What makes a citizen? How do the complex, elusive, and multifarious definitions of what it means to be an American exert their presence in art? And as the veil between artistic expression and political expression grows thin, how can contemporary artists shape and imagine new ways of being American? In this free-form, one-night-only conversation, four artists meet for the first time on stage to share their work and engage in a discussion about the intersection of art and American identity.
This interdisciplinary evening of performance and discussion brings together performance artist NIC Kay, author Lisa Ko, photographer Philip Montgomery, and stage and film director Yara Travieso, joined by Alejandro Rodriguez, artistic director of ASTEP’s Artist as Citizen Conference.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, stated: “One of the reasons we should be so proud is this piece of art is from an Iraqi American of Jewish faith to be displayed in the greatest city in the world … And the creation and installation of this piece of art is an act of resistance against the tyranny of religious fanaticism. It is an act of resistance against the acts of philistinism. But it is also a celebration of who we are as a city: confident in who we are, pluralistic, welcoming and diverse.”
In doing so, the conference asked the essential and age-old question: What do artists do? Undoubtedly, artists view the world in unique ways. And, through their artwork, help us confront our realities—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thus, at the heart of this kind of work is the concept of “artistic citizenship” and being an “artist-as-citizen.”
Meet one artistic citizen: Helen Marriage. Director of “Artichoke,” Marriage stays clear of traditional “artistic spaces”— the gallery, concert hall, theater or dance studio—and instead transforms the streets, squares, gardens and coastlines of the public spaces around the UK.
At the heart of Marriage’s projects is accessibility and equity, and the notion that all people have the right to experience artwork for free.
One such project was Great Fire 350, dedicated to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the London fire of 1666.
While this project, one among many, speaks for itself, a few aspects deserve special mentioning. Throughout 2016, London marked a season of exhibitions, concerts, lectures, and tours. A festival, really, of the power of the arts to provoke the imagination, Great Fire 350 included an underwater performance art-work, a domino-esque sculpture that snaked throughout London’s streets, which outlined the various roadways of the 1666 fire, and ended with a live re-burning of a model of 1666 London on the Thames River. This grandiose festival implied numerous aspects about social life. Primarily, though, Great Fire 350 highlighted a beautiful and powerful resilience of a city and its peoples to be re-born.
“The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.” – bell hooks
What is “artivism” and why should it matter? In Chapter 10, Rodney Diverlus helps our readers better understand the concept of “artivism,” or art + activism; or “activism through art.”
An independent, Canada-based dancer, choreographer, and community organizer, Diverlus introduces, deconstructs, and dissects the concept of “artivism” and explains its manifestations, purposes, and social values. While recognizing the need for abstract, personal, form-driven, and curiosity-driven art making, Diverlus argues for the universal application of artivism, for a symbiotic relationship between art and activism. Diverlus investigates art makers as agents of social change, explains the juxtapositions of personal and political art, and argues for the importance of dance as a tool of communal engagement. Additionally, he proposes that arts educators radicalize arts-based education as a way of introducing artivism to students and emerging artists.
For Diverlus, artivism is both a vision and a call to action. It is a continuation of the age-old question: Why create?
Here, see Diverlus’ collaborative work excerpted from The Spectrum Project’s “(de)liberate”; A queer- themed dance theatre show on negotiating space, our bodies, and communal existence.
Importantly, we must ask: Do these statues qualify, though, as art? If so, why so? If not, why not? And why should we ask such questions in the first place? Do these questions matter against the larger issues of racism and prejudice?
From Plato to Public Enemy, people have debated the relationship between music and justice—rarely arriving at much consensus over the art form’s ethics and aesthetics, uses and abuses, virtues and vices. So what roles can music and musicians play in agendas of justice? And what should musicians and music scholars do if—during moments of upheaval, complacency, ennui—music ends up seemingly drained of its beauty, power, and relevance?
University of Michigan Press is proud to announce a new series, Music and Social Justice. This endeavor welcomes projects that shine new light on familiar subjects such as protest songs, humanitarian artists, war and peace, community formation, cultural diplomacy, globalization, and political resistance. Simultaneously, the series invites authors to critique and expand on what qualifies as justice—or, for that matter, music—in the first place. Music and Social Justice lends a platform for writers who wish to submit traditional scholarly monographs. The editors are equally enthusiastic to work with authors and artists who wish to unsettle the discursive norms of conventional academic prose in the name of rhetorical experimentalism, anti-capitalism, neurodiversity, and radical collaboration.
Music and Social Justice has assembled an Advisory Board who are active and activist leaders in their fields: Naomi André, Suzanne G. Cusick, Ellie M. Hisama, Mark Katz, Alejandro L. Madrid, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, Carol J. Oja, and Shana L. Redmond. The Advisory Board will work closely with the editors to seek out prospective authors, open lines of communication, and review submissions.
For more details on the impetus behind the series, including short interviews with the Advisory Board, please see http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/10/announcing-music-and-social-justice-new.html.
Please direct queries and proposals to series editors William Cheng (william.cheng -at- dartmouth.edu) and Andrew Dell’Antonio (dellantonio -at- austin.utexas.edu), or University of Michigan Press Editorial Director Mary Francis (mfranci -at- umich.edu).
How can art transform a landscape? And who have access to such transformation? The River Assembly Project not only confirms that art has the power to transform, but also declares that each and all should have access to art’s potentials.
Turning an industrial barge into The Floating Museum, Chicago’s local artists, with various arts and cultural organizations, came together to “create temporary, site-responsive museum spaces to activate sites of cultural potential throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods.”
According to the creators of the project, first it’s important to talk “with community leaders, organizations, and artists who are deeply invested in their neighborhood.” Then they “nurture new connections between communities, institutions, and the people these spaces serve.” The results of this process are “installations are platforms for engaging communities and celebrating the art and culture being produced by our neighborhoods.” In doing so, The River Assembly Project “bring[s] together the work of … dispersed locations in a traveling museum that celebrates the energy” of Chicago.
The Floating Museum showcases visual arts, media, and performances by more than 30 local and national artists, including:
The Society for Ethnomusicology is currently collecting news items to include in its online repository: applied project news, educational outreach program news, organizational endeavors, and research projects. We are grateful to and inspired by the Society for Ethnomusicology and their thoughtful attention to connections between music and social justice.
The Society states:
The Society for Ethnomusicology’s Music and Social Justice Resources Project is a repository of material on how people worldwide are currently using music to address issues of social conflict, exclusion/inclusion, and justice. We welcome notices on public events (e.g., rallies, performances, conferences) and other general news; proposals/reports on projects involving community engagement, activism, or advocacy; syllabi, lesson plans, and other educational material; information on activist organizations; and research articles.
By way of example, meet Musicians Without Borders. Founded officially in 2000, this world-wide organization has been working with local musicians and community organizations to build sustainable community music programs. Why music? The organization states:
Where war has raged, people need everything to return to life: food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine. But more than anything, people need hope. To reconcile, people need empathy. To heal, people need connection and community.
Music creates empathy, builds connection and gives hope.
Paula Vogel’s Indecent is a play about our past, present, and future; it is a play about the many ways society judges its people; it is a play about GLBT rights; it is a play about the good and bad of humanity; but it is also a love story—a love for theater and the transformative powers the theater holds for audiences and players alike.
Structured as a play within a play, Indecent retells the history of Sholem Asch’s 1907 Yiddish drama, God of Vengeance. After touring the world to critical acclaim, and at its Broadway debut at the Apollo Theater on 42nd Street, Asch’s work was shut down in 1923 for obscenity; all the actors were arrested given the drama’s exploration of same-sex love. Asch’s work is pinned against the backdrop of anti-Semitism—additionally, general anti-immigration sentiments—in the United States. So largely, Vogel’s Indecent illustrates the ways in which the oppressed maintain their identities and dignity when pushed to the margins.
Interestingly, Asch’s play is as relevant today as it was, then, when it toured the world. And so Vogel’s prism-view of God of Vengeance refracts the very essence of today with incredible clarity and precision. Vogel states:
I didn’t anticipate that Indecent would be as relevant today as it is; we are witnessing an upheaval of fear, xenophobia, homophobia, and, yes, anti-Semitism. We are in the midst of the strongest white nationalism since the 1920s when American borders were closed to immigrants. In this moment of time we must say that we are all Muslim. We must reclaim the importance of our arts and culture. We must remember where the closing of borders in the 20th century led nations around the globe.
Can the arts make crucial differences for those in need? Meet Crossing Point Arts. This non-profit organization harnesses the social, cultural, emotional, and political power of the arts and helps survivors of human trafficking reclaim their sense of selves through art-making. From their website:
Crossing Point Arts was founded by a small group of New York City activist artists. This group came together to offer their hearts – and their art forms – to survivors as a step towards managing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In workshop format, participants have the opportunity to be guided by Teaching Artists and Expressive Arts Therapists in singing, song-creation, dance, visual arts, poetry and theater.
The mission of the organization: “to bring the healing and restorative power of the arts to survivors of human trafficking through expressive arts workshops, helping them to release trauma, reclaim their once-silenced voices and learn long-term coping strategies.”