Shaun Donovan

1. Tell us about a meaningful experience you and/or a loved one had with the arts (dance, media, music, theater, or visual arts), either in school or in another setting. What did you and/or your loved one gain from this experience?

I’ve had countless meaningful interactions with the arts throughout my life. Participating in my high school’s production of Oliver! helped me develop an early and deep love and respect for the arts. As a graduate student in architecture, I learned about and interacted with design in ways that have shaped how I think about every aspect of my life. I still remember watching Kamasi Washington perform at the King’s Theater in Brooklyn as one of the last moments of joy I had before the city shut down amidst the pandemic.

But perhaps my most meaningful interaction with the arts—at least the one that I’ve reflected on the most during this time of pain and crisis—is one that I share with many New Yorkers. It speaks to the ability of the arts to heal entire communities following struggle, and it points to the role that the arts must play in our city’s recovery.

My wife Liza and I were just five blocks from ground zero when the second plane flew over our heads and struck the south tower of the World Trade Center. Like many New Yorkers, we were shaken to our core, and we wondered how the city would recover. But shortly after, Mayor Bloomberg brought artists together to create towers of light that reminded us through the power of art, wherever we were across this city, that we could look up and see in the sky that we were New Yorkers. Those towers commemorated those we’d lost, but they also guided us on a pathway forward for our city.

That experience has since then informed how I view the role of arts in moments of crisis like the one we’re living through today. It’s why my recently published, comprehensive plan to support the city’s Arts & Culture sector begins with the word “healing,” and I’m certain that the arts will once again play that role as we reimagine our city as a place that works for everyone.

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NYC AiE Roundtable