Thursday, July 14, 2011

I met Daniel Bernard Roumain

Never Done: I met Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR)

One aspect of my job is to run an artist in residence program with two wonderful artists who were already selected before I came along. One of them, DBR, is a composer, violinist, and bandleader who is married to a Jewish woman, and they have a son who is half black and half white, half Catholic and half Jewish, half Haitian and half American. He is spending the year at the JCC composing a musical Hagaddah for singers and string orchestra.

He's having a series of study sessions with rabbis and artists and musicians and scholars and funders and cultural workers who have something to say about Passover and the Haggadah -- and I went to one of them. It was the first time I sat on the other side of the table. The first time I was not the artist, but the institution. The first time I had to think carefully about what power I either have or am perceived to have, and to make sure to use it in a thoughtful and supportive way. The first time I really felt like the Director of something.

I rode home thinking about the mide (middah) of Frugality: Be careful with your money. There are six words in that phrase. It's clear we are meant to pay attention to the words Frugality, Careful, and Money. Be is attached to Careful and With is attached to Money. And that leaves Your (which I am going to talk about as My.) What is my money? Is it the money my institution already committed to this artist? I do think so, and so in being careful with my money, I think I have an ethical responsibility to give him as much support as possible in order for him to succeed. Is my money the money that people think I might have, even if I don't? My perceived money? I think it is also that -- in which case I would have an ethical responsibility to be careful about how I communicate about my money, and neither raise nor lower expectations unduly. Is it the rest of the budget I have to work with? Yes, that too. And in being careful with it, I'm not going to write about it publicly, except to say that I think that the chance to think about an institutional budget from a Mussar perspective of self and other is incredibly interesting, and also potentially useful -- and might help me navigate my opportunities and limitations in a meaningful and grounded way.

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