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Hello, my name is Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage. For many, we haven’t had the opportunity to connect. My family and I arrived from Florida a month before COVID shut everything down and now live in Putney.

We are grateful to live here, and we’ve enjoyed learning how deeply warm, passionate and involved this community is. This note is a response to Friday’s letter sent to the Reformer’s editor calling for a boycott of the Next Stage concert presenting Yemen Blues this Sunday.

We are motivated by the idea that art is a passport, opening us to other perspectives, histories, languages, ideas and cultures and creating an ability to bring us together in a way nothing else can. It is a powerful, inclusive force facilitating new ideas, even challenging ones.

Next Stage embraces this concept and prioritizes bringing culturally diverse performances to our Vermont community, as most recently evidenced by our summer calendar, including Argentinian artist Sofia Rei, Classical Indian musicians Arun Ramamurthy and Trina Basu and Rev. Sekou, an ordained reverend who preaches social justice through funk and soul music.

Yemen Blues is an Israeli artist that seeks to bridge cultures. They have performed in Muslim countries, performed for Palestinians, and promote peace and perspective taking. In Israel, they perform and work with Palestinians. They are some of the few Israeli artists beloved in the Arabic world. Yemen Blues raises money for causes in Arabic countries, and they are performing an apolitical concert focused on joy, positivity and connection.

The Israeli Consulate made a contribution to help fund the filming of Sunday’s concert. Accepting a contribution from the consulate’s cultural office does not translate into embracing Israel’s politics and policies. In the United States, arts organizations and artists have received grants from government-funded organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Accepting these funds does not imply adopting all policies of the U.S. political administration then in office. These contributions and grants do not dictate content or messaging by the organization or artist. In fact, as in the case of Next Stage, these funds allow the freedom to create and present a broad spectrum of diverse and multicultural programming, creating a bridge to heal multicultural divides.

The choice to demonize Next Stage, Yemen Blues as an artist or those in our community who don’t agree with a particular perspective saddens me. To those who feel hurt by our choices, it was never the intent. Next Stage is a beacon for multicultural conversations. Being bullied to see the choice as either black or white creates an impasse to discussion. I invite you to come listen to the artist’s music and message of multiculturalism and inclusion. And I will continue to work diligently as a steward of the arts in our own community.

Thank you.

Keith Marks is executive director of Next Stage Arts in Putney. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.