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State of Grace

by Mark Peres

September 3,2004

A person moving in sweat to rhythm and sound on a crowded dance floor moves me. A poet speaking words in cadence to the backbeat of snapping fingers interests me. A guitarist riffing electric blues in a dim bar with the rum and whiskey flowing, well, count me in.

So many of the friends I know have these great lives hammering the nuts and bolts of the economy by day and riding the light of their muse by night. So many other friends I know have talents that have lain dormant but which occasionally rise in the right weekend setting. In each case, when the dancing begins and the songs are sung, a truth is revealed.

It is a truth about who the person is, free of convention, of safety and the need for peer acceptance. In that truth is power – a power of authenticity that, momentarily, dares to change the world.

A vibrant arts and science scene is not only about fostering art itself – art that can change the skyline and still a heart – but about a culture of authenticity that celebrates personal truth and power. A city that honors art is a city that honors personal expression as diverse as the story of each individual life. A city that honors creativity is a city invested in democracy.

Several years ago, in a different time and place, when I was a young lawyer, I set out to write a novel. I had dreamed of writing a novel since high school, and after the right confluence of events, character and plot developed. I wrote for two years, in coffeehouses and in my apartment, staying up nights exploring an underworld of emotions. I listened to Muddy Waters and Janis Joplin, mainlined caffeine and didn’t shave. I felt stretched, on edge and very much alive to cross-currents of meaning. Clear-eyed by day, I would clinically edit, bringing an arms-length discipline to the work. The novel exercised my right and left brain, my right and left ventricles, taking me places, without fear, that I would never had gone otherwise. I read the manuscript today, nearly ten years later (practicing a different profession and living in a different town), and wonder who it was that wrote it, yet thrilled that whoever did had the nerve to do so.

When I see others create, whether with a camera, a paintbrush or a microphone, stepping beyond convention, I smile at their courage. I applaud the person who sacrifices all for art. I cheer even more for the person who, no matter what their work, lives creatively, for a moment, daring to bring something personal and true to the world.

Charlotte at its best means many things to me. It means a built environment that fosters an active street life and civic interaction. It means governance that is open and collaborative. And it means a place where personal creative expression continually changes for the better the way we experience the city.

We sense a special time in Charlotte. A new campus is opening its classrooms and kitchens to hundreds of newcomers, plans are announced for residential buildings that will rise into the sky, and new leaders are committing to what it means to be fully engaged.

Our task now is to push the boundaries of art and science in each of us as citizens, and live personally as we would socially, connecting to truth and power.

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