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Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Imaginings Roll Out!


by: on May 25th, 2015 | Comments Off

Over the next six weeks, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I have the honor of serving as Chief Policy Wonk) Cultural Agents will host Imaginings in 15 different towns and cities across the nation. Most of these vibrant, art-infused, highly participatory community dialogues have their own event pages on Facebook other or other sites; click the links to learn where and when. (And scroll down to read about the 2014 Imaginings to whet your appetite for more).

As a new people-powered department, we knew we wanted to engage a broad public in collectively envisioning culture shift. In 2013, when we dreamed up Imaginings as the centerpiece of the USDAC’s local community work, we tapped into a powerful shared realization: everything created must first be imagined. It’s a radical and essential act to imagine a more just, vibrant, and creative society; and even more so to act together, making our shared dreams real.

Across the cultural landscape, powerful dreamers everywhere are tapping into this same deep truth. Just two quick examples: the young organizers who formed Dream Defenders in 2013 to “develop the next generation of radical leaders to realize and exercise our independent collective power” chose a fierce and evocative name for their work. Earlier this spring, when Black Lives Matter called for voices to “help imagine a world where black life is valued by everyone, our rights are upheld, and the beauty and power that is our blackness is celebrated,” they called their action “In a world where Black Lives Matter, I imagine…..”

In every part of the country, in every condition and culture, countless people are imagining the world we want to inhabit. Here at the nation’s first people-powered department, we are doing our part. The Harrisonburg, VA, and Fort Lauderdale, FL Imaginings have already taken place. Look for-on-the ground accounts as Imaginings unfold in the USDAC blog.


Art Gallery Feature: The Journey of the Ethiopian Community Is Not Over Yet


by: Galit Govezensky on May 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Upon their arrival to the Promised Land, the Ethiopian community has experienced ongoing sorrow caused by discrimination. Above: Jerusalem Day, May 17th: Ethiopian Israelis protest the unprovoked beating of an Ethiopian soldier by police officers. Credit: Author.

To see more photographs by Galit Govezensky of the Ethiopian Israeli protests on Memorial Day, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.

It is highly symbolic that Memorial Day for the Ethiopian victims who died as they made the long, hazardous journey on foot through Sudan during the late ’70s and in the ’80s is combined with Jerusalem Day that is celebrated on the 28th of Iyar.

Today, there are over 120,000 members of the Beta Israel and the Falashmura community living in Israel. The Beta Israel immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, mostly in secret mass airlifts known as Operation Moses (1984-1985) and Operation Solomon (1991).

A national ceremony was observed this week at the cemetery on Mount Herzl, which served to commemorate the Ethiopians who never finished the journey. Thousands of community members, including religious leaders (keisim), IDF soldiers, women and the elderly, gather annually to attend this event. Memorial Day for them is meant to honor those who perished along the way, during their exodus on foot through Sudan, on what later turned into “Operation Moses” — a mission in which thousands of members of the community fled oppression and life-threatening predicaments. Since the Ethiopian government banned Jews from leaving its borders to immigrate to Israel, they were able to rapidly depart from Sudan in a covert evacuation organized by the Israeli Defense Forces. To do this, they had to sell all their possessions and embark on a journey of hundreds of miles through Sudan on foot.In that journey, many were murdered and others died of thirst and starvation. It is estimated that 4,000 people, about one-fifth of those who undertook the journey through Sudan, lost their lives in their courageous attempt to fulfill their dream and to reach Israel.


Field Office Annals, Part Two: Engagement, Vision, and Play


by: on May 18th, 2015 | Comments Off

This is the second in a two-part series based on interviews with two founding Cultural Agents in the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I hold the title of Chief Policy Wonk).(To stay current on everything this great project is doing, enlist as a Citizen Artist: it’s fun and free.)

Jess Solomon in Washington, DC, and Dave Loewenstein in Lawrence, KS, are the first two USDAC Cultural Agents to open Field Offices, USDAC outposts that serve as focal points for local cultural organizing and connecting-points for participation in National Actions. (See part one of this series to learn why they started Field Offices and what they’ve been up to ever since.)

One of the USDAC’s foundational ideas is that the local and national feed and support each other. For example, through local Imaginings, communities generate visions of the futures they desire, and those help to shape policy and program ideas emerging from the National Cabinet. Those can then be tested at the community level, with local experiences making national policy stronger, and vice versa. In this model, policy is rooted in lived local knowledge, not abstract ideas or expert credentials.

Obviously, this works best with a strong local network. Imaginings are part of that, and so are National Actions like the People’s State of The Union, with thousands of community members across the nation taking part. The network of Field Offices is just starting to add a layer, with Dave and Jess showing the way. They’ve already learned a great deal about how to engage people, how to self-organize, and what not to do, and they are happy to share.

When we spoke last month, I asked them what drew people in their communities to the USDAC.


Yom HaBilbul: A Meditation on Conviction and Confusion in the Holy Land


by: Rabbi Michael Rothbaum on May 15th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

If you’re not in a rush
take a train
Israel’s trains
take their time through
the countryside


the country has a
rapid transit
of holidays
in the Spring
rushing by like a bullet



Field Office Annals, Part One: Filling A Need


by: on May 11th, 2015 | Comments Off

When I applied to be a Cultural Agent and read the fine print about hosting an Imagining, I was already thinking about what was next because often times we have these events, they feel good, you get people excited — and then what? I really didn’t want to perpetuate that pattern.

Jess Solomon, Cultural Agent, Washington, DC

I couldn’t imagine here in Lawrence bringing these folks together, getting them all riled up and then saying, “Thank you for your input.” That’s not my style. It’s a small enough town that I think people expected more.

Dave Loewenstein, Cultural Agent, Lawrence, KS

The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, where I have the pleasure of serving as Chief Policy Wonk, has just launched weekly blogposts. (To stay current on everything this great project is doing, enlist as a Citizen Artist: it’s fun, free, and vital.)

In April for the first in this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the USDAC’s founding Cultural Agents, Jess Solomon from Washington, DC, and Dave Loewenstein from Lawrence, KS. Both signed on with the USDAC early in 2014 and organized inaugural Imaginings last summer.

On her website, Jess describes herself as Chief Alchemist at Art in Praxis, “Art + Culture At The Center of Strategy, Design and Community.” Dave’s website describes him as a “a muralist, writer, and printmaker.” And I will just say that everyone who knows either of them admires their energy, warmth, and prodigious abilities.

Dave and Jess opened the USDAC’s first two Field Offices – ongoing USDAC focal points for local cultural organizing and connecting-points for participation in USDAC National Actions such as this past January’s People’s State of The Union.


Comics for the New Economy: The Art and Activism of Kate Poole


by: Joshua Brett on May 4th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

At first glance, the fields of economics, religion, and comics seem utterly apart; a combination of two of them, let alone all three, would seem incongruous. However, in her innovative work, economist, artist, and activist Kate Poole delivers impassioned yet playful critiques of capitalism from a spiritual perspective.

Illustrator Kate Poole's time with the Buddhist commune Santi Asoke has influenced her art and beliefs. Credit: Kate Poole

While Kate Poole has been publishing comics online since 2013, her exploration of the spiritual dimension of economics started much earlier. Poole was brought up Jewish, attending a Conservative synagogue, but in a family that she describes as scientific and secular, filled with doctors and professionals. In an experience she has recounted in several comics, after her semester studying at a monastery in India in 2007, Poole lived with the Santi Asoke commune in Thailand. Asoke’s radically anti-capitalist Buddhist economics challenged Kate to reconcile her class privilege with her religious beliefs.

When she returned from life on the commune, Poole was inspired to integrate her spiritual values with her economic actions. Since returning from Santi Asoke, Poole has plunged headlong into the often murky intersection of economics and religion, drawing from Buddhist teachings as well as her own Jewish heritage. After finishing her studies at Princeton with a thesis on the economic and religious thought of Santi Asoke, Poole dove headlong into working on building sustainable and local economies. She has worked with the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, conducted research for Local Dollars, Local Sense and most recently, has been working with Friends Rehabilitation Program, a Quaker affiliated group providing housing and social services in poverty-stricken areas of Philadelphia.

See more of Kate Poole’s art in Tikkun Daily’s Online Gallery


Ethelbert Miller: A Sustaining Presence is Forced Out and Everyone Loses


by: on April 20th, 2015 | Comments Off

On 3 April, the powers-that-be at Howard University laid off eighty-four staff members, including E. Ethelbert Miller, director of Howard University’s African American Resource Center, who attended Howard and went on to serve the university community for more than forty years.

Ethelbert is a literary activist of wide-ranging commitments and honors: he chairs the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Policy Studies; he is a board member at The Writer’s Center and editor of Poet Lore. He’s a former Chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., and the author of many books of poetry and memoir. Dearest to my heart, he serves on the National Cabinet of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture with the title Minister of Sacred Words, offering radical love and generosity of spirit in all he does.

I’m going to suggest what all this may mean (and give you contact information to protest), but first, I’d like to share an excerpt from a letter Reginald Dwayne Betts wrote to the newly appointed President of Howard, Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick. Betts is a much-lauded poet and memoirist, a former prison inmate who credits Ethelbert with the critical and well-timed caring that enabled him to flourish. You owe it to yourself to read all of his letter, reprinted at Split This Rock.


A Muslim’s Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day


by: on April 16th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Grand Mosque of Paris.

Shalom and Peace! Today on Holocaust Remembrance Day I would like to share a recent experience that changed my perspective in an unexpected way. My perspective about Jews, about the Holocaust, about myself. Sounds mysterious? I didn’t mean it to be. Let me go back a couple of weeks and start again.


My English Teacher’s Son Won the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award


by: on April 16th, 2015 | Comments Off

Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award this week. I have nothing to say about the book, since I haven’t yet read it. The writer’s name gave rise to my subject. Reading it released a memory rush that’s been cycling just behind my eyes ever since.

The author’s father, Gordon Lish, trails a huge reputation for his days as a fiction editor at magazines and publishing houses, for his own writing, and for his teaching at Yale and Columbia- as this Guardian piece attests. He’s also famous for flat-out pronouncements and slash-and-burn editing (most cited: excising half the words from Raymond Carver’s early stories, bringing Carver both success and ambivalence, as detailed in this 2007 New Yorker article.

I met Lish half a century ago in a high school classroom in Millbrae, California. He was one of two teachers whose kindness helped me survive four years as a strange, arty, activist teenager in a suburban world I found entirely incomprehensible. Both teachers are inscribed in my memory because they were the first adults I met who looked at me and saw something other than an annoyance or a perpetual misfit.


Class Suicide and Radical Empathy


by: on April 10th, 2015 | Comments Off

Last Friday, on the first night of Passover, I was asked to share a teaching on Moses, who led our people out of slavery in Egypt. A friend suggested I share it with you:

The idea that always arises for me when I think of Moses and many other leaders of spiritual or political revolutions is Amilcar Cabral’s concept of “class suicide.”

Cabral was the revolutionary socialist leader of the national liberation movement that freed the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau. “Class suicide” describes the act of dying to the privileged class of one’s birth – for instance, by taking a step with no return – and thus sacrificing one’s own privileged position and power in favor of full identification with the oppressed.

In either political or spiritual history, a large proportion of such trailblazers were born into privilege. Siddhartha was the son of chieftain; Mao Zedong was the son of a wealthy farmer; Ho Chi Minh was the son of a Confucian scholar and magistrate; Gandhi’s father was the chief minister of a princely state and Gandhi himself received law training in London. And Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt in Pharaoh’s house.

Clicking my way through a Google search for Cabral’s term, I happened on the work of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a freeborn African-American abolitionist and author born in 1825. Her life story is pretty remarkable. One of her books was Moses: A Story of the Nile.