This first-of-its-kind compendium unites perspectives from artists, scholars, arts educators, policymakers, and activists to investigate the complex system of values surrounding artistic-educational endeavors. Addressing a range of artistic domains-including music, dance, theater, visual arts, film, and poetry-contributors explore and critique the conventions that govern our interactions with these practices. Artistic Citizenship focuses on the social responsibilities and functions of amateur and professional artists and examines ethical issues that are conventionally dismissed in discourses on these topics. The questions this book addresses include:

  • How does the concept of citizenship relate to the arts?
  • What sociocultural, political, environmental, and gendered "goods" can artistic engagements create for people worldwide?
  • Do particular artistic endeavors have distinctive potentials for nurturing artistic citizenship?
  • What are the most effective strategies in the arts to institute change and/or resist local, national, and world problems?
  • What obligations do artists and consumers of art have to facilitate relationships between the arts and citizenship?
  • How can artistic activities contribute to the eradication of adverse 'ism's?

Blog

Now Is the Time For Real Change

In past posts, we’ve noted the many ways artists speak out through their art-doing. Whether to question or connect us, artists are charged, perhaps now more than ever. And thanks to social media, more and more people can engage with the good work artists do.

For example, to memorialize and respond to the atrocities that ended the life of George Floyd – as well as re-ignite #BlackLivesMatter and speak to the hundreds of years of Black persecution in the United States – visual artists have taken to the streets in the ways they know best. Greta McLain, Xena Goldman, and Cadex Herrera acted by painting a mural at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South, the spot where Floyd was arrested. These three artists were assisted by artists Maria Javier, Rachel Breen, Niko Alexander, and Pablo Helmp Hernandez.

Credit: KEREM YUCEL/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Minutes before his death, Floyd managed to muster: “I can’t breathe.” 

Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” were transformed and the phrase at the center of the mural came later. As stated by one of the muralists:

“The phrase came from an African American community member, Anjel Carpenter, who approached us and asked for it,” McLain said. “She then surveyed the community, asking them if they preferred ‘I can breathe now,’ ‘Let me breathe,’ and one more, and they voted for ‘I can breathe now.’ We asked another member of the community to paint those words in.”

“(Carpenter) expressed to us that the idea of not being able to breathe was fueling so much tension and anger,” McLain continued. “And that now George was with God and it was important for our community healing to claim our breath and ability to breathe.” 

Beyond Minneapolis, many more murals have emerged around the globe.

Visual artists are not the only ones speaking out. Poets, filmmakers, actors, and more are outraged.

Musicians, too, regardless of genre are expressing their frustration, sadness, and empathy.

The above are just a small sample of the artists who are speaking out against injustice. Let us join them.

Amidst the Chaos, the Arts Provide Connectivity

Physicians, social media, and social psychologists are saying that, if at all possible, social distancing does not necessarily mean emotional distancing. 

With this in mind, artists of all kinds have been doing their uplifiting “good work”—i.e., mobilizing their artistic citizenship or “artivism”—by putting the arts to work for emotional and psychological well-being.

Indeed, while concert halls, school auditoriums, museums, galleries, clubs, and other places of/for artistic experiences are closed, many musical, visual and other kinds of artists across the nation and around the world are going online and taking to the streets. 

Diplo is live streaming DJ sets from his home five times a week on YouTube. The shows run Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with distinct themes each day. Paul Simon and Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real are “coming together” on Twitter through #selfdistancetogether

When the times call for social distancing, cellists of the New York Philharmonic respond with J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello in G major. I: Prelude, Nathan Vickery II: Allemande, Principal Cello Carter Brey III: Courante, Sumire Kudo IV: Sarabande, Alexei Yupanqui Gonzales V: Menuets I and II, Eric Bartlett VI: Gigue, Maria Kitsopoulos

The above-mentioned do not provide monetary comfort for those producing the art nor those experiencing it. Alongside many newly-found unemployed persons, artists and arts-takers are not immune to financial loss despite the Internet’s outlets and potentialities.

As reported in The Guardian, some visual artists are taking to the streets. 

These artists are not benefiting financially for their efforts, and neither are people who are experiencing these performances. Obviously, unemployed people, including art-makers and audiences, are not immune to financial loss.

Still, we must say “thank you” to all the artists across genres and practices who find the perseverance and courage to continue doing what they do. In fact, we might be more accurate and honest if we ask: Where would we be right now without the arts? And: How might we feel if artists—whether professional or amateur—failed to provide us with ways and means of/for connecting?

Far Beyond the Iron Curtain

In what ways can satire, sarcasm, comedy, and artistic excellence come together to help illustrate some of the potentials found within the concept of “artistic citizenship”? Rather than answer this question literally, we would like to pose the following example for your consideration. Does this arrangement and performance of Shostakovich’s music suggest a possible interpretation of understanding “artistic citizenship”? We leave this question with you as you listen and watch.

Protest Needs Music; Does Music Need Protest?

According to The New York Times:

“Every successful movement has a soundtrack,” the songwriter Tom Morello told reporters after he had tried to fire up the crowd at the Occupy Wall Street Protest last week with a Woody Guthrie tune and one of his own labor songs.

Perhaps he is right, but the protesters in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan have yet to find an anthem. Nor is the rest of the country humming songs about hard times. So far, musicians living through the biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression have filled the airwaves with songs about dancing, not the worries of working people.

Where have all the protest songs gone?

Good question! 

In attempt to trace the history of the “protest song,” and the relationships between those songs and the artists who created them, Dorian Lynskey published 33 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE: A History of Protest Songs, From Billie Holiday to Green Day

In end, Mr. Lynskey can’t help noting, the protest song is nearly an extinct art form; few mean nearly as much as they once did. “I began this book intending to write a history of a still vital form of music,” he says. “I finished by wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy.” If the Bush years didn’t provoke scorching and popular protest songs, he asks, what could?

There are many reasons political songs no longer resonate. The Vietnam War bound people together as few issues have since. We no longer expect music to change the world, and we’re more atomized in our tastes. In the Stewart-Colbert-Gawker era we’re couch potatoes, and our default mode is sophisticated, needling humor. We’re lazier than ever too. “Placards and sit-ins,” he says, “have given way to charity wristbands and Facebook groups.”

However, this was back in 2011. Have things changed at all? Perhaps somewhat.

In Hong Kong, where mass, pro-democracy protests have rocked the political landscape over the past four months, the protest song seems to sing loudly and clearly.

Written and composed anonymously, then modified in online forums popular with protesters, “Glory to Hong Kong” features the kind of brass-heavy backing and soaring lyricism common to anthems, including the line “May people reign, proud and free, now and ever more.” In a slickly produced video version, an orchestra and choir dressed in protester garb — black shirts, helmets and gas masks — perform through a fog machine, meant to evoke images of tear gas.

A composer named Thomas, who has not shared his last name, first posted an instrumental version and lyrics on Aug. 26 to LIHKG, a forum used by protesters, and asked others to record themselves singing it. He collected audio versions via Google Drive, and assembled them together to make it sound as though a choir were singing. He adjusted the lyrics based on suggestions in the forum. 

The song was then uploaded on YouTube on Aug. 31 with English subtitles and rousing scenes from demonstrations, such as crowds parting for an ambulance, a child leading chants and a banner hung on a mountain. The composer recruited video editors and musicians to create new versions. 

Might the rest of the world learn something from Hong Kong? Are there fights—small and large—that need songs to raise our levels of consciousness up; songs that urge us to join our brothers and sisters in bettering today and tomorrow? 

Conversely, might our musical experiences—whether as listeners or performers—become more significant and, potentially, creative when we compose, create, improvise, perform, and LISTEN with the intent to move, shake-up, and confront the ills of our common world?

Crossing Point Arts

I am writing to you today to let you know about an issue that is pressing, and one that is often overlooked: human trafficking. It is astonishing to me that there are more people enslaved right now than ever in human history, yet it barely ever makes its way to the news cycle. 

Fortunately for me, an opportunity came my way to respond proactively when  I was invited to join the Board of Directors of a small nonprofit which is approaching survivors of human trafficking through the arts, and having beautiful successes. 

Crossing Point Arts: Bringing the Art to Survivors of Human Trafficking began providing workshops in all of the arts to survivors seven years ago, and they have reached nearly 4000 people in the NYC area, who were trafficked domestically and internationally. Their Teaching Artists help survivors to reclaim their once-silenced voices and start to heal from the ordeal of brutal exploitation, all the while learning to manage PTSD and develop long-term coping strategies.  Still the only nonprofit in the US solely dedicated to providing workshops in the art to trafficking survivors, the metrics are showing real results.

A recent story that I was told by head of the organization (who is also a Teaching Artist) is about a young woman who was sex-trafficked by her parents from the time she was a toddler to age 26, when she finally broke free.  After she ran away, she found art as the one sure anchor to manage her pain. The abuse, manipulation, violence and distortion that was her earlier life began to shift.  Now, with the support of our Teaching Artists, she knows that picking up her paint brush is literally her lifeline.  She has come to redefine her value, and explore her talents.  In her words: “Art gives me the opposite of what the exploitation did to me.  It shows me my value and makes me know I can be whole. When I think I am going to drown in the pain, art brings me back.”

This is just one of thousands of stories.  And their relationship to healing are strikingly similar.  Art does so much for all of us, particularly people who have suffered severe trauma.

I am telling you all of this with the hope that you will help me find channels of support for this valiant, yet growing nonprofit.  Would it be possible for us to explore who in your circle might be of help to Crossing Point Arts?

Project&

In what ways do the arts precede activism? In what ways does activism provoke the arts? And how do the comings together of the arts and activism enable people to re-experience the potentials of the world? Writer, activist, cultural advocate, and Chicago native Jane M. Saks has been probing such questions for decades. Furthermore, the commonality of art and activism is Saks’ belief that “human dignity” is the core for any form of social justice within artistic practices. 

One such example of Saks’ pursuit for human dignity through the lens of art making is her work as Artistic Director of Project&. As the mission of Project& states:


In collaboration with artists, Project& creates new models of cultural participation with social impact. We amplify artistic voices that risk, engage, investigate and inspire, highlighting issues at the forefront of our time including: race, justice, access and equity, identity, gender, cultures of violence, human rights and economic inequality.

Project& believes art changes the world. We believe that the core of the artistic practice is courage; when unleashed, it creates conditions for collective action that are inspired, resonant, and contagious. Forging expansive connections and engendering trust are fundamental to unleashing the artistic spirit in the work of Project&. As we seed chance through artist collaboration, we spark chain reactions and consequences that set cultural participation in motion in ways we cannot anticipate or predict. The impact of the Project& practice and of our artist/collaborators comes into ever-sharpening focus over the arc of time.

Doors and More

What do “doors” do? On one hand, a door might, especially if it’s locked, keep people outside an “insider’s” domain. On the other hand, a door invites people to enter. One knock on a closed door, and two reactions are possible: An inviting voice from the other side might say, “Come in; it’s open.” Or, after being knocked upon, and within moments of waiting, the door may open and a person on the other side potentially could ask: “Can I help you?”

Meet the public art project, #TinydoorsATL.

In 2014, Karen Anderson and Sarah Meng started to introduce these “entrances” in public spaces. Notably, the doors provide access to an imaginary world. Moreover, and provided an onlooker doesn’t miss a potential voyage into the unknown – indeed, it is easy not to notice the doorways given their locations, and sometimes hidden positions – the people of Atlanta can dream-through a portal beyond the here and now.

As stated on the project’s website:

Tiny Doors ATL is an Atlanta-based art project bringing big wonder to tiny spaces. Our constantly evolving installation pieces are an interactive part of their community. With the installation of a door, what was once a wall or the column of a bridge becomes an entrance to collective creativity and an invitation to whimsy. Tiny Doors ATL is dedicated to free and accessible art.

The doors, themselves, are about 7-inches tall, and are located in places in and around Atlanta, Georgia.

According to the principal artist and director, Karen Anderson:

Much of what I’d hoped to see from this project is happening organically. For instance, I’d hoped that our doors would be tiny gathering places, landmarks for people to leave free art for #FAFATL, take creative photos, and get to know other areas of town by encouraging exploration to new neighborhoods. My big goals for the project include tying together communities, and eventually creating a full-time position with Tiny Doors ATL so that I can do the outreach to schools and camps that we’re being asked to provide. I’m also doing some consulting with other cities on their tiny public art movements.

A door can provide us with a sense of possibility. Such optimism and hope is a gift not to be taken lightly.

Gregory Haimovsky: A Pianist’s Odyssey to Freedom

The previously untold story of the brilliant Russian concert pianist Gregory Haimovsky is revealed in Marissa Silverman’s new book for University of Rochester Press. Exiled by the Soviet regime, Haimovsky found a way to perform the “banned” Western music of Olivier Messiaen and fight the USSR’s cultural prohibitions. Gregory Haimovsky, Gorky Conservatory of Music, 1960, …

Source: Gregory Haimovsky: A Pianist’s Odyssey to Freedom

#iamFOR

According to artist Paula Crown, the #iamFOR exhibition on display at the For Freedoms headquarters incorporates, examines, and explores themes of environmentalism, racial awareness, and identity politics.

Located in the heart of the Meatpacking District in NYC, onlookers are provocatively greeted by and confronted with Crown’s environmentally probing piece, Humble Hubris: Don’t know what you got (till its gone) bench (2018), outside Fort Gansevoort, at 51 Gansevoort Street, NYC: “If you think you’re hot now, just wait.”

Humble Hubris: Don’t know what you got (till its gone), Paula Crown, 2018

This statement, especially given its location—which is surrounded by all kinds of NYC construction—makes obvious the tangled mess of urbanization, commercialization, and industrialization. Notice, too, how Crown’s piece is juxtaposed with the seemingly dead vines clinging to the lattice work outside the edifice and the winding coils of cables adjoined to the outlet in back of the artwork. What does all this mean?

Crown repurposes a historical and picturesque photograph of a mountain-scape used in an advertising campaign for Humble Oil in 1962…Here, the photograph in the advertisement is translated directly into painting, channeling new evidence that oil executives knew of the link between their industry and the consequences of CO2 in the 1970s. The work references the language of posters and sign-painting to reroute this image from advertisement to activism. 

Additionally, situated in the window just around the corner from Humble Hurbis are Not banners (2018). As stated by the exhibit:

In the 18thcentury, anthropologists and cartographers created hierarchies and vocabularies that continue to haunt us, labeling the world with colonial perceptions of human difference. Classification of human beings by color is a social construct dismantled by scientific truth.  Artist Paula Crown’s NOT paintings prompt viewers to compare themselves with the subjective taxonomies of the past, to invalidate prior modes of categorization and to demand nuance and agency.

Not banners, Paula Crown, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moreover, it is worth noting that one of the construction signs posted next to Fort Gansevoort, and catty-corner to the Not banners, is a call for vehicles to “use alternate” means of maneuvering through the area. Of course, neither the For Freedoms group, nor Crown, would have expected this kind of coincidence. That is, it is provocative that NYC is asking motorists for “caution” and to take alternative traffic routes when Crown invites her artwork visitors to reconsider the routes they use to move through the world!

There’s much more to the #iamFOR exhibition. If you happen to be in NYC, be sure to experience it for yourself.