Thursday, September 08, 2005

if thine ear offends thee

So I'm one of the organizers of Arts in The Park, an upcoming arts festival over in Highland Park.

Last night, at one of our nearly-there meetings, we had a brief discussion about the live entertainment we're trying to schedule for two stages. We're down at least one, possibly two, acts because of a cancellation, and we're trying to find some bands to perform on the day of the festival. During the meeting, one of the other committee members mentioned that an R&B/gospel band had expressed interest in performing, and there ensued an awkward discussion about whether an explicity religious band would be appropriate.

Now I'll be the first to admit that most Christian bands aren't appropriate for concerts outside church, mostly because they stink. The melodies are flat and uninteresting, the choruses are uninspiring and dull, and the time spent listening to them could be put to better use weeding the garden. That's not what we were discussing -- in fact, I have no idea if anyone on the committee even know what the band sounds like -- no, what was expressed was concern that a religious band might offend festival attendees.

This may seem appalling since I'm so deeply religious, but I really didn't say much at the time. Having given it some thought now that I'm home, I wrote an e-mail to the group's Yahoo! list to voice my concern that we are considering not going with a group just because their lyrics are religious.

I can understand the concern about people taking offense, but I don't think the reactions people might have should be a consideration in whom we invite to perform and who we do not. It may sound a bit facile to put it this way, but no one is being forced to listen to any particular band; except for vendors and some of the volunteers, people will be free to come and go from the festival as they wish, to move around the festival, and to do any number of other things that will remove them from earshot of any bands they don't want to hear.

And really, using a person's beliefs, rather than the quality and nature of their music, as a litmus test for acceptability seems especially odious to me. It's the nature of art to explore themes and to express the artist's inner beliefs and thoughts; I hope it would be unthinkable for anyone to ask someone not to display artwork that expresses her faith, whether in God, Christ, Buddha or the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. By the same token, I would hope that we would not want to discriminate against hiring a live performer simply because their lyrics or musical structures reflect their beliefs.

There are, of course, any number of other perfectly legitimate reasons to reject a band, some of which may apply in this case. What concerns me, though, is that we were actually discussing making that decision based on the religious content of their songs.

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