Timken Museum paintings with face masks
Marguerite de Sève and husband, Bethélemy-Jean-Claude Pupil, painted between 1656-1746 by Nicolas de Largillière, are following protocol at the Timken Museum in Balboa Park. Image from the museum’s Twitter feed

Art is a pure form of self-expression. At a time when Americans shelter at home, doing our part to place the common good above our individual wishes, we have a rare gift of time to imagine how art can inspire new and meaningful forms of political expression in the age of COVID-19.

If you’re like me, you’re horrified by the recent wave of angry demonstrations demanding of governors the unthinkable: re-opening their economies during a global pandemic.

And if, like me, you’ve laced up your sneakers and joined the hundreds of thousand Americans who’ve marched in opposition to the Trump Administration’s agenda, you’ve discovered the tried-and-true template for political protest is no longer working. Whistling in the wind isn’t an act of empowerment. It’s a recipe for irrelevance in the face of political demagoguery and the steady erosion of America’s democratic institutions.

Art can elevate the craft of political protest. Here’s why.

Music, drama, dance and the visual arts inspire minds and lift hearts. These powerful forms of human expression bring people together and spark the self-reflection required of intellectual and emotional transformation.

Art is a golden thread, illuminating the path of humanity throughout the ages. For centuries, artistic expression has propelled social and political reforms during times of civic conflict, validating an evident truth crystalized by the calamity of the coronavirus pandemic: We are stronger together.

If you’re an artist, consider new ways to express your passion in the civic arena. Opera singers: Imagine yourselves standing before the backdrop of a public library, reaching for the sublime peaks of a Puccini aria. Musicians: Envision gathering, six-feet apart, in a neighborhood park for an impromptu Big Band concert, channeling the hope-infused music of the Greatest Generation.

Social distancing shouldn’t be a challenge for actors accustomed to launching into soulful Shakespearean soliloquies or bringing the magic of Broadway musicals to life in community spaces. Transforming blank canvases into artful depictions of unfolding truth is an artist’s talent, whether accomplished within the walls of a private studio or outdoors in a public plaza.

These impromptu artistic performances can uplift and exhilarate, affording artists opportunities to hone their skills and cultivate meaningful moments of engagement with new audiences.  And, since artists are ambassadors of possibility, their civic stagecraft can encourage San Diegans to envision a brighter future beyond the dark clouds of the coronavirus pandemic.

​Times of crisis can be transformational, fueled by ideas waiting to be imagined, explored and fulfilled. Art offers San Diegans a common ground from which to face fear and uncertainty head on, confident we’ll emerge from the age of COVID-19 wiser and more resilient than before.

Art has the power to change the world because it emboldens us to change ourselves.

A second-generation San Diegan, Molly Bowman-Styles is the president of Windansea Communications.