is the near absence of public transportation.  And how we suffer for it!

This is just one of many places art and politics or art and economics intertwine.

Who gets to go?

Who can’t attend?

I am grateful to the whole bodied me, that she thought about  this, wrote about this, brought this up as an arts issue before it became her issue.   How can those without cars, or those who can’t drive get to see the art,  hear the music, experience the theater, the reading the dance around here? Especially as most of these performances are in the evening or on the weekend — the very time when our scant service disappears?

At the time when we didn’t have a public library, I asked an older area native how could the library have been turned down.

“Well,” he said,  “when they were young, they couldn’t get to the library.”

And that sad epiphany hit me. As  with voting  and so many other things I took for granted that people had access to, It dawned on me how  many things didn’t happen, or didn’t get the participation they might have, nevermind merited, because people couldn’t get there.

And so, struck and marked by this lightning, I would  bring this up time after time. I would write about getting transportation to events, arranging and offering transportation for key performances..

 At my first and last reading in town since becoming paralyzed, the organizers hired a school bus to get me there. Bravo for them! Yet, I was the only person in a wheelchair there, probably because I was the only wheelchair user who had transportation for the occasion.  And oh! the way into this location, a school, was so circuitous and scary with  tiny narrow spaces to squeeze in.

 When I met many eager and interested young people at the Youth Centers on Corning’s Northside and in Addison, where I taught papermaking, I was deeply moved at so many connections.  So many were excited, eager, inventive. I spotted several sculptors and papermakers in the making.  But I knew if they wanted to see more or do more, there was no way for them to get there.  Even if they had the will, there is not a way.  How could the kid in Addison just hop a train or bus to the Rockwell, or CMOG or Arnot Art? If it’s not presented to them in school, how do they get it?

This bothers me, because my childhood was full of art and culture, both in school and at home.  My parents took my regularly to the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were familiar and beloved outings that I embarked on as teenager, when I could take myself  and my baby sister. In addition to art, public school offered me music lessons and I began studying the violin in the 4th  grade, the same year I began to learn French. From elementary school through high school, I performed in school choruses, bands and orchestras and received training in several instruments.  In high school I lugged my ‘cello and bassoon on the two public buses it took for me to get there, for four years.  I often yearned for an easier way, yet I could not imagine living in the next century where  such transport ation is not even an option!!!

My uncle’s paintings adorned our apartment where I avoided the Isamu Noguchi coffee table,  and later  our home and my bedroom. While I was blessed with parents who loved music from opera to jazz, enjoyed cinema, who read and read to me, who encouraged creativity; our environment supported this, too.  One of my earliest memories is seeing flamenco dancers in the dusk in an open air amphitheater, the discomfort of the concrete step-seats and the dazzling spectacle of the rhythmic  clapping tapping people.

We could take a bus or the subway to veritable feast of experiences. The scarcity of money did not mean a scarcity of rich and deep exposure or experience. How can the collective we be in the future promised at the World’s Fair  in 1964/5 and have fewer options for children?

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

Shining at the end of every day

There’s a great big Beautiful tomorrow

Just a Dream away

Transportation is a solution to so much in this area. Need more audience:  transportation.  Need more visitors: transportation.  Need more tourists: transportation.  Need more revenue: transportation. The marketing can be on target, the invitation, compelling,  the offerings , undeniable, but if folks can’t get here, then it is all for naught.

It hurt  to see the  charming and romantic  train depot at the end of town, demolished and turned into a store. It was exciting to see the Buffalo Crystal City train deliver hundreds  of new folks to Centerway Square years ago.

Senator Schumer had the restoration of Amtrak service on his list when he first ran for office.  We still need it.  Perhaps now more than ever as even the option of driving has prohibitive fuel costs.

Trains would be wonderful!  Train rides offer more than buses, roomier with the option to get up and stretch your legs; and a place to grab a bite to eat. But buses would be wonderful, too.  There is no bus to our nearby major city, Rochester.

I remember winning a playwriting competition and being invited to the reading in Rochester.  I checked the weather and snow was predicted. Concerned about driving my light car over snowy hills, I tried to find a bus to Rochester.  There weren’t any!  My friends all had work commitments.  So I couldn’t receive my award, and didn’t see my work performed, because there was no transportation to this gateway city– a mere 90 minutes drive away.

Transportation is now a daily issue for me. I never dreamed that the lack of public transportation would become more than a recurring insight but a very personal issue.   Now that I’m paralyzed and use a wheelchair, I can’t go anywhere in our community, anymore. There is no public transportation for me.

I had to pass up an invitation at the library, because I could not find a way to get there.  I am now paralyzed and in a wheelchair, the event was on a Saturday and after two months of phone calls and letter writing, alas, I had to tell the presenter, sorry, no.

I spent my rehabilitation in Rochester where I could get public transportation to the theater, movies, museums, galleries, and  my own performances. That is sadly and terribly, not available here. 

Mere sighs and shrugs about the situation are unpardonable  in the TWENTY FIRST CENTURY in AMERICA.  Rochester can do it. ELMIRA offers more transportation options for the disabled than does the Corning- Addison area.

Yes, I’ve written every official, from the Senate to the Mayor about this lack of infrastructure limiting my and others’ mobility.  Please join me in requesting that we allocate more attention and resources to this issue. I’m not being coy and saying “resources” vs. money.  Buses abound.  Buses with lifts abound.  I see fleets parked on Dennison. There are school busses and others.  All it takes is a bit of creative thinking and the will to make this available to our community.

Everyone should be able to get to the library and get to art.


About Akua Lezli Hope

Akua Lezli Hope uses sound, words, fiber, glass, metal, and wire to create poems, patterns, stories, music, sculpture, adornments, and peace. She wrote her first speculative poems in the sixth grade and has been in print every year, except one, since 1974 with over 400 poems published. Her collections and chapbooks include Embouchure: Poems on Jazz and Other Musics (ArtFarm Press, 1995; Writer’s Digest book award winner), Them Gone (The Word Works, 2018), Otherwheres: Speculative Poetry (ArtFarm Press, 2020; a 2021 Elgin Award winner), and Stratospherics (a micro-chapbook of scifaiku available from the Quarantine Public Library). A Cave Canem fellow, her honors include the NEA, two NYFAs, an SFPA award, and multiple Rhysling and Pushcart Prize nominations. She has won Rattle’s Poets Respond twice and launched Speculative Sundays, an online poetry reading series. Her work has also been published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies, including: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The 100 Best African American Poems (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2010); Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (Warner Aspect, 2000), Asimov’s Science Fiction, Gyroscope Review, Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality & the Arts, Strange Horizons, Star*Line, SciFaikuest, Eye to the Telescope, The New Verse News, Breath & Shadow, The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, 2016), The Cossack Review, Silver Blade Magazine, Stone Canoe, and Three Coyotes. She is the editor of the record-breaking sea-themed issue of Eye To The Telescope #42, and of NOMBONO: An Anthology of Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Creators, the first of its kind, from Sundress Publications (2021). A third-generation New Yorker and an avid hand papermaker and crochet designer, she exhibits her artwork regularly. She sings songs from her favorite anime in Japanese, practices her soprano saxophone, and prays for the cessation of suffering for all sentience from the ancestral land of the Seneca, the Southern Finger Lakes region of New York State.

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