The 33rd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy was presented live as the opening keynote virtual presentation of the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention and Public Art & Civic Design Conference on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Delivering this year's lecture virtually was Vijay Gupta, renown citizen artist, social justice advocate, acclaimed violinist, 2018 MacArthur Fellow, and Americans for the Arts board member.


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Vijay Gupta

Vijay Gupta

Vijay Gupta believes that the work of the artist and the work of citizenship is the same: to create the world we want to see in our small, everyday actions—one person, one relationship, and one note at a time.

Hailed as “one of the most radical thinkers in the unradical world of American classical music,” Mr. Gupta is an esteemed violinist and speaker. Mr. Gupta’s labor of love lies in the founding and directing of Street Symphony, which brings music to people in shelters, clinics, county jails and prisons. Mr. Gupta’s work serves to engage people across vast social and economic differences—people who would often never be in the same room together—to create new transformative conversations about belonging and citizenship. Mr. Gupta’s work brings beauty, respite, and purpose to those all too often ignored by society, while encouraging us to reflect on many ways we can all make a difference and truly be citizens in our world today.

Mr. Gupta’s story began just north of New York City in 1987, where he was born to Indian immigrants who immersed him equally in the cultures of West Bengal and Western Europe. Mr. Gupta began playing the violin at a young age, and after only three years of study, auditioned for the Juilliard School of Music Pre-College program. He played his solo debut under the baton of Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and as a teenager, toured the U.S., Europe, Japan, and his Indian motherland as a soloist and recitalist. As an undergraduate, he continued to study violin performance while also following a course of study in biology, which led him to research internships at City University of New York and the Harvard Institutes of Medicine where, ironically, he received the most encouragement and support to make a life not as a researcher or doctor, but as a musician. Mr. Gupta continued his musical training at the Yale School of Music before taking an audition for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra where, in 2007, he became the youngest violinist to win a position in the orchestra’s history. 

Soon after joining the orchestra, Mr. Gupta discovered that his new hometown was the epicenter of the crisis of homelessness in America today. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis today, thousands of Angelenos sleep on the streets, and even more are incarcerated in the largest county jail system on the planet—effectively our world’s largest psychiatric facility. In 2010, Mr. Gupta started organizing musical events for audiences he would never meet in Walt Disney Concert Hall, performing classical chamber music with his colleagues across the city at homeless shelters, mental health clinics, hospitals and Veterans centers, Los Angeles county jails and California state prisons—and even the very streets of Skid Row. 

As a grassroots movement of music, the musical offerings of Street Symphony encompass not only the world of classical and choral music, but the traditions of Mariachi, Jazz, West-African drumming, Romani music, folk songs, and most importantly, musical offerings from and by the community of Skid Row—music from people who have themselves experienced homelessness and incarceration. In this radical model of hospitality and exchange, the musicians of Street Symphony share their gifts, and their stage, with the community they serve. They learn and grow with each other. Mr. Gupta says that often, the professionals are the ones who walk away with the greater gift.

Mr. Gupta is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a 2017 Citizen Artist Fellowship from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a 2018 MacArthur Fellowship. (Each day, Mr. Gupta shares a musical meditation on Instagram centered on the music of Bach, and he encourages you to all follow along @Gupta_violin).

Nancy Pelosi

Headshot of Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi is the 52nd Speaker of the House of Representatives, having made history in 2007 when she was elected the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House.  Now in her third term as Speaker, Pelosi made history again in January 2019 when she regained her position second-in-line to the presidency, the first person to do so in more than 60 years.  As Speaker, Pelosi is fighting for the people, working to lower health care costs, increase workers’ pay through strong economic growth and rebuilding America, and cleaning up corruption to make Washington work for all. 

For 32 years, Speaker Pelosi has represented San Francisco, California’s 12th Congressional District, in Congress. She has led House Democrats for 16 years and previously served as House Democratic Whip. In 2013, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the American women’s rights movement.

Under Pelosi’s leadership, the 111th Congress was heralded as "one of the most productive Congresses in history" by Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein.

Pelosi brings to her leadership position a distinguished record of legislative accomplishment. Speaker Pelosi was the architect of the landmark Affordable Care Act which has guaranteed protections for all Americans with pre-existing medical conditions, ended annual and lifetime limits on health coverage, and provided affordable health coverage for tens of millions more Americans while lowering health care costs over the long term.

In the 111th Congress, Speaker Pelosi also led the Congress in passing strong Wall Street reforms to rein in big banks and protect consumers as well as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which expands educational opportunities and reforms the financial aid system to save billions of taxpayers’ dollars. Additional key legislation passed into law included the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to restore the ability of women and all workers to access our judicial system to fight pay discrimination; legislation to provide health care for 11 million American children; national service legislation; and hate crimes legislation. In late 2010, Pelosi led the Congress in passing child nutrition and food safety legislation as well as repealing the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

Other accomplishments include the passage of historic investments in college aid, ethics and transparency in government, clean energy and innovation, services for veterans and military caregivers, and initiatives to help small businesses. She has been a powerful voice for civil rights and human rights around the world for decades.

Pelosi comes from strong family tradition of public service in Baltimore. Married to Paul Pelosi, she is a mother of five and grandmother of nine.