What is Between Us by Tameka Cage Conley

A letter from Strengthen Grow Evolve:

When we seek a deeper understanding of our world, we turn to the arts.

The arts remind us of what matters. They reveal sometimes uncomfortable but necessary truths. They give us space to laugh, to cry, to make meaning, to move forward as individuals and as a collective. The arts are the pulse of a community, a vital sign that reflects our health and wellbeing.

In the world that existed before the coronavirus, we gathered together every single night of the year at The Englert Theatre and FilmScene for concerts, films, and conversations. Even though our spaces are temporarily closed, we are continuing our missions to support and engage through the arts within our community.

To help us frame our appreciation for what has been lost and what will be regained when we can gather again, we commissioned a piece by literary artist Tameka Cage Conley. Her work was completed in honor of the one year anniversary of the launch of our capital campaign—Strengthen • Grow • Evolve. To date, the campaign has raised $4.6 million, which means the major work at both facilities is moving forward.

But there is still much to do. Further contributions towards our $6.5 million goal will allow us to invest in further audio improvements at the Englert, enhance and expand our festivals, nurture greater collaboration in the arts, and evolve our education and community outreach engagement. Your contribution can help us continue this crucial work.

Since Tameka Cage Conley completed this piece, the conversation in our nation and community has focused long overdue attention on systemic racism and injustice. In that context, her words are both mournful and hopeful, always honest, and still deeply resonant. As these historic protests have demanded yet again that we reckon with the hard work we must do as a nation, it is also clear that our need for the arts to challenge, comprehend, and inspire grows ever greater.

We will return to our spaces again. We will continue to be an artistic pulse beating throughout this city. And thanks to the generous contributions from our community, when we do return, we will be stronger than before. Thank you for helping us build the greatest small city for the arts. There is still work to do.

About Tameka Cage Conley

Tameka Cage Conley, Ph.D. is a literary artist who writes fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and librettos. Her work is published in Ploughshares, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Callaloo, The African American Review, and elsewhere. She has received writing fellowships from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the Cave Canem Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Vermont Studio Center. The opera for which she wrote the libretto, A Gathering of Sons, was awarded the Bronze Medal in the Society and Social Issues category of the New York Festivals TV and Film Awards.

She is a graduate of the fiction program of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she was awarded the Truman Capote Fellowship, and after graduation, the Provost Postgraduate Visiting Writer Fellowship in fiction. She is at work on her first novel–an epic family saga that spans six decades that considers the untimely deaths of African American men in northern Louisiana. She is the incoming Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Oxford College of Emory University.

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