Creativity During Covid

by Ray Furuta

I think that we’re all on the same page: it’s hard to comprehend how it’s been over half a year of “These Times,” however you personally define them. I’ve personally gone through a myriad of mindsets and emotions ranging from obliviousness, anxiety, and depression, to complacency, determination, and anger. But I’m not writing this today to make my problems yours. Instead, I want to take a moment to chat about creative processes and inspiration during these unprecedented times.

My question is this: How can we, as artists, ignite inspiration for ourselves, and then for the communities we live in and create for? Inspiration in general is very specific to the individual, but when the weight of our surroundings, livelihoods, and the world are overwhelming us, it feels almost impossible to create or find drive.

Around March or April, I had a minor boost of energy and motivation to post online content, keeping up with the trend of “virtual” performances. However, this got old — not because it was ineffective or not grabbing attention — but because it was not my personal, authentic way of creating or presenting myself as an artist. I was doing it for the sake of doing it. This realization forced me to come to terms with the fact that I did not know how to exist as an artist during a global pandemic, in the middle of civil rights movement, with fires engulfing my home state, and while experiencing an incredible loss of work, all while hustling to adapt my collegiate teaching to exist online. But you know what? That’s OK.

This realization enabled a deep state of reflection on my life, surroundings, art, community, and what I want to accomplish. It forced me to face the fact that my reality no longer exists and for me to find any sense of normalcy, I need to be resilient and creative, as well as open to evolve. We’re all guilty, in some way, of being content, jaded, comfortable… however you want to define it. I certainly was at that moment and probably still am in other ways. But so many things are changing every day and if we’re not willing to even marginally evolve, we’ll get stuck. For me, irrelevance is one of the scariest things that I will ever have to face — and “These Times” brought that monster out from under my bed. It was staring me in the face, and let me tell you, it is not the fairest in the land.

Having all this happen in a matter of a couple of months was overwhelming in itself. Now that I’m a little calmer and more collected, I’ve been able to challenge myself to see outside my typical and comfortable realm of creation. So, how do I evolve as an artist and subsequently evolve my art to turn on my lights and make that monster disappear? Something I say a lot while mentoring other artists or consulting for music organizations, is that we cannot create with the goal of forcing audiences to appreciate our art “the way it was meant to be appreciated.” You’d be surprised how often this goal is a subconscious motive for many arts organizations and the irony is the fact that it alienates, discriminates, and segregates — the three things that arts should NOT do. “These Times” are forcing us to come to terms with and face exactly that. Some might view it as a survival of the fittest moment, but I see it as an opportunity for all arts to establish a multilateral existence in which our reach and impact is broader, stronger, and brings people together when we need it most.

So how do we fight it? How do we pull out that inspiration to continue creating? It’s an incredible challenge and it’s not easy, but sorry, not sorry. We need to be resilient, we need to think outside of our boxes and silos (and realize that we are in fact in them — guilty 🙋‍♂️), and we need to spread more love! It is our civic responsibility to do so. While that might be an unpopular opinion, especially when our intuitive response is to mourn or complain, we need to suck it up and bring beauty to our world. The key here is openness and resilience. Be open to change. Be open to learn and grow. This may not be a time to reinvent yourself, but it is a time to rediscover yourself.

So, what am I doing to continue creating? **Warning, shameless plugs**

I’ve discovered new passions, as well as revisited older ones that were on the backburner. As of this past month, I’ve been working on two creative projects. The first is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative musical/social experience that gives a voice to local homeless women of color. In collaboration with musician and buddy PC Muñoz, this project aims to address injustices relevant to race, gender, finance/income, healthcare, and crime – all in one project. I will be composing music, which is a relatively new thing for me, but I’ve loved it so far! For my second project, I’ve been collaborating with Vico Diaz, to record an album of classic, popular Mexican (Spanish) love songs in an Alt-Mariachi style.

I’ve also been researching the history of Motown Records, which has resulted in my creation of a collegiate curriculum on the appreciation and history of Motown and The Sound of Young America, which I can only hope, at this point, to be able to present at Santa Clara University in the near future. As the new Music Director of Mosaic Silicon Valley, I have also had the unique and fortunate opportunity to creatively curate, as well as facilitate creative, community-building, and humanity-driven opportunities for artists from across the globe, as well as just down the street. (Click here to check out our latest Mosaic Connect episode, Precious Scars.) Plus, while Chamber Music Silicon Valley (of which I’m the Artistic Director and a Founder) is still in its early rediscovery phase, we will soon be announcing its plans!

This is me reaching beyond my typical, western-classical, flute-player identity, and finding authentic and genuine ways to both be inspired, grow, and make a difference for my community that I love — especially (rather than even) with “These Times” looming. This is me doing my part to make the world, though marginally, a better place.