June 30, 2020
Bringing Joy to the Front Lines
CMU alumni leverage the arts to create a “clear day” for essential workers
By Sarah Burke
One year ago, Jordan Dean (A 2007) underwent a 13-hour open-heart surgery at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Today, he’s using the power of art to inspire Mount Sinai staff members fighting COVID-19 on the front lines.
“They saved my life,” Jordan said. “I spent two weeks recovering in the hospital, and everyone there was just incredible. When the pandemic hit, I knew I wanted to do something to say thank you.”
Along with fellow CMU School of Drama graduates Kersti Bryan (A 2006) and Dan Amboyer (A 2006), Jordan has created a “living theater” initiative to lift the spirits of those most closely impacted by the virus.
Together, the three artists have tapped into their professional networks to collect more than 70 “Songs for Mount Sinai” —messages of hope, joy and gratitude dedicated to the organization’s 42,000 employees. These video performances by actors, musicians, dancers and other creators have been shared through Mount Sinai’s email newsletters, town hall meetings and screens across its seven campuses.
As “Songs for Mount Sinai” gathered steam, Jordan, Kersti and Dan expanded their audience to include all essential workers, from grocery store employees to cab drivers, across the country.
They’ve named their evolving efforts The Clear Day Project in honor of William Orpen’s painting, "The Somme: On a Clear Day.” This 1917 landscape depicts the lush fields and serene blue sky Orpen found upon returning to the site of the Battle of the Somme, where one million soldiers were wounded or killed during World War I.
Here are just a few “Songs for Mount Sinai” contributed by CMU alumni
“The Invisible Thread”
“Up on the Roof”
“Somewhere Out There”
“Stand By Me”
“We’re trying to get people one step closer to a clear day,” Jordan said. “The arts have a special way of connecting us in difficult times.”
Sixteen CMU alumni — and counting — have contributed to this project since it launched in March.
“Our community from Carnegie Mellon is so strong that we knew that we could call our friends to help us,” Dan said. “They have such great hearts — besides being amazingly talented and accomplished actors and artists. It’s inspiring to see how beautiful and creative their videos are, how each person expresses their sense of gratitude.”
Kersti explained that as the pandemic has evolved, the team has shifted gears to meet the changing needs of frontline workers.
“This project was initially intended to bring brightness, but now we need the full spectrum,” Kersti said, acknowledging that medical workers had lost colleagues and friends as well as patients. “We need memorials, too. We need to recognize the trauma these workers and families are going through.”
The Clear Day Project helped create content for the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s commencement ceremony on June 11. Joe Tippett and Sara Bareilles performed an original song, “Keep Your Head Up, Child,” dedicated to the graduates and their instructors.
“It was very meaningful to be part of the celebration of so many student doctors who have seen more death than many physicians have seen their entire practices,” Kersti said.
The Clear Day Project has begun to receive requests from health care systems in Minneapolis, Detroit and other cities. They’ve also formed new partnerships with New York City Center and individual artists around the country.
“Our goal, no matter what we do, is creating something that's really vital and affecting,” Dan said. “It’s all meant to bring light and joy to people who are struggling. That’s our mission.”