Going to the Territory

Image by Katie France.

Image by Katie France.

I have decided to go to the Territory.

On Saturday, April 1, my plan is to find an acoustic piano, bring it into the Elliott State Forest near Coos Bay, Oregon, as near to the old growth as I can get, and spend some time playing and composing music by myself or with whoever is inspired to join me.

Other than the date and the intention, I don’t yet know exactly how this adventure will play out. Volunteers in the Coos Bay area have reached out to help. Someone who knows the forest well is working on a good location.

I need a piano to play. I need a truck or vehicle to transport it to the forest. I need a tarp or shelter in case it rains. I need ideas and assistance in accomplishing this (literally) outside the box idea.

So, why am I doing this?  

Because in less than two months, our state land board will decide either to sell this public land—the oldest state forest in Oregon—to raise money for schools or to maintain it in public hands while we figure out an alternative means to support our schools. Read more about that here and here.

A few weeks ago, someone I have never met reached out and asked me to think about what I as an artist could do to help raise awareness about this issue. Her request has inspired me to more closely examine my role and my responsibility as an artist in this community, to ask the question of other artists I respect, and to inform myself about the issue as well as consider what matters to me.

I haven’t become a land-use expert in the past three weeks, but I think it must be possible for us as a state to come up with a better means of meeting the very real need to support our children's education than trading away their inheritance—land itself.

I want to play in the forest because, in the twenty years since I came to Oregon, the land, the people, the history, the stories, and the ethos have inspired me as an artist and shaped who I am as a person. My composition, The Territory is only a small expression of the life I have experienced here. I want to publicly acknowledge the land as a source of creative inspiration for so many of us lucky enough to live here.

I’m also doing it because, as a person of color, I want the land board to know that this is my forest too. As an African-American, our state’s public lands are as much my legacy to future generations of Oregonians as they are anyone’s. And, as much as Oregon’s underserved children deserve a quality education, they also deserve to retain their rights to their old-growth forests.

There is one more reason I’m going to the Elliott State Forest.

Some have told me that it is not pragmatic to try to use art to change hearts and minds. They believe that in the political arena, especially in our present climate, leaders will only respond to protest, resistance, outrage, and political threat.  

Nevertheless, I am compelled to explore the possibility that there are ways to achieve change other than backing opponents into a corner until they admit defeat. I’m not ready to concede that humans, even those who happen to be engaged in government or public service, cannot be moved to rethink, re-evaluate, or reconsider.  

Even if I’m wrong in my estimation, I still believe that it is worth reaching for the heart. I believe this because I have had the good fortune to witness musicians, playwrights, painters, poets, actors, filmmakers, and others generating new perspectives from their own imaginations. I have seen art elevate and illuminate discourse, bringing beauty, honesty, insight, vulnerability and collaboration into the conversation. I’ve experienced art’s ability to reframe the present and expand the realm of the possible. I know in my core that art creates the space for people to think and feel, and to consider the world in ways they hadn’t before.  

I’m going to the Territory to reflect on and celebrate these things and hopefully, to encourage others to do the same. I welcome other musicians and artists to think with me, and if you are so moved, to join me. You can contact me and follow the progress on the facebook event page.