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US politics

‘The arts were an integral part of my self-discovery’: an interview with Sarah McBride, state senator and Delaware Art Museum trustee

The newly elected US legislator and transgender activist credits her early education in the performing arts for opening her world view

Sarah McBride Photo: © B. Proud

When Sarah McBride is sworn to the Delaware State Senate in January, she brings with her experiences that shaped her trajectory as the highest ranking openly transgender elected official in the US government, including working as a White House intern during the Obama administration and a lobbyist for transgender legislation. But McBride says the arts were no less instrumental in guiding her towards her new office. “She is outspoken about how her arts background has shaped her worldview,” says Molly Giordano, executive director of the Delaware Art Museum, where McBride is a trustee. “Including a desire to run for office.”

McBride spoke with The Art Newspaper about her formative early education at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts, where she majored in drama and cinema studies, and how she plans to use her position to advocate for the arts.

What role did the arts play in your upbringing?

The arts were an integral part of my self-discovery, my journey toward authenticity. It was in the performing arts that I was able to explore my identity, my gender, different experiences and emotions.

If you have a passion for the arts, and through those experiences gain a deeper understanding of the world around you, it inevitably leads to a passion for community, politics, advocacy, and social change.

How did your education shape your political ambitions?

The arts are a foundational component of so many skills that we can bring to the table. The thought skills that people develop in the arts, whether its creative or performing arts, help people whether they go into the arts or business or tech or politics or advocacy. No matter the field, the skills you can hone and develop with the arts pay off tenfold in the long run.

Understanding how to communicate, how to read and understand one another. The arts help you step out of your own experience and into someone else’s shoes. And once you do that, something clicks. Your understanding for the urgency of progress, the need for change, and the very real challenges that people continue to face across our society come into stark relief.

How do you plan to use your new position to advocate for the arts?

Delaware State Senator Tizzy Lockman created the arts caucus last session, and I want to join because we have a real role to play in fostering a vibrant art scene. That means making sure our arts nonprofits have the resources they need, particularly as we weather Covid-19, to continue giving quality, wide-ranging programming and offerings. It means making sure our public schools are never put in a situation where they’re cutting arts programming or deprioritising the arts.

It’s about making sure that we’re fostering the acceptability of the arts in our communities and recognizing that the arts are a beautiful, but also necessary, component of a thriving community. You can’t keep and attract people, families, and business if your community doesn’t have a thriving art scene. Making sure that Wilmington and Delaware have art scenes is necessary for us to not just enjoy the places we live, but really build an economy of the future and make sure that our communities are communities on the rise.