I arrived in Medellín, Colombia a few days after a man who claimed to be acting with divine guidance killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.The very next morning I learned that 14 people had been killed and 22 seriously injured at an attack on a holiday party at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.
A day or so later, “The Daily Show” ran a montage of clips of President Obama responding to a series of mass shootings. Watching that, you start to ponder the normalization of terror.
Many people in the U.S. like to think of Americans as civilized. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone righteously condemn the barbarism of another society without noticing the scale of our own. So I can’t imagine a better place than Medellín – whose name evokes in the minds of my fellow citizens images of the narco-terrorism that allowed drug lord Pablo Escobar to hold sway over the city until he was killed in 1993 – to explore the question of how to transform a society in the grip of fear and violence into a functioning civil society.
Are you surprised that the answer is art and culture?For decades, I’ve been asking people to envision the commitment to communal creativity fully expressed in public programs, to dream into a future shaped by their largest vision.
Are you surprised when I tell you that in Medellín, I saw this future and felt as if I had walked into a dream, the extraordinary made real? I promise you I am not romanticizing: Medellín is a city of 2.5 million with a significant share of poverty, gangs, and crime. For some of the poorest, Escobar was seen as a Robin Hood and “civil society” doesn’t exactly ring a bell. The challenges of class, race, and gender privilege persist. I am not claiming to have discovered heaven on earth, but something almost as extraordinary for an observer coming from the U.S. circa 2015: a public sector that has embodied and supported the public interest in culture with tremendous forethought, intentionality, and caring; and results to match that intention.
by: Arlene Goldbard on November 19th, 2015 | Comments Off
Note to my readers: This is the text of a statement released today by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, where I have the honor of serving as Chief Policy Wonk. Signatories include the full USDAC National Cabinet, members of the first and second cohorts of Cultural Agents, and members of the Action Squad. Please share!
The USDAC calls on all artists and creative activists to use our gifts for compassion and justice, sharing images, performances, experiences, writings, and other works of art that raise awareness, build connection, cultivate empathy, and inspire us to welcome those who are forced from homes that are no longer safe.
More than four million Syrians have been driven from their homes, becoming refugees. Although state governors hold no power to bar entry to the U.S., a short time after the acts of terrorism that took lives in Beirut and Paris, more than half have issued statements rejecting Syrian refugees within their borders. Polls have shown that many Americans oppose accepting Syrian refugees. Poll results from the 1930s and 1940s showed majority opposition to accepting German child refugees and Jews; and from the 1970s majority opposition to the admission of refugees from Southeast Asia.
Once again, we must ask:
- Who are we as a people?
- What do we stand for?
- How do we want to be remembered?
As a culture of fear and isolation? Or as a culture that values every human life, extending love and compassion to newcomers needing refuge?
by: Arlene Goldbard on November 5th, 2015 | Comments Off
For so many years, wherever I moved (I lost count around 25 moves), I hung a print of Zurbarán’s Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose on the bedroom wall, positioning it so I could lie in bed filling my gaze with its sublimity. The glass was chipped in one move, but I went on hanging it up, thinking of the cracked corner as a sort of battle-scar, a brittle badge of nomad honor.
I wish I had that print still, but it disappeared somewhere along the way, one of the countless objects I’ve left behind. I’ve been thinking lately—not exactly that I may have lost a bit of my mooring in the pressures and complications of the move we made two months ago, but that I need to refasten the cables, reconnect the anchor.
The older I get, the more I interrogate my own critique of the new-new thing. Even the quickest retrospective glance reveals cultural history as a kind of ping-pong: the oldsters are appalled by the youngers, and when the youngers grow old, they are briefly surprised at finding their parents’ words emerging from their own mouths. Then they get used to it, and the generations roll on.
So take this with a pinch of trepidation, or at least a grain of salt, but I’m feeling more and more fed up with what seems to me to be a wildly misguided and rapidly emergent impulse in art and commerce, which is to hold nothing sacred, to mount an imitation of realness in which both art and authenticity are left lying on the studio floor.
Take the case of the canned parrots of Telegraph Hill. In San Francisco, that rocky North Beach neighborhood is famous for its wild parrots, tended for many years by musician Mark Bittner. He was profiled in Judy Irving’s lovely 2003 film, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and in Bittner’s own book of the same name.
Recently, some young entrepreneurs opening the kind of trendily unspecific shop which seems more and more ubiquitous as San Francisco becomes increasingly unaffordable decided to intrigue passers-by with a display of cans labelled “Boiled Parrot in Gravy.” The display alludes to Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans, of course, and the contents were carefully chosen to reflect the shop’s aspirational brand as described by the filmmaker/graphic designer who created the installation: “a curated modern general store for the neighborhood, with a creative, craft and art focus … it’ll be sort of a neighborhood clubhouse, with a retail angle.”
by: Tikkun on October 2nd, 2015 | Comments Off
Tikkun is not only a print quarterly with a thirty-year history of publishing the best critical thought in spirituality, social justice, politics, and culture—it’s also a web magazine that publishes dozens of online exclusives each month.
Below, find online-access features from the print magazine, like Peter Gabel’s plan for transforming the justice system, as well as web-only exclusives from Marc Gopin, Candace Mittel, and Michael Lerner and Cat Zavis—plus poetry by Philip Terman and Admiel Kosman, and book reviews by Matthew Fox and Michael LaPointe.
Don’t miss a beat—make it a habit to visit us online at tikkun.org!
The Spiritual Dimension of Social Justice: Transforming the Legal Arena
by Peter Gabel
We need a new legal paradigm that affirms the spiritual dimension of our common existence. Join our efforts to place empathy at the center of the law.
Plus—scholars and experts respond to Gabel’s call to transform the justice system.
by: Oona Taper on October 1st, 2015 | Comments Off
Alison OK Frost creates delicate and disturbing watercolors. Her figures seem to be part of a post apocalyptic world even though they are all drawn from news articles. Stripped of context and background information they float eerily on the white page.
Her images use the delicate style of watercolors to express the brutal elements of modern society. She wants to illustrate this dynamic in her work: “A few years ago I took part in the occupy Oakland protest and one thing that was really striking was how beautiful tear gas is, especially at night. I want to use these clouds in a way that uses the visual language of beautiful landscape watercolors.”
She came to this series through an obsession with the images themselves. She explains that her earlier work was quite different. She made oil paintings influenced by scenes from religious paintings. She says she took “scenes from particle paintings that featured the virgin mary and then juxtaposed them with my own life. ” Once she finished this series she didn’t know what to do with her art. She says she floundered for a few years. In this time she collected images without a specific project in mind. She collected images that she describes as ” a little uneasy, almost humorous. Taken out of context you could look at them and say, ‘oh this is a science fiction movie about a post apocalyptic future;’ but the weren’t, they were just news stories from today.” When she began painting these images in watercolor she says “something clicked.” She instantaneously knew that was the direction in which she wanted to take her art.
Collecting images remained integral to the process. She sees herself as a “visual data organizer,” and her sketchbook as a “visual database.” Her sketchbook has few sketches; instead she makes collections of images to prepare for paintings. The sketchbook consists of pages of related images in which she is interested- she has pages dedicated to sinkholes, for instance. Other pages combine images from distinct sources; she has a page with refuges and marching bands. She says, “I have been working on combining different kinds of parades. I am figuring out how to combine those visually and what that means in terms of masses of people and how they congregate.”
In her newest work she is interested in dissecting what it means to juxtapose images that are visually similar but quite different thematically. “I have been collecting images of tidal waves and kids playing in hydrants and with images from the civil rights movement – a big way that black protesters in the 60s were dehumanized was by spraying them with fire hoses. But all of those images, when you break those down to basic visual information, are nearly identical. At a glance you wouldn’t know, are these people playing? Are these people running from nature? Are they running from other people who don’t see them as human?”
My husband is driving this noisy 16-foot truck filled with his studio materials and tools to our new home in New Mexico. A month ago, we caravanned southeast along this same route: part one of the move, our worldly goods. If I’ve been MIA (and I surely have), that’s why – packing up, moving, unpacking, all the arrangements attendant thereto, and fulfilling my work obligations have consumed months. For the first time in ages, sitting in the passenger seat, I have the mental space to ponder instead of only to plan and execute.
I’m writing from that stretch of I-5 heading south dotted with a legion of wind turbines. They’re completely still today, ranks of stately sentries marching into the distance. They fool you. Varying in size from gigantic to merely large, they make it impossible to know whether they signal distance – perspective – or stature.
Which goes to the heart of what matters most.What kind of society do we want? One in which bigshots control the frame, or a society of equals who happen to be standing in different places?
by: Arif Qazi on September 16th, 2015 | Comments Off
With the High Holidays here. Kate Poole has published a new comic commenting on some of our concerns today regarding wealth, race and consumerism. Explore more of Kate’s work here.
by: Arlene Goldbard on August 31st, 2015 | Comments Off
Do a little thought experiment with me. Imagine we’re sitting over a drink in your favorite place, but it’s 20 years from now. Instead of the dystopia mass media tell us to expect, look around: it’s the future we wanted to inhabit!
“Think about how it would have been back then,” you say, “if we’d only known we had the power to accomplish all this.” “Yes,” I reply, rolling my eyes. Then we click our glasses and burst into ecstatic laughter.
Take another breath in 2035, then come back here for a minute, because there’s something we want to tell you: we do have the power.
Do you want to live the future now? Just a couple of clicks and you’ll be signed up as an Emissary From The Future in #DareToImagine, the next National Action of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I have the honor of serving as Chief Policy Wonk), taking place all across the country from 10-18 October 2015.
Why #DareToImagine? Imagination is our birthright, but too often, we’re persuaded to believe our voices don’t count or that the future is determined by a powerful few. Social imagination is a radical act, restoring personal and collective agency, shifting dominant narratives, and affirming that all of us make the future. When we have the audacity to dream in public, when we begin to unleash imagination and turn it into action, we can move the world.
by: Daniel Pinchbeck on August 22nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Editor’s Note: A version of this piece first appeared in Reality Sandwich.
I have gone to Burning Man 15 years in a row. When I went the first time, back in 2000, I was a journalist on assignment for Rolling Stone. That was an amazing introduction to the event, as I was able to go “back stage” and meet the organizers, artists, and geniuses behind the sculptures, lasers, and camps. I was immediately hooked. I couldn’t believe such a place existed – that tens of thousands of people shared the same ideals, and worked together to realize their visions.
I wrote this piece about my experiences. I also wrote a feature about the festival for ArtForum. By proposing that Burning Man had validity as an artistic expression – I discussed Joseph Beuys’ idea of “social sculpture” – I got banned from ArtForum after they published my piece. I also wrote about the festival, personally and philosophically, in Breaking Open the Head, my first book, and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, my second. Burning Man has had a profound experience on my life, in many ways.
This year, I am skipping it. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that I feel Burning Man – an institution in its own process of ongoing change and evolution – has lost its way. Hopefully, this is temporary. I know and love many of the people who create and run the festival, and believe in their intentions and their vision.
Burning Man has accomplished amazing things, opening up whole new realms of individual freedom and culture expression. At the same time the festival has become a bit of a victim of its own success. It has become a massive entertainment complex, a bit like Disney World for a contingent made up mostly of the wealthy elite. It always had this vibe, to some extent, but it seems more pronounced in recent years. It feels like there is more and more of less and less. The potential for some kind of authentic liberation or awakening seems increasingly obscure and remote.