In my time at The Arts Partnership, I have been fortunate to have an excellent working relationship with many of the media outlets in this community. I have appreciated the easy way with which I have been able to reach out and get coverage or come on and talk about something upcoming, but I have had a particularly great working relationship with Christopher Gabriel, formerly of WDAY AM 970.
With Christopher’s extensive theatrical background – a BFA from the University of Southern California and post-graduate work at Circle in the Square in New York City Theatre, not to mention the years of professional acting he did – he and I always had an affinity for talking about the arts together.
I first met Christopher through a mutual friend. That coffee conversation started what went on to become a friendship filled with admiration, humor and lots of words. If you know us, you know we’re both talkers!
I was invited to be a guest on Christopher’s show shortly after that, and from the very beginning, there was something fabulous about it. It was less about me explaining or justifying the arts and more about us having a conversation about the arts.
One of the things that always kept me on my toes with Christopher was that he really knew this community; he was invested in the people, the places, the productions, performances, openings and more. There were many times when he asked me a pointed question about some aspect of the local scene that put me in that slightly uncomfortable position of having to make a specific claim that could be taken as a criticism.
Christopher taught me to think through how I answered difficult questions, and he challenged me to try to be diplomatic.
It wasn’t long before I was a regular contributor to “The Christopher Gabriel Program.” Once a week, I joined Tammy Swift and Christopher to talk about the week’s upcoming events. I appreciated the consistent segment dedicated to the arts.
When Christopher moved from the afternoon to the early morning, he made some changes to his program. One of them was to create more space for deeper conversations about the bigger issues around the arts: their economic value, their cultural relevance, their ability to create a sense of place and more.
I was thrilled to have this opportunity to do more than promote events. Because of his long career in the arts, as both a performer and patron, Christopher asked excellent questions, listened to answers and took the conversation in the direction that made the most sense.
With Christopher, I always felt like we were on the same side in the battle to make the importance of the arts understood to the larger listening audience.
I asked Christopher recently why he was so intent on making the arts a significant part of his program.
“We encourage young people to participate in sports. We don’t expect them to go professional. We tell them all the reasons to do it: teamwork, discipline, focus and competition in a healthy way. There are all these wonderful lessons to be learned,” Christopher said.
“I would argue that it’s the same thing with the arts. When we encourage young people to participate, we aren’t thinking they will be the next Meryl Streep or Dustin Hoffmann, but they will learn the same things as in sports. They will learn to look at the human condition and understand how it works. They will learn things that will benefit them in whatever they pursue,” he added.
Christopher Gabriel didn’t just make space on his program for The Arts Partnership; he made space for all the arts. He was an ardent supporter, on and off the air, of so many of our arts organizations. He was a champion for local musicians, he invested his radio presence and his theatrical background into this community, and he was a strong advocate for the importance of supporting all of the arts.
I asked Christopher what he hoped his legacy would be. He said, “I would like to think I helped people get to another level of understanding how and why the arts are so important. I’d like to think that if I left anything here for people to latch on to, it was the need to go to the arts, the need to support them and the need to grow as a person.”
For me, Christopher’s legacy might just be that he was relentless in his artistic advocacy. He stumped on behalf of the arts to a listening audience that no doubt didn’t all identify as supporters. He had a powerful platform, and he never apologized for using it to encourage participation in and appreciation of the arts into the listening lives of his audience.