by Katy Munger, 2016 Piedmont Laureate

This is my last blog post as the 2016 Piedmont Laureate and I am using it to bring you the most important message I have to share: the world has never needed the arts more than it does now. The arts inject genuine emotion into a superficial, staged, commercially-driven world. The arts can cross borders and boundaries and generations. The arts illuminate the human dreams and emotions that unite us rather than creating issues to divide us. The arts can win over hearts and minds, counteracting the political negativity that turns us against one another.

Music… theater… books… art…. dance… museums: these are your weapons in 2017, the tools that you can use to increase peace, love, understanding and joy in the world. Are you with me? If so, forget losing 40 pounds or organizing your closet. Choose from among these suggestions for your New Year’s resolutions for 2017. And if you have an idea for more, or want to commit to some of these resolutions with me, please post in the Comment section below!

Join museums.

Go ahead. Give up six beers or three cocktails. Skip two lunches or three movies. Do what it takes to save the bucks to join your local museum for a year. Art, history, science: you name it, the Piedmont has a museum for you.

Take a class and stretch your wings.

Have you always wanted to paint? Dance? Play the drums? Write your memoir? Then forget your age. Don’t worry about whether you’ll be any good at it or not. Get off your butt and sign up for a group class through your local arts council. You’ll meet new friends and experience the joy of creating without having to worry whether you are good enough to be a pro at it.

Download a new tune every week.

Every week, make it a habit to listen to at least one piece of new music. Venture outside your comfort zone and favorite genres. Seek out local musicians and give them a listen. Then share your favorites on social media.

Go to book signings and live shows of any size. Please.

Do you care about music? About books? About the importance of diverse art or voices? Then get up and head out your door. Visit your local bookstore or club, check out the local theater. Vow to show your support by the simple act of showing up. And be proud. When you participate as a spectator you are feeding the world of arts, you are inspiring others, you are giving hope to artists who need to know they are being heard. And let’s not forget that, according to Jane Austen, you are also improving your mind. Plus, you never know: you just might spot your very own Mr. Darcy or Elizabeth in the next row.

When you’re there, be there.

Most of the arts are two-way streets: the artist needs you there for their performance to work. So give the artist the gift of your presence. Leave your phone at home or in the car. Go in with clear eyes and an open heart. Give them your full attention. Live in the moment. You can share it on social media later.

Encourage live music in your community.

There’s nothing more personal than live music, whether it’s in a giant coliseum or a tiny hole in the wall club. Patronize local clubs who book musicians, tell your favorite restaurants to start booking musicians for the atmosphere and patronize those that do, hire musicians for your own events, and take a chance on someone you’ve never heard before. Your goal is simple: let the musicians know that someone is listening.

Open your home to an artist.

One of the biggest challenges artists face these days is a lack of venues. So why not host a house concert, or an author reading, or a show for a local artist? Your friends get to experience live art, and the artist can often make a little money. Think of like the French Resistance: small pockets of committed people, gathering together to save their world, one neighborhood at a time.

Give gifts that matter.

CDs, books, tickets to a performance, an original piece of art: these can all be so much more than another useless gadget or piece of apparel. These can be personal experiences that give joy over and over and over. So next time you need to buy a gift? Give creatively.

Read more. It’s that simple.

Reading grounds you. It opens your mind. It’s good for your brain. It could change your life. So vow to read a book a week, or a book a month – whatever you have time for. Turn off the TV an hour a night and commit. Take a chance and read outside your favorite genres.  Just… read.

Leave good reviews.

If you enjoy a book, or an album, or an artist: leave a positive review everywhere you can. Share the love. Lend your voice to the conversation. And if you didn’t enjoy what you read or saw so much? In most cases, let it ride. Obscurity alone is a just reward for lazy art.

Read beyond bestsellers.

That includes the latest NPR book du jour. Take a chance on not-yet-known independent, even self-published authors, and let your indie bookstore know if you find one you like.

Join a book club.

Then go. If there isn’t one near you, start your own or join an online book club.

Vow to read three classics this year.

Go ahead. I double dare you. There are reasons they are classics. Good reasons. Discover their timeless messages for yourself. Have a kid? Read the classic they’ve been assigned in school with them. No kids in sight? Look up different lists of the top classic books and choose at random. Let the fates guide you to enlightenment.

Read the book behind the film.

Are you a movie buff? That’s okay. We all are. But this year, vow to read the book behind every film you see, if there is one. Find a partner in crime to read it with you, then compare the two versions of the story.

Volunteer for your community theatre.

Not everyone has to set foot on the stage. Be an usher, build or strike sets, serve refreshments at intermission: whatever you can do to help a production makes you part of an instant family. And without volunteers, community theatres cannot survive.

Advocate for the arts in schools.   

Don’t have a theatre program at your school? Demand they start one. Better yet, help start one. Push, too, for music education, creative writing, and the visual arts. These subjects are critical to the development of self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. They are particularly important to children from other countries still struggling to understand our language. The research is clear: arts in the schools is a huge plus for everyone. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Advocate for arts in the schools.

Use your social media network to support the arts.

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Flipbook. Vine. GooglePlus. LinkedIn. Whatever. Use your social media platforms to support the arts, and to spread the word about books and shows and music you have enjoyed. Develop creative memes from museum collections. Post quotes from authors. Recommend books, CDs, and shows. Use hashtags for artists, museums, and theaters. Spread the word. Show your love for the arts proudly. Be an online advocate for the arts.

Express yourself.

Every time you put yourself out there as an artist – with a book, a song, a dance, a painting, a performance – you are inspiring other artists to be heard. You are keeping the flame alive. So go ahead and express yourself, post yourself, share your voice. The sound of a million artists can drown out the voices of hate, inspire new generations, and even change the world. You matter. Be seen and be heard.