True Fiction

June 18, 2018  • Institute Staff

Quoting Mark Twain’s famous “Presidential Stump Speech,” the actor John Lithgow said, “I’ve pretty much made up my mind to run for president.” Delivered from behind the same lectern that once framed the speech’s author, the packed auditorium chuckled at Twain’s hubris. On February 5, the Institute’s Arts Program partnered with the Cooper Union and the Public Theater to bring together a range of renowned artists as well as famed Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel to address the question, Who needs truth? Directed by the Arts Program’s Damian Woetzel, the evening featured a cast of remarkable artists, including actors Brandon Victor Dixon, Bill Irwin, Paola Mendoza, and Phumzile Sitole; dancer and actor Carmen de Lavallade; and musicians Kate Davis, Savannah Harris, and Gabe Schnider—all of whom delivered thought-provoking performances that took the audience on an artistic tour of the truth. (The event also served as the launch for the inauguration of Laura Sparks as the incoming president of the Cooper Union.) Artists interpreted the works of Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, and William Shakespeare. A collaboration between poet Elizabeth Alexander and tap-dancer Michelle Dorrance captured the cadence of Dr. Martin Luther King’s voice. And a reading of the watershed 1860 speech Abraham Lincoln gave in that same space at the Cooper Union made history feel contemporary. That’s when Sandel turned things over to the audience, asking, “When is it acceptable to lie?” Audience members hotly debated the topic before ending the evening with a lively exchange between Sandel and Lithgow, who described the critical value of fi ction to reality. Art, Lithgow explained, is “a creative lens by which to see and understand an even deeper truth.”