Beauty and the “We”

Posted by Roberto Bedoya On November - 21 - 2014
Roberto Bedoya

Roberto Bedoya

“Our experience of the beautiful in the recognition of models that make world and community is restricted to the moment when these worlds and communities present themselves explicitly as the plural” – Gianni Vattimo

“We is not the plural of I” – Emmanuel Levinas

Beauty and the We. Beauty as an articulation of the plural, announced in engagement practices, is the experience I know and have been lucky to support in my career. Most recently, as the Director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council. Our team has supported 66 projects since 2010 that advance civic well-being, civic engagement, and community building of the We through the arts. Most prominently, this happens through the PLACE (People, Land, Arts, Culture and Engagement) Initiative, our placemaking/civic engagement platform. These projects create art experiences that shape the identity of place, present visions and manifestations of social cohesion, and activate democracy so as to build and animate the commons. And where is Beauty in PLACE? Read the rest of this entry »

Pop Quiz: Socially Engaged Art and Aesthetics

Posted by Jen Delos Reyes On November - 21 - 2014
Jen Delos Reyes

Jen Delos Reyes

I received an invitation to participate in this blog salon on the relationship between aesthetics and arts in community development and social change work by way of my work as an artist and organizer around socially engaged art, however my response is most informed by my work as an educator.

From 2007-2014 I served as the co-director of an MFA program focused on art and social practice. The mantra of the program could have easily been that art and social practice starts and ends not in rarefied spaces, but out in the world. The students did not receive studio spaces and instead created their work out in the world through collaborations and partnerships, embedded in communities. The program sought to educate and activate students to develop and utilize their artistic skills to engage in society. It is the kind of education that created engaged citizens. But perhaps the most important aspect of the curriculum was that it asked artists to consider their relationship to and placement in society. So the core questions of this invitation, “But what happens when we assess art not just for art’s sake, but also for its civic purpose?” was a familiar one. Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing Power and Possibility in Socially Engaged Art

Posted by Deborah Fisher On November - 19 - 2014
Deborah Fisher

Deborah Fisher

There is a productive conflict at the root of any discussion about aesthetics and social practice that I would like to focus on.

On one hand, attempting to articulate anything about the aesthetics of socially engaged art entails confronting a frustrating lack of structure. Anything can be art, and aesthetics can be so broadly defined as judgments of sentiment and taste. Who doesn’t have those, about anything and everything? We don’t quite have a formal analysis of social practice that we all agree upon—no singular framework for seeing and locating the aesthetics in a socially engaged art project. Read the rest of this entry »

The Aesthetics of Politics, Art, and Communications

Posted by Nato Thompson On November - 18 - 2014
Nato Thompson

Nato Thompson

When we begin to wrap our heads around the fact that culture-making surrounds us on a daily basis, and that everyday people are now both consumers and producers of symbolic production, we can then more accurately approach the question of aesthetics and politics, and begin to see how it operates around us daily.

The question of aesthetics and politics is certainly not new. It has been both a productive and destructive line of inquiry throughout much of the 20th century, much debated between Bertolt Brecht and Theodore Adorno, and the Constructivists and social realists of the Russian Revolution. It sat at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, was rife throughout 2nd wave feminism, was a central concern of the Zapatistas revolution, and was prominent in so many other social movements. It is a question that is as clumsy as it is urgent. It is neither new nor resolved.

This is all to say: if the topic of aesthetics and politics gives you a headache, find odd comfort knowing that you are not historically alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Beauty In Another Reality

Posted by Denise Brown On November - 18 - 2014
Denise Brown

Denise Brown

A decade ago, when the Leeway Foundation decided to support artists and cultural producers interested in community transformation and working at the intersection of art, culture and social change, there were a lot of questions raised about the aesthetics of such work. The general presumption of the majority of our critics was that our interest and appreciation for the aesthetic value (aka artistic excellence) of the work would be lost and, as a result, the nature of the work we supported would take on a more didactic form. This was a nice way of saying it would be bad art, because there seemed to be a belief that both things – beauty and social change intent – could not exist in a work of art or cultural act that would satisfy an aesthetic ideal. Read the rest of this entry »

Living Into The Questions

Posted by Arlene Goldbard On November - 17 - 2014
Arlene Goldbard

Arlene Goldbard

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers. – James Baldwin

Baldwin’s epigram reminds us that to thrive, we must be able to see through imposed realities and prefab solutions. We may be tempted to seek definitive answers, but what we really need now is to live into the questions.

To inhabit questions means to first unpack their assumptions and implications.

What’s the context for an inquiry into aesthetics and social justice? When I speak on this topic, someone from the “establishment” arts world always asks me this: “What about standards? What about excellence? A lot of this work isn’t very good.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Beauty in Change: Considering Aesthetics in Creative Social Change Work

Posted by Alicia Gregory On November - 17 - 2014
Alicia Gregory

Alicia Gregory

“This feels a bit like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole,” said one contributor to this week’s blog salon on the role of aesthetics in arts for social change work. Indeed, it is no light matter. Despite this, we are pleased bring you 17 thought pieces from a diverse lineup of artists, cultural leaders, funders, and activists who have weighed in on why and how aesthetics are important in understanding, valuing, and advancing arts and social change work.

The questions we posed catalyzed some interesting critique and debate. In the weeks since we set them down on the page and said “Go!” to our generous bloggers, I’ve been thinking about these questions. I’ve thought about the time, in my days as an editor in graduate school, I went to bat for a piece on the 2011 Egyptian Revolution because it was urgent and moved me, despite falling short technically and in clarity. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Get a Seat at the Table

Posted by Linda Langston On May - 30 - 2014
Linda Langston

Linda Langston

I recently spoke in an Americans for the Arts’ State Arts Action Network webinar entitled, “How to Get a Seat at the Table” on May 7.  As president of the National Association of Counties, I presented from a political perspective.  As a former museum director though, I am attuned to the unique challenges and opportunities in making sure your voice is heard as an arts organization.  Your first priority in getting a seat at the table is to make sure that your organization’s business plan and vision are in line.  You need to define what your organization is and also you need to determine your organization’s place is in the community.  You must be the story-teller of your organization. Read the rest of this entry »

Jim Clark

Jim Clark

“Creative Placemaking” as described by Anne Gadwa Nicodemus and Ann Markusen offers artists and arts administrators a template to engage business and civic leaders in the articulation of new cultural policies at the local level.  In her paper, “Fuzzy Vibrancy: Creative Placemaking as Ascendant U.S. Cultural Policy,” Nicodemus states that one of the hallmarks of creative placemaking is the development of cross-sector partnerships to promote “arts-centered initiatives with place-based physical, economic and/or social outcomes.”

Does this widespread interest in creative placemaking present an opportunity for us to expand and develop cultural policy at the local level? Read the rest of this entry »

Advancing Social Justice through Documentation and Archiving

Posted by Jamie Haft On May - 19 - 2014
Jamie Haft

Jamie Haft

A call to action is what has emerged for me from Animating Democracy’s vigorous blog salon, Back to the Future: Forward-Thinking Documentation & Archiving. Imagine an organizing effort to achieve Reverend James Lawson’s founding statement of principle for the civil rights movement’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: “a social order of justice permeated by love.” Do documentation and archiving come to mind as essential to building a movement? Reading the insights from all the thoughtful writers in this blog salon, I am happy to say, yes!

The work of documenting, archiving, and communicating about the field of community cultural development is a political act. This context encompasses and gives meaning to the five debunked misconceptions about archiving and documentation in my opening post. Read the rest of this entry »

3 Ways that Open Source Can Radically Transform the Arts

Posted by Vijay Mathew On May - 16 - 2014
Vijay Matthew

Vijay Mathew

Open sourcing—otherwise known as “commons-based peer production”—is a model for the production of cultural and material products and activity. It is most well known outside of the arts as a successful collaborative model for producing software since the advent of the web more than twenty years ago. The goods that result from an open source endeavor belong to “a commons” and are accessible to all.

A key characteristic of an open source product is that it cannot be privatized. Privatization defines value through artificially induced scarcity and then derives money from barriers to access. Value in an open source project, however, is defined by how successful the needs of a community are being met and by the project’s ability to enable continuous innovation and evolution due to its openness and accessibility. Open sourcing is a civic good and a process for re-organizing communities and social dynamics. In many economic and cultural contexts in which we inhabit, open sourcing is counter-cultural. In terms of its value system and world-view, it’s a perfect match for what many people feel the not-for-profit sector should aspire to. Read the rest of this entry »

Documenting Community-Based Arts and Funding Inequities

Posted by Sonia Manjon On May - 14 - 2014
Sonia BasSheva Manjon

Sonia BasSheva Manjon

The discourse, documentation, research, archiving, and communication about community cultural development are indeed vast and deep. Within this multilayered, diverse, and complex field of community-based art are artists and organizations that represent the diversity and complexity of communities and neighborhoods in the United States. The urgency for documentation, archiving, and communication are, at times, limited to those organizations that represent a more mainstream paradigm. The creation and introduction of multifaceted arts institutions is important to the building of community based arts organizations with social justice and cultural equity foci. Art institutions that address a holistic aesthetic perspective that embrace the complexities of their cultural communities are rooted across the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Where is the Archivist in Community Archiving?

Posted by Lindsay Mattock On May - 13 - 2014
Lindsay Kistler Mattock

Lindsay Kistler Mattock

Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz

Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz

As an archivist, one way I can contribute to this conversation is to suggest ways we can define our terms and models for archival practice. What do we mean by “archive” and why do it? What are different forms which the archive can take, and what is lost and gained in each approach?

1. Archivist on Archives

Archives are records of enduring value. Records that warrant continued preservation. This not only includes the administrative records from community organizations, but also the art, artifacts, and ephemera, as well.

Archives are about history and documentation as much as they are about accountability and evidence. Archives not only serve as a means for documenting the history of organizations and individuals, but also serve as evidence of the impact of community organizations for both the short and long term. Read the rest of this entry »

Pam Korza

Pam Korza

In early December, during the first of many icy weather events of this past winter season, Animating Democracy co-directors Barbara Schaffer Bacon and Pam Korza participated in an national gathering at Virginia Tech (VT), warmly orchestrated by Bob Leonard, Professor of Directing and Director of Community-based Arts in VT’s Theater and Cinema Program.  A couple dozen artists, cultural workers and intermediaries, communications and technology folks, and scholars participated, united in their commitment to community cultural development as essential to healthy communities and artistic practice. Read the rest of this entry »

Singing & Moving into Kindergarten with ArtsBridge & Reading in Motion

Posted by Kerri Hopkins On March - 22 - 2013
Kerri Hopkins

Kerri Hopkins

ArtsBridge America is one of many national programs working to bring the arts back into public school classrooms through arts-integrated projects. Visual arts, music, dance, theatre, and media arts are all crucial art forms that children should be able to explore “for arts sake.”

But in the age of teaching for the test, sometimes the only way we can bring programming to the schools is to look at the arts as a means of enhancing learning in other core subjects. It is not always ideal, but some exposure to quality arts programming is better than none. ArtsBridge aims to provide this type of consistent high-quality programming, while having a lasting impact on everyone involved.

The number one priority of ArtsBridge is to provide much-needed, hands-on arts experiences for K–12 students who may not be getting it on a regular basis. The number two priority of the program is to facilitate a unique opportunity for university students, with a specialty in the arts, to work with classroom teachers who are seeking professional support in those areas. This partnership can be incredibly valuable for everyone involved.

University students, or scholars as we like to call them, receive a scholarship for their efforts while they gain valuable teaching experience in the controlled environment of the classroom. They help to build the capacity of the classroom teacher by training them in their art form as they work side by side with the class on a weekly basis over the course of a semester or sometimes an entire school year.  Read the rest of this entry »