We cannot prevent the inquisitive, open ears of young people from taking in the world around them. Chances are they will hear, whether from friends or parents or TV or strangers on the street, “citizen” used in a context that separates people into groups. In a time when the word “citizen” is fraught with legal divisiveness, Citizen Artistry posits an empowering alternate use of the word: what if we were citizens of our art? Of humanity, of our communities, and of the world, with a responsibility as artists to enrich that world with our art?
Citizen Artistry grants agency to anyone with art to share, without barrier—including age. Sing for Hope introduces the students at each partner school to the many Citizen Artists who made their SFH Piano’s inspiring journey possible. Then, Sing for Hope flips the equation and challenges students to see themselves as Citizen Artists. The inaugural year of the Citizen Artists in Action Project (CAAP) proved that students are rising to the challenge.
Meet Nick Miranda, 2019 winner of “Citizen Artist of the Year (Individual).” Nick is a 2019 graduate of NYC public high school City College Academy of the Arts. The 2017 arrival of his school’s Sing for Hope Piano by Red The Artist (Tracy Sagalow) inspired Nick to stay late after school to learn how to play piano. Nick had rarely seen a piano before and had definitely never seen one exactly like this—because, he learned from the Sing for Hope team, a piano carefully designed by this particular artist in this exact way didn’t exist anywhere else in the world. There’s a motivating element there, and a position of honor in being the one to play it, not quite as powerful in an anonymous instrument.
Nick had caught the bug: he honed his skills in a matter of months, even coming to school early or staying late to practice. School became a place he sought out, and Nick wasn’t satisfied with what his piano playing did for him alone. He started helping faculty teach other students, including the younger students in the middle school who share his school building. Since then, Nick has performed for his classmates, Holocaust survivors who visited the school, and members of the Turkish Consulate.
Nick also travels around the city to play for people who can’t leave their homes. What’s his next move? Nick will be going to college to become a music teacher. He’s starting at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and plans to transfer to Baruch after two years to continue his studies.
Sing for Hope presented Nick with his CAAP Award with great fanfare: most of the student body attended, and leadership from City College Academy, Sing for Hope, and the performing arts world all hailed Nick’s transformative art-making. SFH Artist Partner & Broadway star Alton Fitzgerald White treated an awed, completely silent audience to an a cappella rendition of “Go the Distance” (Hercules). He then told the students his raw and personal story of growing up in public housing, enduring bullying and self-doubt, and being saved by his teachers’ support and the inspiration he held onto when he saw on TV performers of color who looked like him. This Broadway star and Citizen Artist—the only black man to have played five different lead roles in Broadway shows—is inspired by Nick Miranda. “I’m so impressed with Nick,” White told the students at City College Academy. “He’s a great example of what’s possible for every single person in this room: tapping into what it is you enjoy, and finding the courage to share it.”
Nick Miranda perfectly embodies Citizen Artistry: still legally a child, faced with the uncertainty of the future and the world around him, he identified the context in front of him: his school community. He identified a need within it: the need to help bridge the gap for all who also stood to benefit from the SFH Piano but were waiting for someone like-minded to make it accessible to them (while the school’s dedicated teachers did establish music lessons and seek to help students learn, with much success, there are still other students for whom the offer from a peer feels more accessible… more for them, apart from the assessment-saturated rigor of school). He met that need in exactly his way, while supporting and enhancing the existing structure. The school became a more cohesive community because of it.
Nick heard Sing for Hope’s challenge when they visited his school, and he made sure the SFH Piano was a place of artistic collaboration and community, apart from the competitive spirit often synonymous with high school. Sure enough, Nick’s teachers now report that the SFH Piano almost never stops being played, always surrounded by groups of students.
So where do the Sing for Hope Pianos go after their time in NYC Parks? … to 100,000 Nick Mirandas waiting to show the world what Citizen Artistry will look like next.