A Brute in America: Poetry and an Interrogation of Violence

Posted by Patrick Rosal On November - 19 - 2014
Patrick Rosal headshoast

Patrick Rosal

I’ve been in a bunch of fistfights. I fought many years into my adult life. After brawling, me and dudes in my crew would slip from the scene, hit a diner, order burgers or late-night breakfasts, then tell stories of what just went down. We recalled the damage. We reconstructed the fragments of how the fight started and who was where and what happened in what order.  We talked about what startled us and even what amazed us or made us laugh. Mostly, fear, sorrow, and regret went unsaid. Then, we all went home.

The inner life for people of color contains whole landscapes. Read the rest of this entry »

Calling Out to the Old Radical Herbert Marcuse

Posted by Bob Leonard On November - 19 - 2014
Bob Leonard

Bob Leonard

The definition of aesthetics drafted for 2014 ROOTS Week seems to have stood up usefully: “aesthetics are means by which art and art-making respond to and stimulate sensory and emotional experience, and how such sensory and emotional experiences contribute to meaning. Understood this way, we believe the term can be applied affirmatively and effectively to community-based arts practice for social justice.”

This statement was crafted as a positive strategy to counter the common assumption that aesthetics is way of thinking devoted to the establishment of standards of excellence or criteria of evaluation, all too often predicated on the dominant culture. The strategy seemed to work at ROOTS, where the conversation has advanced past defensive posturing to a pretty vital engagement with learning how to talk about the actual sensory and emotional experience of conceiving, making, and receiving art, especially in the context of ROOTS’s artistic commitment to working for social, economic, and environmental justice. Read the rest of this entry »

Not Just Pretty: Aesthetics in Social Impact Design

Posted by Annie Wu On November - 18 - 2014
Annie Wu (2)

Annie Wu

Though the practice of design encompasses both form and function, conversation about it often circles around aesthetics—the graphics of the next iOS operating system, for instance, or the sleek lines of the newest Tesla model. In these instances, we assume that the objects are going to work; no one doubts whether or not the iPhone can accommodate newer iOS versions or whether the vehicle can actually carry people. When we discuss design in the social sector, however, this premise is problematic since whether or not a design solution meets a user’s needs can’t be taken for granted.

What role, then, do aesthetics play in social impact design? Read the rest of this entry »

Pam Korza

Pam Korza

Flashback: 2002. Aesthetics and related questions of criticism, evaluation, and meaning in community-based arts are grist for a session at Alternate ROOTS’s 25th anniversary Focus on Community Arts South gathering. Participants applauded the assertion that “theory and thinking are not just academic concerns.” They advocated notions of “critical generosity” and “critical intimacy” that fostered more dialogue and border crossing between artists and critical writers in order to capture the intention, complexity, and richness of community-based practices. To prevent aesthetic clichés, stereotypes, and inaccuracies, hip hop dance artist Rennie Harris added that sharing dialogue may require both artists and critics to code switch, and to understand how language intersects with power. Read the rest of this entry »

A Tending

Posted by Aracelis Girmay On November - 18 - 2014
Aracelis Girmay

Aracelis Girmay

I begin with that which is languageless. Gesture, wordless calls of grief or joy, exclamation, a dancer’s body moving in time. What John Edgar Wideman calls, in his essay “In Praise of Silence,” “the entire body’s expressive repertoire, subversive, liberating, freighted with laughter, song and sigh, burdened and energized by opposition.” Which means: not words alone, but every mark we make in the landscape, in the air. I begin here because when I think about the art and resistance work I am most enlivened and taught by this moment, I think about the Turf Feinz and Yak Films. 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 »

MORE THAN A FEELING: What Our Creative Youth Programs Are Really About

Posted by Jennifer Carroll Abssy On September - 16 - 2014
Jennifer Abssy

Jennifer Abssy

Inner-City Arts is now in its 25th year of offering high quality arts experiences to youth. Our programs include  professional development for teachers, schools and university programs, school day arts programming for K-8, and out of school programming for grades 6th grade and above. These Middle and High School Institute programs have grown from offering 5 art forms for 120 students in 2009 to today offering 15 to 22 workshops three times a year, to 600-800 urban youth. Here is what some of our Institute youth say about our programming:

“They don’t judge you here… I can be my own person.”  Angelica G.

“I can count on so many people here.” Sandy A.

“These people can benefit me a lot.” Gabriel U.

“I feel loved…”  Michael M.

Youth in our Institutes engage in high quality arts experiences in multiple forms such as Graphic Design, Visual Arts, Ceramics, Dance and Choreography, Acting, Spoken Word, Stand-up Comedy, Animation, Digital Photography, Guitar and Documentary Film – all located on our state of the art campus in downtown Los Angeles, near Skid Row. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art; a means for human development – The Artist as Social Animator

Posted by Alex White-Mazzarella On September - 6 - 2014
Alex White-Mazzarella

Alex White-Mazzarella


It was about six years ago, in 2007, sitting in my small Hong Kong apartment, that I put down ideas for a work practice that would use public art and modern culture as means of developing community and habitat. A practice where the arts would be used not just as an aesthetic to beautify or to activate space, but as productions of communality with the residents of a place and through a process that would open a space for community members to develop and connect. It came from contact with arts in public spaces. Read the rest of this entry »

Forming a Workers Public Art Practice….

Posted by Barrie Cline On September - 4 - 2014
Barrie Cline

Barrie Cline

Some years back, I was fortunate enough to be asked to develop an arts course for the mainly rank and file construction workers that are required by their union to attend our Labor College. I chose to develop a class on public art seeing it as a vehicle to take up issues around working class studies by initially focusing on the built environment of New York City, thinking that engagement might be sought as my (sometimes reluctant) students were builders of that environment.

The emphasis on NYC’s built environment in Tom Finkelpearl’s text Dialogues in Public Art proved one way to introduce this study, as well as to take up issues of representation and to open up what art can be and whom it can be for. At some point, it became obvious that the class actually should allow for making art, particularly after incorporatingreadings from Larry Shiner’s The Invention of Art which helped us look at the possible re-elevation of the construction tradesperson’s own artisanship, given Shiner’s argument that Fine Art is a relatively recent construct of the west in the eighteenth century. We began to think about work as art, and about making their labor—and the worker—more visible. Read the rest of this entry »

Diving Headfirst into The New Wave of Public Art

Posted by Michelle Laflamme-Childs On September - 3 - 2014
Michelle Laflamme-Childs

Michelle Laflamme-Childs

What do you think of when you hear the words, “public art?” A figurative bronze sculpture of a local hero or historical figure? Perhaps a large, brightly painted, abstract steel sculpture on your local University campus? Maybe even a landscape painting that hangs in the lobby of City Hall behind Plexiglas?

Well, here are some things that might not immediately spring to mind:

  • A “Dance Bomb” by a contemporary Indigenous dance company1,
  • A large, temporary mandala constructed in a town center from the bread and seeds of local residents, washed away hours later by a large rainstorm2,
  • A 50 foot digital dome showing an interactive immersive video project of a ground-breaking temporary installation by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and a Navajo artist in remote Navajo Country3,
  • A flock of ceramic birds decorated with words and text of controversial histories or personal stories “landing” in a park or parking lot for a day, then disappearing4.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Shift Change”: Transitions in Public Art Programs Today

Posted by Kati Stegall On September - 2 - 2014


Nationwide, it is no longer a question of whether or not the field of public art is going to change. It is more appropriate now to ask why the changes are happening and how can we keep up. Many of the changes observed and documented in Norie Sato’s blog from May, Is Public Art Dead?, are happening all over the country, including here in Charlotte. They are happening because we are reaching a point in the development of the field where there are some very specific “shifts” or transitions happening: in leadership, in program priorities, and also in communities themselves.

Leadership shifts are not easy to talk about, but the fact is in some cases the leaders who paved the way for public art for the last 30 – 40 years are retiring or moving on to other opportunities, leaving us with new leadership. This brings both advantages and disadvantages. There will be an experience gap, as new leaders emerging in public art have not experienced first-hand what former leaders have. But they also are approaching the challenges with an innate set of skills in technology and communication that is necessary to keep up in today’s world where information is everywhere. The biggest advantage we have at this point is the impact that these leaders and their work had on legislation, funding, and the general respect of artists and their art. They have laid a foundation that we need respect and take advantage of to move the field forward. Read the rest of this entry »

Are We Okay?

Posted by Jessica Wilt On August - 21 - 2014
Jessica Wilt

Jessica Wilt

With all the not so good news happening in the world lately – war along the Gaza Strip, new tensions flaring in Iraq, the aftermath in Afghanistan, and nationally; the racial chaos unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri along with the devastating passing of comedian and actor Robin Williams to depression and suicide – I find myself asking the question, “Are we okay?” The world could use a giant hug right now. I know I could use one.

If we’re not okay, what are some things we can do to make ourselves and our kids feel better? The combination of Arts Education with Social Service or Creative Youth Development are not necessarily partnerships we think of when it comes to the arts, but really, they are critical. We can talk all day until we’re blue in the face about the value of arts education in K-12 and higher education, arts integration, the new arts standards and common core, arts advocacy and many other reasons why we support arts education, but how often do we actually talk about the arts being a critical part of our daily physical, emotional and mental health? Read the rest of this entry »

The Role of the Arts in the Service of History

Posted by Gerard Atkinson On August - 11 - 2014
Gerard Atkinson

Gerard Atkinson

An unexpected part of the internship job description—being called upon to be a documentary judge. In addition to my work in the Research Services team at Americans for the Arts, I was asked to be a judge at this year’s National History Day, in the senior group documentary section. It turns out the arts and history have a lot to do with each other. Read the rest of this entry »