From left to right, costume designer Michelle Kumata, cultural ambassador Alan Chong Lau, his wife artist and historian Kazuko Nakane, and Ethelyn Abellanosa. • Courtesy Photo
From left to right, costume designer Michelle Kumata, cultural ambassador Alan Chong Lau, his wife artist and historian Kazuko Nakane, and Ethelyn Abellanosa. • Courtesy Photo

The following is an acceptance speech by Alan Chong Lau upon receiving the 2014 Mayor’s Arts Award for “cultural ambassador” presented at Seattle Center on Friday, August 29:

When I first heard about this award, I had visions of a blue sash being draped across my body and how I’d travel to cities and towns along the West Coast representing Seattle, but I guess it doesn’t work quite like that.

But seriously, most of you are probably familiar with the American poet William Carlos Williams and what he said of poetry: “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet people die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

I feel the same way about the arts.

Arts, like poetry, quenches an incurable thirst, serves as a veritable nourishment for the soul of the community-at-large, if you will.

It’s true the artist is a participating member of the community and has a role to contribute.

But the artist is also a bit of a subversive, too. We don’t always give you what you want but we try and give you what you need.

Or as James Baldwin so beautifully put it: “Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. Now it’s true that the nature of society is to create among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”

We all do what we can but no one can do much without the help of many. Thanks to all who nominated me. My congratulations to my fellow nominees.

Let’s keep walking and whistling in the dark together, shall we?

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