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Archive for the ‘art’ Category



Pro Bono Blues

Jun27

by: on June 27th, 2014 | Comments Off

Have you noticed? Money changes everything. Almost daily, I get into conversations about compensation and fairness. Sometimes I even start them. But whoever starts them, by the time they get going, there’s always so much gray area that I have trouble finding my way to daylight.

I’m interested to know what you think. Let me share a few stories and a few questions that may cast some light on the subject.

Work or play? I work with many other artists who care about social justice and planetary healing and want to do our part. We get asked to contribute in various ways. Will you perform at our event? Will you donate a piece to our auction? When everyone is being asked to contribute – not just artists – that can feel just fine. But often that’s not the case. The people who mastermind the event, who set up and run the tech, who create the advertising, are being paid, but the artists are asked to volunteer.

This difference reflects some real challenges for those who wish to give art and culture their true value, those who understand that artists’ creativity is needed to surmount overwhelming challenges, to nourish our collective resilience, social imagination, and empathy. It seems to reflect the popular notion that artists are having too much fun for what they do to really be considered work: Sure, I’d like to sing and dance all day and get paid for it too. It devalues artists’ contributions, ignoring what we now know about the ways that stories, images, metaphors, and participatory actions can change more minds than the wonky work of white papers (which is almost always compensated). It seems to short-change organizing strategy itself, treating artists’ work as mere embellishment rather than a powerful path to change. These are hard attitudes to alter, because they are deeply embedded in the common culture. What would you do to transform them?


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The Greenest Man in America!

Jun24

by: on June 24th, 2014 | Comments Off

Going green is about more than buying all the gluten-free quinoa you can fit in your Prius. It’s about community organizing against corporate polluters and challenging environmental racism — and then enjoying your quinoa.

That’s the message from my good friend, the “Greenest Man in America.” If you haven’t met him yet, you’re in luck!
And no, he’s not Al Gore…


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Here We Go Again: Cultural Equity in San Francisco

Jun23

by: on June 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

An enduring pattern has been inscribed on the struggle for cultural equity in this country. Those who get the biggest share of funding – them that’s got, as Billie Holiday put it – pay lip-service to fairness for those who get crumbs – them that’s not. But lip-service is generally the only currency they are willing to shell out. The haves counsel patience: Show up as members of the team, they say. Be part of the united front at budget hearings, go along with our program, and you’ll get your reward by and by.

Credit: Creative Commons

In San Francisco, people are tired of waiting. In March, the Budget Analyst’s Office released a study on allocations by Grants for the Arts (funded from San Francisco’s hotel tax revenues) to diverse arts organizations – those serving primarily people of color, ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQ people. The findings show that the proportion of funding to these groups has remained steady for 25 years. For example, an average of 23 percent of the pie has gone to people of color (who now make up 58 percent of the city’s population, a figure that has been rising steadily since Grants for the Arts was first created), and 77 percent to largely white organizations.


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In Memory of Ruby Dee

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

I say and say again: actors give breath and life to the words of poets, playwrights, and screen writers. Ruby Dee, a great American actor, has died. We will miss her because the breath she breathed into words contained our own hopes, dreams, fears, anger, and love. Ruby Dee was great because her art was not for its own sake; it was for the sake of humanity becoming both more human and more divine.

Her long career started in the 1940s when opportunities for African-American women to play more than a servant were few and far between. In the 1960s she played Cordelia in King Lear and Kate in Taming of the Shrew. She became the first African-American woman to play major roles in the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.

One of her most memorable roles was as Ruth in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Ruby Dee played the role in 1959 on stage and again in 1961 in the film version. She continued her long career on stage, screen, and television well into her elder years. She was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as the mother of a drug smuggler in the 2007 film American Gangster

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A Review of Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine

Jun11

by: Howard Cort on June 11th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons

Ali Abunimah, an internationally known, Chicago-based political analyst, has completed a new book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, published by Haymarket Books. His earlier book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, published in 2007, has been widely discussed, as has his website, The Electronic Intifada, co-founded in 2001 and known for its no-holds-barred advocacy for Palestinian rights.

With his second book, Abunimah has brought forth a comprehensive, multi-faceted analysis of the varied ″battles″ within the Israel-Palestine conflict. His new book also contains a careful explanation of what is lacking in the proposed two-state solution, and what is abundantly present in his proposed solution: self-determination for the Palestinian people.

A significant part of Abunimah’s new book focuses on major developments in both America and Israel, such as: minority-group incarcerations; brutal mass policing; the escalating success of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement; and Netanyahu’s insistence on Israel being recognized as a Jewish State (whereas Abunimah asserts that Israel – Jewish or not – has no more right to exist than the US or any other country).

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Yuri Kochiyama and Amiri Baraka play 2-on-2 in Heaven

Jun3

by: on June 3rd, 2014 | Comments Off

Yuri and Baraka

I had this crazy dream last night.

Yuri Kochiyama and Amiri Baraka were up in heaven…playing Ronald Reagan and Strom Thurmond in a game of 2-on-2 basketball.

The stakes? Dismantling the segregated institutions of heaven. Why all the clouds gotta be white? Baraka asks. Why all the white angels get the nice harps, and we get these hand-me-down purgatory ukeleles?

The score is tied. 14-14. Next basket wins.

Yuri looks at Baraka like, Don’t worry, my dude. I got this.

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An Open Letter from ‘The Shondes’

May29

by: Elijah Oberman and Louisa Rachel Solomon on May 29th, 2014 | 52 Comments »

On March 28 Brooklyn rock band The Shondes (Yiddish for “The Disgraces”) were disinvited from the Washington Jewish Music Festival, at which they were scheduled to perform on June 2, due to band members’ views on Israel and Palestine. Founding members, singer Louisa Rachel Solomon and violinist Elijah Oberman, have written this open letter in response.

Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr/Meaghan O'Malley

The idea of “The Jewish Community” gets thrown around a lot, even though we have never been a singular or remotely unified group. Jews have wildly different traditions, experiences, and opinions about what Jewish-ness even is. Are The Shondes part of this often-invoked, elusive community? In many ways the answer is clearly yes. But when its institutional guardians draw borders around it to keep out people and ideas they deem unsavory, out-of-line, or “off-brand,” it is an incredibly fraught belonging, to say the least. That kind of policing is the antithesis of the Judaism we love.


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Skin in The Game

May28

by: on May 28th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

I am slow to anger, but it really pisses me off when people prescribe for others some purportedly virtuous (or at least dutiful) behavior they’d never embrace in their own lives.In the financial sector, they call it “skin in the game.” Have you risked some of your own money on the advice you are doling out to others? If not, you have no skin in the game. This sound principle applies to many types of activity: the healthcare or housing programs that politicians approve for low-income families would not be substandard if their own ethics obliged them to accept the same provision for their own families. They would have skin in the game.

The current case in point:when Miya Tokumitsu published “In The Name of Love” in Jacobin early this year, she set off an avalanche of links, reprints, and citations. I was busy, so I ignored all the messages telling me to read and respond. But now, on vacation with time to think, someone sent me Gordon Marino’s exegesis of the same idea, “A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love,’” recently published in The New York Times. My internal barometer hit the roof.

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Creating Meaning Out of Trauma: Iraq War Veteran Aaron Hughes Turns to Art

May23

by: Annie Pentilla on May 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

Aaron Hughes. "21 Days to Baghdad/Chicago: Day 21-Chicago Skyline" from Mileh Tharthar, Iraq, graphite on vellum, 2009.

Aaron Hughes didn’t know he wanted to be an artist. He was just twenty years old in 2003, a student studying industrial design at University of Illinois, when he was suddenly summoned to fight in the United States’ second war with Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I was a truck driver,” Hughes says, recalling his early experiences in the war. “I would do these missions over and over again, hauling supplies to different bases in Iraq and back out.”

When Hughes arrived the first thing that made an impression were the Iraqi children. “As soon as you cross the border there’s kids – they’re not even as tall as my desk,” he says. “They were willing to jump on a semi truck to get food and water. I was really excited at the time because I thought these are the kids we are going to help. These are the kids we are going to provide humanitarian relief to. We’re going to pass out food and water. We’ll help fix some roads and go home.

Aaron Hughes. "Dust Memories: Al Najaf," collage, ink, watercolor, charcoal, citrus transfer, 2006.

But things weren’t going to be that simple.

Hughes admits that he began his military career with a lot of patriotic fervor. Like many U.S. citizens he believed the United States was in Iraq to promote democracy, find weapons of mass destruction, and provide humanitarian aid. But as the war lingered Hughes began to question why he and his fellow soldiers were occupying a country halfway around the world.

“I quickly learned that we weren’t there to provide any humanitarian relief,” he says. “If anything we were there simply to build out the military infrastructure and support the contractors working for the military, not leaving much space for the humanity of the Iraqis or my fellow soldiers.” The war for Hughes had simply become a year and a half of the dehumanization of the Iraqis, “of pointing my weapon at them and telling them to get the fuck away from my truck” – completely counter to the humanitarianism that he imagined had brought him to Iraq in the first place.

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Racism Stunts Your Growth

May23

by: on May 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

A new study correlates racism with reduced creative capacity. Those holding strong prejudices, such as beliefs that inferiority is an essential quality of other races, rely on “rigid, categorical thinking” that “might actually cause people to become unimaginative.”

I could have told them that.

Back in the 80s, I was involved in a consulting project with the South Carolina Arts Commission.The brief was to address “burnout” in small-town arts organizers, who’d tended to lose heart and retreat despite the state agency’s willingness to provide more than a modicum of funding and assistance. But “burnout” turned out to be a euphemism for banging one’s head against entrenched and often unacknowledged racism.

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