Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Arts + Culture Culture 'Hip-hop to Hamilton' urges youth to pursue arts careers,...

‘Hip-hop to Hamilton’ urges youth to pursue arts careers, despite COVID

A mega-hit music director and a local rap activist join forces with the Asian Art Museum to encourage curious students.


Lily Ling, the music director and conductor for the tour of Hamilton, says we need the arts now more than ever. She saw that working on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wildly popular musical. 

“I think in general the arts are so important because they have no boundaries. We’re telling this story with nontraditional casting. The idea is art is alive and can be told in many forms,” she said.

“I was an immigrant from China, raised on classical music, and to be able to lead and express and teach the music that’s hip-hop and rap and gives nods to so many different types of music, and is in so many ways of relevant, is incredible.”

Aiming to inspire that passion for arts, even during this strange time, Ling, along with Khafre Jay, the founder of Hip Hop For Change, will be putting on a webinar, hosted by the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Unified School District, Hip-Hop to Hamilton: Making Art Work, about careers in the arts and how to navigate them right now. 

Ling hopes students pursuing arts won’t be discouraged although performances of plays and musicals and concerts are shut down right now, along with art shows. 

“I want young people not to feel disheartened, but to see it as an opportunity,” she said. “Maybe they have some free time to explore new things. With technology, we have so much at our fingertips to explore and learn something that could inform or feed us.”

Lily Ling

Ling had talked to people in the education department at the Asian Art Museum about speaking at an arts festival for San Francisco Unified students before the pandemic hit. She thinks it’s important to do outreach. 

“In musical theater and on Broadway and in regional theaters, the female to male ratio skews a lot more male,” she said. “I want to empower girls and immigrants like myself, and talk about the possibility to be in the arts and to talk with parents, so they won’t be scared of that.”

With the arts festival cancelled, due to COVID-19, Ling and Jay will talk about the same types of things on the webinar. 

Jay says he feels like growing up black in Hunters Point with parents who talked with him about fighting white supremacy and oppression, activism has been built into his life. He worked as an organizer and fundraiser for Greenpeace for a time, managing a large budget and a staff of 20, and then wanted to use his skills to build something different in hip-hop. 

“Hip-hop is not that marketable if you don’t buy into the misogyny and materialism,” he said. “The main people buying mainstream hip-hop are 18- to 24-year-old white suburban men, and they’re buying what they believe is the hood.”

In 2013, Jay started Hip Hop for Change, going out to fundraise on Haight Street with a clipboard, then went on to incorporate his company, build a website, and hire people at a living wage. He employs local hip-hop artists to go into schools and teach kids the history of hip-hop. 

Like Ling, Jay was going to be part of the SFUSD arts festival at the Asian Art Museum. 

“Then the world fell apart, and we had to furlough our staff and every single school closed,” he said. “I love the Asian—they helped us out with stipends for artists, and we were going to do a live stream, then the world fell even more apart.”

Jay agrees with Ling that it’s important to encourage young people to keep doing their art.

“It costs nothing for a kid to break dance or to rap,” he said. “We need to invest in the arts more than ever.”

Saturday, April 25, 4 pm
On your computer, free
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