The Lannan Foundation: Shattering Darkness / Gathering Light

Date October 31, 2006 at 11:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


IN a war-torn, Orwellian world going mad, a world where globalization and corporate greed are putting the earth and its inhabitants in dire peril, when we are approaching what may be our darkest hour and plummeting towards despair with no moral ground under our feet, there is a beacon in the darkness. And that light comes from the Lannan Foundation. Since this family foundation relocated to Santa Fe in 1997, we have witnessed its visionary work throughout our community and the world. The foundation, under the creative leadership of Patrick Lannan, is making a difference-passionately and diligently working for positive change, perpetuating and strengthening cultural freedom (defined by the foundation as "the right of individuals and communities to define and protect valued and diverse ways of life currently threatened by globalization"€), cultural diversity, experimental thinking, and creativity.

The Lannan Foundation's humanitarian work addresses and supports all creative aspects of the human spirit. Since 1986, its program in Contemporary Visual Arts has supported over four hundred projects at two hundred organizations in the United States, including James Turrell's Roden Crater and a long-term partnership with the Dia Center for the Arts. The foundation's buildings on Read Street contain a gallery space that has hosted exhibitions by luminaries such as Bruce Nauman, Fred Sandback, and Doug Aitken.

Collaborative projects have included a partnership with the Marion Center for the Arts at the College of Santa Fe, sponsoring a traveling exhibition-Migrations: Humanity in Transition-by internationally renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado. This powerful and heartbreaking show was presented at multiple venues throughout Santa Fe in the fall of 2001. A grant was given to Twin Palm Publishers for writing and research expenses for Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. The foundation also has supported the International Forum on Globalization, representing over sixty organizations in twenty-five countries that are working together to undertake the restructuring of global politics and economics.

Other foundation recipients are Santa Fe's Lensic Performing Arts Center, SITE Santa Fe, CCA, Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! and Bookworm, a literary radio program hosted by the best-read man in America, Michael Silverblatt.

The Indigenous Communities Program encourages the perpetuation of traditional values in areas of education, Native culture, languages, legal rights and environmental protection, and advocacy throughout North America.

Literature, however, is a major focus of the foundation, and that is how many of us in the community have come to know the foundation's generosity. Since 1998, its public program-Readings and Conversations-has consistently been the hottest ticket in Santa Fe. Tickets to the events ($6 each) often sell out an hour after they go on sale. Yet the Lannan Foundation makes Readings and Conversations accessible to all. The programs are broadcast on KUNM and KSFR, and occasionally presented on a monitor in the lobby in the Lensic.

Each month from September through May, the best thinkers and writers of our time come to the Lensic Performing Arts Center to read and discuss their work. These poets, novelists, historians, linguists, educators, and journalists (including many Nobel Laureates and recipients of the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom) are not afraid to create with fearless energy and intuition, and to think critically. They reveal the darkness that clouds our world, yet they also lift our spirits by exploring what Leonard Cohen wrote and sang, "There is a crack in everything and that's where the light comes in."€ By listening to thoughtful discourse and creative acts, we are able to expand our vistas, becoming more aware and sensitive to what is happening inside and outside of ourselves.

But listening isn't the entire story. We get to see writers as diverse as Joyce Carol Oates, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael Ondaatje, Eduardo Galeano, Toni Morrison, Noam Chomsky, Nadine Gordimer, Jorie Graham, Edward Said, Wendell Berry, Robert Fisk, Seamus Heaney, Howard Zinn, Susan Sontag, Arundhati Roy, and Cornel West-the list goes on and on-present their work. The visual vitality of these writers is as telling as their words. The brilliant Cornel West came onto the stage with a scarf tied around his neck, bringing forth images of Snoopy and Glenn Gould. He bent over the podium like an isosceles triangle, emphasizing the urgent need for "parhesia"€. ""€˜Parhesia' is a Greek word that means plain speech, frank speech, telling it like it is in a sophisticated way, but from the soul. And being willing to live what one says, attempting to enact one's convictions, fusing one's analysis with one's life."€ Tiny Arundhati Roy stood on two folded tables in order to reach the microphone so that she could be heard, yet her luminous presence and the magnitude of her words filled the space completely, personifying West's (actually Socrates') concept of "parhesia."€ Joyce Carol Oates blithely ran onto the stage with her bag clutched in front of her like Mary Poppins' umbrella. It was a potent contrast to her terrifying story about a young woman's abduction. Michael Ondaatje read about trading culture for power and wealth, while standing on the sides of his shoes. These brief, yet intimate glimpses of the artists' postures, movements, and vulnerabilities added visceral content to their words.

Each year brings a new and exciting roster of writers. This season began with investigative journalist and New Yorker contributor Seymour Hersh, and with Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now!

In a time of war, when all of us should be demonstrating our discontent and outrage over government policies and the absolute lack of morality in our leadership, the Lannan Foundation has thoughtfully nudged us to act by starting its season with Hersh and Goodman. These two individuals are fearless-they risk it all to speak out and inform us about what is happening in our world, our country, our cities, our communities, and ourselves. And what they tell is missing from the mainstream corporate media.

Hersh gained international recognition in 1969 for uncovering the My Lai massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War. He won the Pulitzer Prize, the first awarded to an independent journalist, for this exposé. In 2004, he unveiled the abuses at Abu Ghraib and he is currently delving into the administration's heinous plans for Iran. Goodman is the activist of the airwaves, revealing the clay feet of the powerful. Yet, she is not just sitting in a control room; she is also a writer who has speaking engagements throughout the country and has gone into the line of fire to cover injustice in hot spots such as East Timor.

Goodman introduced Hersh by telling the story of Raed Jarrar, the architect of Iraqi descent who was forced to remove his T-shirt before boarding a Jet Blue plane in New York bound for his home in California. The T-shirt displayed the words, "WE WILL NOT BE SILENT"€ in both Arabic and English. The words came from "White Rose,"€ a student resistance movement in Nazi Germany during World War II. The statement was "intended to inspire acts of resistance and dissent against a corrupt government that abuses power and abandons the rule of law."€ Goodman illuminated this incident and the history of the saying to tell us that Seymour Hersh never remains silent. Hersh carefully uncovers the abuse of power and "his exposés bring us the voices of those who cannot speak"€-the victims of My Lai and the abused at Abu Ghraib. Hersh also brings us the voices of those who are afraid to speak out in public, but are willing to give their stories to him so that they may be told. He does not reveal his sources, so he is trusted.

Hersh created an intimate dialogue with the audience. He was at ease-comfortable in his body, thoughts, and humor. He spoke with stream of consciousness urgency-quickly, but with a voluminous clarity that gave a visceral and chaotic presence to the horrors and injustices he described. I was moved by his concern and compassion for young soldiers and their plight. "They are victims of war just as much as the people they've executed."€ He told distressing stories about the soldiers. One was about a young woman who had been at Abu Ghraib. Apparently she had left images of the abuse on her computer that her mother discovered after the young woman returned from Iraq. (The soldier had given her computer to her mother to use for work.) After leaving home, husband, and family, the soldier had tattoos drawn all over her body, except on her face.

Hersh also told us the chilling fact that American soldiers driving supply trucks from Kuwait into Iraq drive at night with no lights. The soldiers travel at seventy or eighty miles an hour, never slowing down through towns because they are so fearful of being attacked or killed. American soldiers are running over people, every day.

Do these stories foretell, as Hersh suggests, ""€¦the next generation of dysfunctional people? We have not begun to understand the cost of this war."€ Pablo Casals, the great Spanish cellist, once said, "You must work, we all must work to make this world worthy of its children."€ What does a young woman abruptly leaving her past, trying to change into new skin, and soldiers protecting themselves by creating vehicular terror tell us about making the world worthy? With a media that is in-bedded with the government and corporations, it is astonishing that the American public is not demanding to know what our policies are doing to so many people-not just our young-throughout the world. Didn't Thomas Jefferson say, "Information is the currency of democracy"€? Seymour Hersh is one of the few journalists who has any money in his pocket.

Absolute lack of government morality was also passionately addressed during Hersh's conversation with Goodman. Hersh asked the question, "Why can't someone [in Congress] put out that this [war] is a moral issue?"€ It was Winston Churchill who said, "A country without a conscience is a country without a soul, and a country without a soul cannot survive."€ A grim prophecy for us all. Goodman ended the evening saying, "This has been a discussion in a time of war; the rest is up to you."€ The urgency of this message is what the Lannan Foundation is all about. As Ghandi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."€ And the Lannan Foundation is that change.