Artistry, Social Responsibility, and Ethical Praxis
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?
The heart of Artistic Citizenship asks artists of all kinds, whether amateur or professional and across all arts domains, to ask critically important questions, such as:
What responsibilities do artists have to engage in art work for social transformation?
One organization—or, “super PAC” as they call themselves—aptly named “For Freedoms,” not only interrogates this question, but also activates this question for those whom engage with their artistry. As Celia McGee writes:
Founded by Hank Willis Thomas, a photographer and conceptual artist, and Eric Gottesman, a video artist and activist, the super PAC is named after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” wartime address in 1941 — a call to safeguard the freedoms of speech and worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.
As the first artist-run super PAC, For Freedoms uses art to inspire deeper political engagement for citizens who want to have a greater impact on the American political landscape.
We believe that artists, and art, play an important role in galvanizing our society to do better. We are frustrated with a system in which money, divisiveness, and a general lack of truth-telling have stifled complex conversation. We created the first artist-run super Pac because we believe it’s time for artists to become more involved in the political process.
What can we learn about the role of art in politics from For Freedoms? We leave this up to you to decide. For now, we urge you to think-through today through the lens of the actions and activism of For Freedoms.
Janis Brenner & Dancers premieres Once You Are Not A Stranger. Created in collaboration with Bosnian-born, electro-acoustic composer Svjetlana Bukvich, costume designer Sue Julien, lighting designer Mitchell Bogard, and installation artist Eva Petric from Slovenia, this 45-minute, interdisciplinary work investigates notions of “empathy in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious world and uses the dance company as a microcosm of this world.”
Video projections are embedded in the center of an elaborate set-piece, playing a personal and imagistic role in the work. Performed with live music, including Ms. Brenner on vocals.
After a meaningful tour to Sarajevo, composer Bukvich and choreographer/singer/actor Brenner spoke about collaborating. As Bukvich states:
Janis and I conversed about things that interested us and empathy came up right away, as did the need to really hear one another. I spoke about walking in someone else’s shoes – feeling wise – and how that impacts the strangeness in any relationship…Visually, the piece unfolds in wavy patterns which “freeze” on occasion, or so was our intention. There is a hanging set piece onto which video is projected in the same fashion. With each unfolding, messages becomes clearer, there is a shedding, a letting go, a cutting into deeper layers of pain and, yes, beauty and goodness which lurk in all of us. Like taming a wild animal, the piece comes to terms with its audience. The music is complex and electronic at first, then becomes gradually acoustic, with a string quartet, then a voice, a scrape of a shoe, and into silence. Art-rock-meets-electronic experimental-meets-old world sentimental.
In the mean time, watch the ETHEL String Quartet perform an arrangement of this work. The following segment was performed as part of Composers Concordance’s Roundtable concert at (le) Poisson Rouge on January 26th, 2017.
Video by Eddie Papetti
Thank you, Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, for your support of our book. Yes, collective singing — all collective music making — is a powerful and potent source of good depending on the contexts and circumstances of the musicing.
Because of this, thank you in advance for your “Concert for Peace”!
For those interested in the Thomas Turino quote from Artistic Citizenship that speaks to the above:
“The topic of music and social change conjures up images of dramatic political moments such as the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement. In that movement, it was the very act of collective singing as much as the content of the lyrics—“We Shall Overcome”—and associations of the tunes with the Black Church and previous labor movements that galvanized protesters. Collective singing illogically steeled regular people to put themselves in harms way, to lovingly turn the other cheek, to peacefully face rocks, sticks, bricks, fire hoses and police dogs. Similarly, in Germany during the 1930s and early 1940s, collective singing of Nazi songs was common among people at the end of work days, among youth at summer camps, and among average citizens at many social gatherings. Again, it was the repeated act of massive collective singing as much as the content of the lyrics—“Work, Bread, and Death to the Jew”— that helped prepare normal citizens, again illogically, to acquiesce to, and even participate in mass murder. In both cases music functioned in very much the same ways to alter peoples’ consciousnesses, to prepare them for heroism or villainy—to be the very best or the very worst humans can be.” (“Music, Social Change, and Alternative Forms of Citizenship,” p. 297)
What happens to us when we actively engage as art-makers or art-takers? Who do we become?
Given the complexities of today’s political, social, and emotional landscapes, engaging with/through the arts is as important now more than ever. Why? “With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s easy to question the value of telling stories or making sculptures.” While some may be tempted to question the arts at times like these, we disagree. And so does Miguel Syjuco.
“Silence, it is said, implies complicity. But that’s only half the story. Silence also confirms oppression, because the ability to speak out is too often a luxury of the privileged.
The aggressive populism we see today seems to be a testament to people refusing to be silent – and rightly so. Our societies have largely failed to provide equally for all, and technology now gives us new avenues through which to be heard, and with which to rebel against repressive ideas and structures. New leaders have latched onto that and now seek to speak for us, even though many of them are rallying us crudely around fear and mistrust.”
Art making and art taking help us raise our voices to the level of consciousness. The arts confirm that we do not need to remain silent and complicit.
Pablo Picasso knew this all too well. That’s why he painted “Guernica.”
“In what ways do our artistic endeavors implicate responsibilities to each other and to our collective human identities?” We pose this question in our book, Artistic Citizenship: Artistry, Social Responsibility and Ethical Praxis. This provocation provides a point of entry for this symposium as we explore the notion of music education as/for artistic citizenship, challenging our purpose and praxis in and out of the classroom. Afternoon sessions address choral and instrumental ensembles, guitar, songwriting and technology in the classroom as we consider pivoting the discourse, expanding curriculum offerings, and democratizing the music space.
Cost at the door, $10. Lunch will be provided.
Artistic Citizenship and Urban Music Education is just days away. The schedule looks fabulous! Thank you, Susan Davis, for organizing such a special event. Still time to register: http://acsmsymposium.weebly.com
10:00-10:30 Coffee and Bagels, registration
10:30-12:30 Keynote presentation, Q&A and Discussion
David J. Elliott & Marissa Silverman
1:30-2:30 Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, Your Choir, Their Refuge: The Strength of Choir in a Trans Student’s World
2:30-3:30 H. Roz Woll and Roy Jennings, Teaching Choral Music of the African Diaspora: Toward a Living Black History
3:30-4:30 Mariel Berger: Resistance through Creative Collaboration: Collective Songwriting for Social Justice and Artistic Citizenship
1:30-2:30 Susan Davis, “Pretty good for a girl:” Female fiddlers with activist agendas
2:30-3:30 Kristin Mozeiko and katie bishop, A song with Words:
The Melodies of a Trans Femme in the World of Music
3:30-4:30 Peter Douskalis: “Coup D’Amour” – Creating an inclusive curriculum: Multicultural Music and Intercultural Harmony
1:30-2:30 Adam Goldberg: Building Student Voice via Technology, Social Awareness and Musical Self-Expression
2:30-3:30 Martin Urbach: Liberation Through musicing:
The k-12 music classroom as a social justice playground
3:30-4:30 Scott Burstein: Little Kids Rock and Amp Up NYC
4:30-5:00 Panel in LeFrak – final thoughts, Q&A, suggestions for mobilization
“Artistic citizenship” is a concept with which we hope to encapsulate our belief that artistry involves civic-social-humanistic-emancipatory responsibilities, obligations to engage in art making that advances social “goods.” The terms artist, artistry, and artistic as we use them are not elitist. By “artists” we mean to include people of all ages (from youth to adults) and levels of technical accomplishment (from amateur to professional practitioners) who make and partake of art(s) of all kinds, in contexts ranging from informal to formal, with the primary intent ofmaking positive differences in people’s lives. Whereas artistic proficiency entails myriad skills and understandings, artistic citizenship implicates additional commitments to act in ways that move people—both emotionally and in the sense of mobilizing them as agents of positive change. Artistic citizens are committed to engaging in artistic actions in ways that can bring people together, enhance communal wellbeing, and contribute substantially to human thriving.
In framing this book’s project we invited contributors across art disciplines to share their research, their practical projects and strategies, their experiences, and their insights as artistic citizens. We deliberately left open the meaning of “artistic citizenship,” however, in order to allow a range of interpretations and perspectives to emerge. The result is, we think, an imaginative and inspiring collection of essays, richly suggestive in their range and scope. They address and explore quite a number of interlocking and provocative questions, including these:
What does “citizenship” mean and how might these meanings relate to our understandings of the privileges and obligations that attend artistic practices?
How might “artistic citizenship” differ from (or resemble) citizenship in general?
In what ways and to what extent do art-makers and art-takers have responsibilities (or obligations) to deploy the potentials of the arts to advance social justice, human rights, and the like?
What personal, social, cultural, educational, political, therapeutic, economic, and health-giving “goods” can artistic engagements (amateur or professional) facilitate?
What ethical issues and responsibilities attend the concept of art making as force for advancing positive social and political change?
How might artistic citizens engage the “general public” in artistic projects designed to serve diverse public, social, cultural, political interests?
How can ethically-oriented artistry contribute to the mitigation of racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and ethnocentricism, and other forms of social injustice?
What abilities and dispositions of body-mind and heart do amateur and professional artists require if they are to engage in, develop, and expand the possibilities and potentials of artistic citizenship?
What historical precedents can inform and refine our understandings of the “why, what, how, who, where, and when” of artistic citizenship?
What are the most effective strategies and tactics that artist-activists (or “artivists”[i]) to confront problems like racial violence, poverty, disease, discrimination, and the like?
What are the specific or distinctive potentials of particular artistic endeavors for fulfilling the commitments and responsibilities of artistic citizenship?
How can school and community arts education programs develop young people’s habits of heart and mind in and through socially responsible art making?
Additional questions and issues emerge from the chapters in the book, questions too numerous to list here. But the questions, discussions, and actions to which the book’s essays lead will be the ultimate measure of this project’s significance. We leave it to our readers, then, to carry these conversations forward—to follow the leads offered by contributors to this volume. Although we cannot know precisely the form those ideas may eventually assume, it is our hope that they will involve continuous critical dialogue across artistic disciplines about the ethical potentials of artistry, the nature of artistic responsibility, and the remarkable capacities of art to improve our neighborhoods, our societies, and our world.
[i] The concept of “artivism” and therefore “artivist” can be found in Rodney Diverlus’ chapter (in this volume) and also Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre (2007). Chicana/o Artivism: Judy Baca’s Digital Work with Youth of Color, in Anna Everett (Ed.) Learning Race and Ethnicity, (pp. 81-108), MIT Press.
Violent hate crimes have surged around the world, including the U.S., where disgusting racist, homophobic, and misogynist language has become normalized in political speeches and on social media, where violence has become routine, and where free speech and other democratic freedoms are under threat.
These realities highlight the fact that what sustains democracies is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but also social norms and practices, individual and communal ethics, empathy, excellent public education systems, and peaceful protest, including “calling out” racism and other social injustices “loudly and by name.”
As the authors of the 27 chapters in Artistic Citizenship document, artists of all kinds around the world are putting their art-making to work for social “goods” by “calling out” and protesting anti-democratic and anti-human behaviors.
(Note: By “artists” we mean amateurs and professionals in all the arts, arts educators, and students involved in art-making for active social justice).
One example of a full-time arts activist is Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre
Guante is a hip-hop artist, a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, an educator, a writer, and a contributor to Artistic Citizenship. He has “performed for justice” widely in the U.S. and abroad—from the United Nations, to the Soundset Hip-Hop Festival, to countless colleges, universities, clubs, theaters, and rallies across the U.S. His performances have been featured on BBC Radio 6-Music, MSNBC, Upworthy, Everyday Feminism, and Button Poetry. And he facilitates community workshops that use the arts as jumping-off points for deeper conversations about identity, power, empathy, and agency.
Here are two examples of Guante’s performances that exemplify his commitment to challenging dominant narratives related to race and racism, and deconstructing traditional notions of masculinity:
Do arts educators have a civic responsibility to do more than talk-talk-talk about artistic “response-ability” and social justice in their journal articles and at conferences? Writing and face-to-face discussions are important, of course, which is why we applaud a 2017 initiative at Michigan State University titled “Musicking Equity: Enacting Social Justice Through Music Education.”
Hopefully, such conferences will actually lead to “enacting” social justice in the sense of actual participation in public contention, acting for social justice, doing it, performing it, and creating “ethical spectacles” of/for social justice.
Prince died on April 21st. Like Bowie, Prince defied all musical norms, social labels, gender codes, and sexual stereotypes. As Nathan Smith says in Out: “For many members of the queer community, Prince’s sheer persistent resistance to being restricted by language was an exciting and provocative feat and one through which they could channel their own frustrations and identity struggles.”
George Michael died on Christmas Day at the age of 53. In 1998, Michael came out as being gay and advocated strongly for AIDS prevention and gay rights. At a time when being gay was considered a “sin,” Michael’s openness served as a hopeful beacon to LGBT people who, themselves, were struggling to be free and proud of their identities. How should we remember George Michael? Lee Williscroft-Ferris argues that
George Michael represented a walking middle-finger-up in the faces of those right wing mouthpieces that would desexualize gay men, sanitizing our existence and barely concealing their disdain and, frequently, their outright disgust at the mere thought of gay men interacting sexually with one another.
One Takeaway Message
Music isn’t set off from the world, as too many musicians, music educators, and audience members would have us believe. Instead, as the eminent UC-Berkeley musicologist Richard Taruskin argues: “Music is in the world, doing worldly work.”
People do a serious disservice to activist artists of all kinds—or what we call artivists—when they attempt to sanitize or depoliticize musicians’ lives and legacies. Instead, let’s celebrate all three men as musical-social icons: extraordinary people who made major differences in the lives of LGBT individuals and communities worldwide.
Sometime during the day of Friday, November 19, 2016, the cast and crew of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s prize-winning Broadway musical, were informed that U.S. Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence and his family would be in the audience that night. And so it was that the stage was set for “a play within a play.” As Pence entered the Richard Rogers Theatre with hundreds of others, he was greeted with a mix of boos and applause.
As the musical progressed, and specific lines and songs were performed, it was as if Miranda had written them explicitly for this post-election, political-moment-in-time. Not surprisingly, then, after King George III (played by Rory O’Malley) sang “When your people say they hate you / Don’t come crawling back to me,” the cheering and shouting was so intense that he had to ask for quiet so the play could resume.
Instead of the usual curtain call, and as Pence began exiting the theater, lead-actor, Brandon Victor Dixon—who plays third Vice-President Aaron Burr—implored Pence and his family to remain a little longer because Dixon had more to say. As Pence waited, Dixon read a statement written by Miranda, director Thomas Kail, and producer Jeffrey Seller:
We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents . . . We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.
Newspapers, online media, and critics have dubbed this “the Hamilton episode” because this performance-and-post-performance event not only marked a significant moment in American political discourse, it went beyond “another day in the life” of American musical theater: the Hamilton episode “troubled”—literally and figuratively—many ways in which art-making, politics, race, gender, history, and other aspects of life are always inseparable, and the ways in which art-making and “art-taking” can perform peaceful and effective social protest.
The Hamilton episode touched on LGBTQ issues, which were shamefully under-discussed during the [recent U.S. election] campaign and remain so now. It touched on immigration; on race; on the impact and value of protest speech; on the president-elect’s temperament; on his demands for opponents to capitulate; on his disdain for First Amendment freedoms (his quartet of Hamilton tweets was consistent with his post-election attacks on public protestors and on the New York Times); and on the worries of several large populations that the Trump administration will demonize them and make them less safe.
This episode also raises questions about the old 19th-century notion of “art for art’s sake” and the actuality of “art for people’s sake”—i.e., art making for the positive transformation of one’s own and others’ personhood and social communities. When a person creates a piece of music, or writes a poem, s/he is not doing it for the benefit of another piece of music, or another poem—i.e., art for art’s sake—but for the benefit of people.
Restated as a question: What are the roles and responsibilities of art-makers and art-takers? Are we only producers and consumers, or something else? Is the Hamilton episode an act of socially positive, participatory art-making, where actors and spect-actors (see Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed) are not part of a normal music theater experience, but are equal participants in a multidimensional political and educational journey of artistic-social responsibility and ethical praxis? If so, then they are involved in a socially transformative, “ethical spectacle.”
People like President-Elect Donald Trump—who demanded an apology from the cast of Hamilton (so much for “free speech” in Trump’s America)—and those who consider social-participatory and applied art-making, or artivism, a threat to their comfortable beliefs, probably do not understand the potency of the arts. The arts can unsettle us, move us to reconsider our beliefs and motivations, and question our worlds. The arts are not “safe places” and likely should not be, especially now.
The real work of a “work of art” is not simply to show, but to tell. It’s essential that we (amateurs and professionals) put our artistic endeavors to work for the safety and well-being of people who are under attack. It’s essential that we engage actively in Artistic Citizenship.
When thinking of the Nobel Prize for Literature, it’s typical to reflect on the world’s great writers and past winners: Alice Munro, Harold Pinter, Seamus Heaney, Toni Morrison, Octavio Paz, to name only a few. This year, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has won because, as the permanent secretary of the 18-member Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said, Dylan “created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Granting this award to Bob Dylan signifies important things. First, songs and their lyrics are as much poetic devices as “pure” poetry. This thinking dates back to ancient Greek poets, who recited their poetry to music. In fact, and because of this, ancient Greek poetry is not so much thought of as collections of “poems,” but as “songs.” In Greek times, the culture of poetry was the culture of song. Bob Dylan is being recognized for carrying forward this ancient tradition.
Also, and while the Academy recognizes Dylan’s contribution to the fields of folk, rock, pop music, and popular culture, this Nobel Prize signifies something important for artistic citizenship. Dylan’s songwriting oftentimes took an activist stance. Indeed, Dylan felt that songs could and would change the world. As David Yaffe notes, once Dylan got involved with CORE (Congress for Racial Equality), “he began writing songs about Emmett Till, Hattie Carroll, and James Meredith.” He created “words that would be belted out at the March on Washington by Peter, Paul, and Mary ‘How many years can some people exist until they’re allowed to be free.’” And while Dylan’s musical “art-ivism” ebbed and flowed throughout his career, his songs remain and continue to powerfully engage and transform the world.
Equally important, the Academy’s move shows that distinctions between so-called “high art” and “low art” are arbitrary categories that are no longer useful. Indeed, Dylan’s poetic songs engage in/with the world and do worldly work. “The times they are a changing,” sang Dylan. Yes, they have. Congratulations to Bob Dylan, poet of America for the world!