Not too long ago, an editor I used to work with told me, “I wish you would just write about music.”

I looked at him and said, “But you’re a Bob Dylan fan.”

The point being, there is no way to separate the arts and social commentary. Important music, literature and art is not wallpaper. They reflect back on us what is happening. Writers and artists engage us in a constant dialogue on our society.

This often gets lost in a dense forest in which we now find ourselves wandering. As women turn over rotting logs to shed light on sexual harassment and sexual assault, the #MeToo movement has the feel of being an epic moment in this country’s social evolution. Black Lives Matter remains relevant with each news report of an unarmed black man being shot by police.

How do we keep the notoriously Attention Deficit Disorder American public focused on these issues, which are not going away?

Theater is a particularly receptive canvas for social commentary. The performances are not static, the original intent of the piece’s creator can be manipulated through costume, prop and stage set. As happened last year with Rochester’s Blackfriars Theatre’s staging of a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with an all-women cast. Which I guarantee was not what Shakespeare had in mind.

In perusing the recently announced new season at Geva Theatre Center, it’s clear that the group is once again on board with both the struggle of women and minorities in America. With the 2018-’19 season, women have written or will direct more than half of the 11 productions. The authors of five of the plays, and the directors of four of the plays, will be people of color. A diverse and inclusive lineup, just as it was last season. As Artistic Director Mark Cuddy told me then, “I have my personal motivations. Each artist has his own motivations.

“We’re in a different era,” Cuddy said. “Not everyone understands that.”

What era? The arts is responding to the Donald Trump era. With leading spokespeople such as Steve Earle. When I last saw an Earle concert a year ago, just one month into the Trump presidency, he opened with “City of Immigrants.” And Earle closed his show with a rousing sing-along of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Bookends rejecting devisiveness, celebrating a diverse America, one that belongs to its many people.

In Rochester, same thing. Retired newspaper reporter Jack Jones, now a folk singer, wrote a song borrowing from Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The Dady Brothers heard it, re-wrote it a bit, and recorded it. Fred Armstrong’s Animatus studio created an animated video. The new song: “Mr. Tangerine Man.”

Jack Jones, The Dady Brothers and Fred Armstrong aren’t irresponsible outliers. They are longstanding, respected contributors to our community. They are artists speaking out. You see and hear such voices everywhere now. Trump was merely president-elect when Meryl Streep, speaking at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards, evoked the words of the late Carrie Fisher. “As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Many people will still insist that arts should just shut up and look pretty. Unless you’re a contractor buying landscapes for motel-room walls, that’s never happened. America is at its best when it questions. Questions that linger long after the people who were elected to represent us are forgotten. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and a man of no honorable principles or accomplishments, is leaving Congress in January. By February, his face will already be fading from memory.

Yet I’ll still be listening to Steve Earle. And Woody Guthrie.

I think of “No Surrender,” a Bruce Springsteen song. “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school,” that’s the line. And that’s the way it was for a lot of us.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site for an email alert. You can contact me at