On February 5th, the Arts Program partnered with The Cooper Union and The Public Theater to bring together a range of renowned artists and famed Harvard political philosopher, Michael Sandel, to collectively address the question: Who Needs Truth? The dynamic event also served as the launch of the inauguration of Cooper Union’s incoming President, Laura Sparks.
Conceived and directed by Arts Program Director, Damian Woetzel, the evening featured a cast of remarkable artist including poet Elizabeth Alexander; actors Brandon Victor Dixon, John Lithgow, Bill Irwin, and Paola Mendoza; dancer, actor and recent Kennedy Center Honoree Carmen de Lavallade; tap dancer Michelle Dorrance; musicians Kate Davis, Savannah Harris and Gabe Schnider; and immigration activist and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas delivering thought-provoking readings and performances.
“I’ve pretty much made up my mind to run for President…” began John Lithgow behind the same lectern that once framed the speech’s author, Mark Twain. The packed auditorium, chuckling at Twain’s hubris, was then taken on an artistic tour of the meaning, value, experience and expression of truth. Works by Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, Abraham Lincoln and William Shakespeare were presented. An inspiring collaboration between poet Elizabeth Alexander and tap dancer Michelle Dorrance captured the cadence of Dr. Martin Luther King’s voice along with poems by Philip Levine and Lucille Clifton. The performances concluded with the speech Lincoln gave in the same space at Cooper Union in 1860.
Professor Michael Sandel then spiritedly turned the evening over to the audience, asking, “When is it acceptable to lie?” Audience members throughout the Hall expressed opinions and engaged in debate with Sandel. The evening concluded with a lively exchange between Sandel and Lithgow, who brought the conversation full circle in describing the critical value of art as a fictional truth. Lithgow described it as “a creative lens by which to see and understand an even deeper truth.”