Dee Boyle Clapp

Dee Boyle Clapp

Archiving community cultural development and the story of the arts through arts policy is important to the Arts Extension Service.

We recently launched the National Arts Policy Archive and Library (NAPAAL) in partnership with the UMass Amherst Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) as a free-standing collection within SCUA’s Social Change Collection.  SCUA staff does the hard work of archiving, digitizing, and making it possible for anyone with internet access to explore these materials.  They ensure that the primary documents will be stored and made available for visitors.   Read the rest of this entry »

Toolbox as Documentation

Posted by Liz Lerman On May - 15 - 2014
Liz Lerman

Liz Lerman

The topic for this salon is big. I am going to write about one small part of it. I am interested in how we observe our processes, discern them as repeatable actions, develop them to become tools for others to borrow and make their own. I believe that we can harvest our histories, make sense of what we did and describe it in terms that help us understand the context, the decisions, and perhaps the wisdom and meaning surrounding the work.  At the same time we can delineate the data, information, formats, processes that may aid others in their work.

In my case, the idea for such a toolbox made from thousands of hours of teaching and choreographing and dancing came in an instant.  It was a visitation born out of utter confusion and despair.  As I was preparing to lead a workshop for K-12 teachers I was pondering why the organizing arts and educational institution with whom I was working wanted an outline from me that would describe what was to transpire.  They wanted to hand it out at the beginning even though we all knew that the activities would change once I was in the room with the very particular people and needs that would coalesce that afternoon.  It was true I had a plan, but it was equally true that the plan would shift as soon as we began our work. Read the rest of this entry »

Andrew Horwitz

Andrew Horwitz

I have come to view human history as an epic tragedy of inadequate knowledge management. While I am dubious that we will ever finally solve the problem of knowledge lost across generations and cultures, much less the greater problem of recognizing wisdom when we see it, I’m hopeful that we can change our society’s perception of how history is constructed, and encourage a collaborative, peer-driven model of cultural discourse and documentation.

As Jamie Haft has inferred, it would be difficult to overstate the urgency around building new practices for discourse and documentation, not just in the field of community-based arts, but for society as a whole. We inhabit a moment of both great crisis as legacy systems fail and even greater opportunity to create new systems to supersede the old. 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 »

Jamie Haft

Jamie Haft

Virginia Tech recently hosted a small national meeting on documentation, archiving, and communication in the field of community cultural development. Articulated by convener Bob Leonard, the meeting’s lead organizing question: How is documentation, archiving, and communication in the community cultural development field serving and not serving artists, humanities researchers, community organizers, non-artist community partners, community agencies and institutions, and scholarly communities? For me, the meeting debunked five misconceptions about documentation, archiving, and communication in the field.

 

Virginia Tech meeting, by Andrew Morikawa

Virginia Tech meeting, by Andrew Morikawa

Misconception #1: There’s no urgency.

Documentation, archiving, and communication are essential to demonstrating the ability of community cultural development to improve the lives of community members and to fostering a critical discourse that builds and sharpens those doing the work. Questions for the critical discourse include: Is community cultural development work advancing equity? How does the field deal with well-meaning but ineffective and sometimes even unethical practices? Bill Cleveland, Center for the Study of Art and Community, called for investments in independent reporting and data collection to reveal impact – for example, a study and report about how and where projects are doing damage and how and where they are making a difference. Participants pointed to assessment resources like Animating Democracy’s Impact Initiative and Imagining America’s Integrated Assessment Initiative. Cindy Cohen, Acting Together, suggested a core group commit to regular meetings over a sustained period of time to discuss and communicate the moral and ethical dimensions of community cultural development. 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 »

Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2014

Posted by Randy Cohen On March - 20 - 2014
Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

There is an old quote attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich:

“If any man will draw up his case, and put his name at the foot of the first page, I will give him an immediate reply. Where he compels me to turn over the sheet, he must wait my leisure.”

This was the charge given to me by a business leader who needed to make a compelling case for government and corporate arts funding:

“Keep it to one page, please,” was his request. “I can get anyone to read one page.”

With the 2014 arts advocacy season upon us, the following is my updated “Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts.”

  • Which of these would you rank as #1?
  • Do you have a #11 to add?
  • Tell us in the comments below!

You can download this handy 1-pager here.

1. Arts promote true prosperity. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, art is salve for the ache.

2. Arts improve academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates—benefits reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status. Students with 4 years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with just one-half year of arts or music. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Hired: Teaching Artist or Music Teacher?

Posted by Jennifer Kessler On March - 12 - 2014
Jen Kessler

Jen Kessler

In preparation for the launch of our new Youth Orchestra of St. Luke’s – a music for social change initiative inspired by El Sistema—the Community & Education department of Orchestra of St. Luke’s was looking for a team to teach string instruments to a group of 10 year olds, to shape the students’ leadership, focus, and collaborative skills, and to help build a sense of community among OSL and participating families.

This was a tall order, but we were optimistic. After all, we worked in New York City, where extraordinary music teachers abound. But as we finished the job description, we were stuck: Is this a Music Teacher position, or a Teaching Artist position? Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Artists as Equity Warriors

Posted by Tina LaPadula On March - 11 - 2014
Tina LaPadula

Tina LaPadula

I facilitate arts education workshops and conversations nationally. Teaching artists often ask me why it’s important to discuss arts education and social justice. I’m still honing my response, but here’s my current thinking:

We live in a country with undeniable barriers in education and the arts. I’m not even going to get into the differences between private and public schools, or the historic divide between formal arts training and cultural and community arts in this post. (Although, you should take a moment to read this great piece from the The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Helicon which makes the case that more foundation funding in the arts should directly benefit lower-income communities and people of color). If we accept the idea that social justice is a vision for a society in which all people, of all identities, are treated equitably then we also have to admit the landscape is currently inequitable.   Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for the Punch Line

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 9 - 2013
Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

Animating Democracy’s December blog salon explored how artists, comedians, and other cultural commentators employ humor in the heavy work of social justice. Starting out the salon, I posed several questions to bloggers including the seemingly simple inquiry, how does humor work?  When is humor a strategic choice and toward what social effects? Similar to other art forms, humor is fundamentally about emotions and human connection, which makes it simultaneously risky and inviting; relatable and inexplicable. While their methods and approach vary greatly – from slapstick to satire; political cartoon to YouTube musical number – the bloggers for this salon all seem to agree on the aspects of humor that make it so effective in social justice work:

  • On an individual level, comedy and laughter can stimulate creativity, open lines of communication, improve people’s moods, and diffuse tense situations
  • Humor comes from a personal place, but connects to universal feelings and experience
  • Laughter builds community and a sense of belonging (e.g., inside jokes)
  • Humor calls on the audience to finish the piece, think, fill in the blanks, come to his/her own conclusion/interpretation

Particularly as tongue-in-cheek skits and articles without clear punch lines gain popularity, the expectations and dynamics between comedian and audience continue to shift. As I said in my intro post, humor has always been something mysterious and untouchable to me. But, even if I’ll never be a stand-up comedian, the growing expectation and responsibility placed on audiences to interpret, understand, and even add their own layer of irony or satire to humorous work, especially as a tool for social change, gives me and all of us an important role to play in crafting our own punch lines.

Hungry for more? Check out Animating Democracy’s trend paper about the role of humor in the work of social change by Dr. Nancy Goldman and this post from Safe Places for the Advancement of Community & Equity, which has additional resources.

Changing Habits With Humor

Posted by Caroline Ceniza-Levine On December - 6 - 2013
Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Typically, if I ask my 12-year old a question, I’ll get a short answer that I’ll need to probe with many more questions to get the information I need. If you’re a parent of an older child, you recognize that scenario. But when my daughter mentioned her math class was working on integers, I asked, “do you mean positive numbers, the ones that say ‘You go, girl. You can do it!’ and negative numbers, the ones that are sad and discouraged?” She laughed, and we had a free-flowing conversation. If humor can wrestle information from an adolescent habituated to clam up rather than share, what other habits can we change with humor?

Our society needs to save more. With retirement savings too low, this puts an unsustainable financial burden on the economy. At the same time, consumer debt is at an all-time high implying we’re on a path to increased exposure with a shrinking safety net. We can remind people to save more and spend less but the ones with the problem probably already know that and have resigned themselves to these habits. This Saturday Night Live sketch on saving would make an excellent public service announcement to encourage better financial habits.

Another habit worth adopting would be to lay off texting while driving, as this is a growing cause of car accidents. Again, people know this intuitively, and we could try scaring people with graphic pictures of automobile crashes and the consequences. Or we could circulate this video of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake and their ridiculous Twitter talk and let humor show people how ridiculous it is to bring too much online into our offline lives.

As a longtime professional in the human resources field, I could point out the grim statistics on diversity – too few women and people of color in executive and board positions. Instead, I include a bit about the lack of Asian-Americans in mainstream entertainment in my stand-up comedy.

Humor is a powerful vehicle for social change – one habit at a time. Humor is the perfect tool for raising self-awareness — it’s harder to get defensive when you’re laughing. Humor invites change — it’s easier to stay open to suggestions when you’re feeling silly. If pressed to define an activist’s work, you might think first of circulating a petition, organizing a protest, or rallying from a soap box. But we should also include sketch writing, viral videos and stand-up comedy in our toolkit for change.

Humor Enabling Healing to Create Space for Social Change

Posted by D'Lo On December - 5 - 2013
D'Lo

D’Lo

As the dark kid in Hickeville, USA, I remember using my outrageous silliness as a way to deflect and distract from my queerness. I’m transgender, born with a vagina, but always aspiring to look like LL Cool J. Growing up, no one questioned my boyish swag; in fact, for the most part, I felt encouraged in it. I was funny and (thankfully) cool – though a different type of cool than the cool-white-kids at my schools – nonetheless, cool enough not to get bullied.

Moving into adulthood, I used my “funny-ness” to facilitate healing and social change. It is well known in our queer circles, how comedy plays a role in our healing. Carol Burnett said “Comedy is Tragedy mellowed by Time”. Sometimes, we queer folk come back from a family reunion where we have had to hear our blood family react/respond to us with negativity (to put it mildly). We hop in our cars and our tears blur the lane lines and the oncoming traffic headlights, but we don’t care if we get into an accident.  We arrive at our home and drink at our pity-party and hopefully, before the 3rd glass of wild turkey, we have called a friend, rather – chosen family, over to our house. We sit with them and cry again while recalling the events that broke our hearts. And by the time we’ve consummated our water-is-thicker-than-blood ritual, we’re falling over each other, laughing, taking power back by sharing sentiments over the absurdity of close-mindedness.

This humor that enables healing can go on to create space for social change–space to initiate the dialogue, and the sometimes uncomfortable conversations in which mainstream society members have to question themselves and their hetero-normativity.  The vehicle for this humor is our stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Humor Me Some Social Change

Posted by Jamil Khoury On December - 5 - 2013
Jamil Khoury

Jamil Khoury

My name is Jamil Khoury and I study the political utility of art. Too general. My name is Jamil Khoury and I study the diplomatic efficacy of theatre. Too ambiguous. My name is Jamil Khoury and I study the dialectics of storytelling and social change. Too academic. My name is Jamil Khoury and I study the empathic functions of humor. Whatever.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, and established my “scholarly” credentials, how about indulging me a few terrorist attacks?  Specifically, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.That Mother of all Terrorist Attacks. Gut-busting, sidesplitting, rip-roaring funny, right? Not even remotely. But a catalyst. And a damn good one. When me and my husband, Malik Gillani, set out to create Silk Road Rising, we envisioned a theatre company that could articulate a “proactive, artistic response” to 9/11. Our destiny was to become 9/11 second responders, responding both to the hatred and fanaticism that fueled the attacks and to the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, anti-Brown people backlash that quickly ensued. First Al Qaeda hijacked Islam, then public anger hijacked our citizenship.

From the get-go, our activist logic maintained that although our work would be serious and political, humor would be an integral ingredient, the fermenter of provocative ideas. The plays we’d produce would employ humor as a point of clarity and connection. Not to make light of a situation, but to deepen our understanding of it. Which means the humor would be organic to the stories we’d tell, neither gratuitous nor diversionary. A company birthed in trauma cries out for empathy, and empathy manifests viscerally. We knew instinctively that the laughter that transcends barriers is the substance of social change. Unpacking a clash of ignorance masquerading as a “Clash of Civilizations” demands irony and satire and parody and sarcasm.  For when the world gets divided into monolithic, historically fossilized, spatially demarcated “civilizations” forever at war with each other, it’s time to call in the humorists! Read the rest of this entry »

Angry? Ask Your Doctor About Satire…

Posted by Marlene Cancio On December - 3 - 2013
Marlene Ramirez-Cancio

Marlene Ramirez-Cancio

“What’s pissing you off right now?” That question—that liberating license to tap into our anger—serves as a point of departure for the satirical projects created by Fulana, the Latina arts collective I co-founded with Andrea Thome, Lisandra María Ramos, and Cristina Ibarra in 2000. It was our colmo-reaching ire at the incessant talk of “illegal aliens,” combined with our love for our grandmothers’ plastic-covered furniture, which led us to create our first piece: a mock commercial we shared with friends at a barbecue in Queens, hi-tech style, by popping a cassette into a VCR, aka the Y2K version of posting on social media. (Bonus: beer!)

Three of us had recently moved from to NYC from San Francisco, where we’d collaborated with artists like Latina Theatre Lab, Culture Clash, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Cherríe Moraga, and later, Guillermo Gómez-Peña—so a California humor aesthetic was running through our veins. For the past 13 years, our work as Fulana has focused on popular culture, using parody and satire as critical tools to respond to the ways ideologies and identities are sold to us—and how we sell ourselves—through the mass media. Our projects explore themes relevant to Latina/os in the U.S., experimenting with strategies to make visible what we’re so often made to read between the lines. We’ve tackled issues such as U.S. historical amnesia, post-9/11 politics of fear, President Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, and the so-called “Hispanic Paradox.Read the rest of this entry »

Nancy Goldman

Nancy Goldman

When coming out in the early ‘90s, I began promoting live comedy shows featuring gay and lesbian comedians for gay and lesbian audiences.  At the time it was uncommon to be out at work or to see gay depictions in media.  These performers were doing much more than telling jokes and making us laugh; they were making us feel normal, validating our experiences and shaping our identities.  Coming together for these comedy shows gave us a time and place to discuss the issues impacting our lives and to socialize, and solidified our sense of community.

So, you might ask, what were these comedians doing in states like Texas, Arkansas and Kansas, performing in clubs filled with straight audiences that were easily surpassing their two-drink minimums? I’d suggest that they were planting seeds of social change.

In his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire poses the question, “Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society?” For the past 50 years, stand-up comedy has provided an outlet for marginalized populations, and an opportunity to dispel stereotypes and reclaim lost power. Immigrants, most especially Jews in the 1950s, then Blacks in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and women in the ‘70s, have used the stage to hold a mirror to society, both reflecting and retracting social norms. These performers were invested in promoting positive examples of their communities, and were determined to increase tolerance by raising awareness and social consciousness.  Above all, they must have believed that we should all be doing better as a race and society and that improvement was possible.  Freire (2000) thought this is essential to effecting change. “In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation, which they can transform.”  For me, these comedians were not only catalysts of change, but agents of hope. Read the rest of this entry »