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Archive for the ‘art’ Category



Call to Creative Action

Aug28

by: on August 28th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

The work of artists and creative activists can help to create a cultural democracy that prizes diversity, practices equity, and brings a deep respect for human rights to every aspect of civil society. Therefore, the people-powered U.S. Department of Arts and Culture calls on all artists and creative activists to join in the movement to demilitarize the police and bring justice to victims of publicly funded racism.

- USDAC Call: Creativity for Equity and Justice

USDAC call to action

Credit: USDAC

For the past two years, I’ve been working with other volunteers to build and launch the USDAC, “the nation’s newest people-powered department, founded on the truth that art and culture are our most powerful and under-tapped resources for social change. Radically inclusive, useful and sustainable, and vibrantly playful, the USDAC aims to spark a grassroots, creative change movement, engaging millions in performing and creating a world rooted in empathy, equity, and social imagination.” We need volunteers, so please help if you can!

This week, appalled by the deluge of racism and violence flooding the news, we issued the USDAC Call: Creativity for Equity and Justice. Recognizing that racism, the denial of human rights, and official violence are all cultural issues, an amazing group of artists and activists (just click the link to see names like Judy Baca, Lucy Lippard, Gloria Steinem, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Peter Coyote, Brett Cook, Lily Yeh, and dozens of others) called on all of us to

Join together in affirming to all public officials and policymakers that a culture of punishment cannot stand. We join together in applying our gifts to the public gatherings, organizing campaigns, and policy proposals that will support positive change. We stand together with generations of creative activists in communities across the nation who have been envisioning and working toward a world of equity and safety for all.


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In Memory of Robin Williams

Aug18

by: on August 18th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Robin Williams saw us.

Robin Williams heard us.

Robin Williams paid attention.

Robin Williams

Williams wore both dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy in such a way that hid him from us and revealed us to ourselves. This is what great artists do. Credit: Creative Commons-Flickr: Hot Gossip Italia

Too many of us, myself included, see the Other only to the extent that we do not bump into each other as we move from here to there in the course of our day. Too many of us, myself included, do not want to look too closely at the human condition. And, when we do set a steady gaze on our humanity we too often look with shame and blame. We judge with a false consciousness created by a social and cultural system that undergirds a political economy that allows for and justifies economic inequality and an ideology that some people are just better and more deserving than others. We judge with a judgment that tells us that the pain that other human beings feel, that the tragedy they suffer will not touch us because we are different.

The life and death of Robin Williams show us that we are all vulnerable. Williams wore both dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy in such a way that hid him from us and revealed us to ourselves. This is what great artists do. However, Williams did his work with a virtuosity, brilliance, and purity that will cause that work to last through time.

An actor trained at The Juilliard School, Robin Williams was also a stand-up comedian who brought together a legion of characters to make us laugh and think. He was an improvisational genius, doing comedy on the jazz, and like Charlie Parker, he took an art form to an entirely new level. Many comedians do impressions and most are good at improvisation. The late great Jonathan Winters, a mentor and a friend of Williams, presented a comedic stream of consciousness that could cause one to laugh until it hurt. Williams did the same thing with more characters inside more situations at rapid speed. His carried inside his heart and mind a late 20th century and early 21st century global cast of characters that helped us see that our world truly is a global village.

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We, Thee & Me

Aug12

by: on August 12th, 2014 | Comments Off

I’ve been researching women in the arts and culture for a presentation next week at the Women’s International Study Center’s inaugural symposium. There’s ample information online, and it all tells an unsurprising story (if you’ve been keeping your eyes open).

Credit: Creative Commons

There’s more arts work by women out in the world, and also more work that depicts women as objects for others’ pleasure or service. Compared to a few decades ago, there are significantly more women in galleries, museums, orchestras, theaters, and so on, but nothing like a proportional representation of women in the population. At the upper levels of prestige institutional culture, women are scarce: one conducts a major orchestra, a handful head large dance companies and museums, fewer than half as many get museum and upscale gallery shows as men, etc. There’s more activism all the time, with organizations in every cultural sector working on inclusion, representation, and education to even the score. (There’s a good selection of links at WomenArts.)

Perusing the numbers, my mind leaps to a black-and-white conclusion that men, the gatekeepers, keep women out. But a report done a few years ago on gender bias in theater keeps nagging at me. Some of the findings illustrate the logic of entrenched bias. There are more male playwrights and they submit more scripts, so ipso facto, more scripts by men will be produced. To change that, you have to tinker with the supply side as well as the decision-making process: how to get more women to write and submit scripts — that isn’t exactly rocket science. In fact (albeit more gradually than the pace of change I would like to see), more women become active in each cultural field every year.

But the finding that nags me is this; in a blind study of scripts (the same script was submitted to comparable theaters, half under a man’s name, half under a woman’s), women’s plays were ranked lower in terms of quality, economic prospects, and audience response. The thing is the lower rankings were delivered by women. That’s right. Female artistic directors and literary managers ranked the script lower when a woman’s name was attached, while their male counterparts ranked the woman’s script the same as the man’s.


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YoHana Bat Adam: The Spiritual Heartist

Jul29

by: Sara Weissman on July 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

"Ascending" Mixed Media on canvas 23KT Gold leaf, Swarovski Crystals 43.5″ x 55.5″ Carved 22KT gilded Basswood frame

For years, YoHana Bat Adam didn’t call herself an artist. She jumped from one financially sustainable job to the next, from cleaning houses to working in a hair salon. “I was in survivor mode,” she says. But around eight to ten years ago, she can’t quite recall, Bat Adam decided to turn her love of art into a lifestyle. “One day, after doing so many things, I kind of realized, that’s it, from today I am an artist,” she says.I’m an artist because an artist is a state. It’s a state of being creative, being connected to the higher in you and manifesting yourself as you truly are in the moment.” Her career began with an artistic kite shop along the beach in Hertzliya, Israel and, after experiments with media from aerial design to sculpting, her art blossomed into the variety of work she creates today in her studio near Nevada City, California, including colorful paintings on canvas, silk, and wood.

Bat Adam calls herself the “heartist,” a label that she feels embodies the message behind her art. She hopes her work will inspire viewers to soul-search, to “go to their hearts and be present to what they see.” For Bat Adam, “art is kind of a silent language of the heart” and should inspire personal introspection. She finds this inward focus to be lacking in much of modern art, which, in her opinion, is primarily based on shock value. Citing an example, an installation of four cars hanging from the ceiling at MOMA, Bat Adam says, “I’ll remember it, but what did it add to my emotional ability to be in contact with myself? What did it really create? It’s a sensation of the mind, not the depth of the heart.”

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The Renaissance Cheapness of Life Like Today?

Jul23

by: on July 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

During this summer, I have had some time to catch up on some pleasurable reading and, I must admit, binge watching of three TV series.

Credit: Creative Commons

“The Borgias,” an Italian Renaissance-era Showtime series, in which the Spanish-born Cardinal Rodrigo Lanzol y de Borja (Italianized “Borgia”), through ruthless ambition, deceit, and criminal activity, rises to the Papacy as Alexander VI on August 11, 1492 until his death on August 18, 1503. At the time of his ascension, he was married with a number of children. After becoming Pope, he continued having sexual relations with his collection of mistresses, and he eventually elevated his offspring to high posts.

The HBO series “Game of Thrones,” located within what could be considered as a Renaissance timeframe in terms of technological development, weaponry, and garment styles in the backdrop of the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos toward the conclusion of a decade-long summer, meshes a number of plot lines, most notably ones in which members of numerous noble houses engage in civil war for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. The series investigates issues of power, social hierarchy, religion and spirituality, loyalty and betrayal, virtue and corruption, war and rebellion, crime, murder, and punishment.

“Elizabeth I,” a two-part TV miniseries appearing originally on British Channel 4, staring Helen Mirren, covers the final 24 years of Queen Elizabeth I in her nearly 45-year reign as Queer regent of England and Ireland (November 17, 1558 – March 24, 1603). Elizabeth’s time on the throne covered a period of enormous tensions and transitions as governments consolidated power through plots and conspiracies, alliances, war, and confiscation of territories. It was also a period of great religious upheavals.

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Belonging, Purpose, Pleasure

Jul20

by: on July 20th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

I’ve been trying to find the right words.I think they might be “belonging,” purpose,” and “pleasure.”

Remember in the first Clinton campaign, when the candidate became famous for a sign that summed up the essence of his message: “It’s the economy, stupid”? I’ve been trying to find a few words that do that for the big message I feel impelled to put out into the world.

Here’s what I keep coming back to: It’s all about belonging. We want to be seen and known. We want to be acknowledged for our place in the community and our contributions to it. We want to feel connected and respected. We want to see ourselves in sites of public memory; to know our histories are not forgotten; to have a stake in our common future.

Credit: Creative Commons

This is a world of multiple participation, multiple belonging. None of us is encompassed by one type of belonging. For many people, the core of belonging is about a specific place on the land. If that doesn’t matter to you as intensely as it matters to my friends who grew up on ancestral lands in Indian Country or Appalachia, for instance, consider how much it matters to those you hear about in the heartbreaking news from Gaza.

Belonging is plain language for “cultural citizenship,” in which everyone feels at home and welcomed in his or her own community, in which the connection, acknowledgement, and respect I just enumerated are fulfilled.Our need for social healing can be seen in the vast numbers who have the legal status of citizens, yet lack full cultural citizenship because those with more social and economic power treat them as inferior (or at least dismissible), devaluing their contributions, reinforcing a state of otherness with material and spiritual consequences that are the opposite of belonging.


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Tony Kushner’s Play: “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures ”

Jul16

by: Frank Rubenfeld on July 16th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: kevinberne.com

Today I saw a matinee of Tony Kushner’s “An Intelligent Homosexuals’ Guide…” with a full house attending at the Berkeley Rep. The play first opened in Minneapolis in 2007, and then played briefly in NYC at the Public Theater but did not have its West Coast opening until now.

Most of the more than three hours of the play takes place in a marvelous two-layered set, showing the ground floor and upstairs bed room of the patriarch, seventy-two year old Lou Liberatore, a card carrying member of the Communist Party USA and retired union organizer once active in the Longshoreman’s Union. He has two sons and a daughter, (one son and the daughter are gay), who are presently spending time with him since he’s informed them that he plans to commit suicide soon and wants to settle accounts with them. A year prior, he had made an unsuccessful attempt by slitting his wrists in a bathtub (Roman style). This engendered much upset and anger among his children. The plot line that carries the play forward is whether or not he will follow through on his plan despite the anguished, fervent entreaties of his kids not do so.


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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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