Archive for the ‘art’ Category
by: Arlene Goldbard 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.
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.
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
by: Arlene Goldbard 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.
by: Saadia Faruqi on April 16th, 2015 | 2 Comments »
by: Arlene Goldbard 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.
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.
Let us forge a state of union
A place where every child is
Where you see me and I see you
I mean really see each other as extensions
one of one another
—From People’s State of the Union commentary by
Makani Themba, Minister of Revolutionary Imagination,
U.S. Department of Arts and Culture National Cabinet.
I haven’t the faintest idea how to sum up the more than 500 stories uploaded to the People’s State of the Union website since late January. They came from story circles – a hundred people in a church basement or a handful in someone’s kitchen – organized in more than 150 places around the U.S. They came because people resonated with the USDAC’s assertion that “democracy is a conversation, not a monologue.” Because they know the stories that reveal the state of our union. Because – despite falling through the many rips in our social fabric – they believe in democracy and they want a say in how it unfolds.
I could say that a huge chunk of stories are about yearning for our stated ideals to be true, true enough to live into all day, every day. I could say that another huge chunk is about standing together despite the many discouragements unchecked power and privilege have put in our path. I could say that they speak of hearts broken by disappointment, and hearts remade by beauty and the hope of resilience. I could say that they demonstrate a powerful desire to share truth, risking vulnerability to find common ground.
I could say that the stories taken together prove that the quintessential act of art – turning one’s experience into something shapely that can be shared – is also the quintessential act of healing, the medicine we need. But I think I’ll let Luis J. Rodriguez say it with a few lines from the sonnet he wrote for another part of the People’s State of the Union, the Poetic Address to the Nation:
My big TV-watching time is in the mornings while I exercise. I save up episodes of series I’d never give 100 percent of my attention, usually detective shows (and never medical ones). But there is one family drama in my queue: Parenthood. Yesterday morning I caught up with the final episode. As the characters’ lives fast-forwarded through the finale, my tears started to fall.
A week or two ago, my husband sat beside me for a few minutes of the show and found it dismissible – a gaggle of entitled, self-involved, affluent, and attractive parents and siblings: who cares? I could quibble, arguing that it’s not plain vanilla. Two of the three adult children have mixed-race families, and the other one has bootstrapped her life as a single mother with two kids after leaving the spineless, addicted rock’n'roll wash-up she married. One grandchild has Asperger’s, another was adopted after his imprisoned mother gave him up, a third is a lesbian, a fourth has just become a single mother, pregnant by her PTSD-addled boyfriend.
But I know what he meant: they all somehow manage to be perfectly dressed and groomed in their perfect houses.They talk mostly in Hollywood quips, arch and clever. The family name – Braverman – sounds Jewish, but they have been entirely purged of ethnic identity and for that matter, of much personal history predating the show. They are in each other’s lives constantly, exhaustingly, and all of them love each other in a fierce unconditional mob-sized revel that I’ve only experienced in drama. No matter what the trial, no matter how halting the lead-in, every challenge culminates in a heart-to-heart that heals all wounds.
It’s easy to think of spiritual practice as something separate from ordinary life: the time one spends on a meditation cushion or chanting prayers or sending praise songs into the world. But for me these days, the most powerful spiritual practices are things I seldom put in that category. Is facilitating a discussion a spiritual practice?
Last weekend I was the lead presenter in a series for public artists working in community offered by the city of Calgary in the Canadian province of Alberta. I gave a talk and led a couple of workshops for an engaged group of artists, students, administrators, and educators. I like the way Dawn Ford, the Public Art Program Coordinator, has gone about helping local artists become more engaged in public practice.
At day’s end, a number of participants came forward to thank me, which always feels good. Several of them paid me a compliment I am often privileged to hear: “I learned something,” one woman told me, “from the way you called on people and responded to their comments during the discussions. Your face stayed the same no matter what they said.”
I discovered I had a knack for this a few centuries ago as a young arts activist in San Francisco. Things would get contentious, people would take polar positions, and somehow it fell to me to try to create the container that could hold opposing sides and find some resolution that respected them all. It was an epiphany festival. I could see that I liked some people and disliked others, agreed with some assertions and rejected others. I had just as many personal preferences as everyone else in the room. Inside my head and body, the jostle of winners and losers kept right on making a commotion, but a different inner voice rang louder and truer.
Now I think of that voice as godlike.You know what I mean: not omnipotent and patriarchal, but regarding every person as beloved, the way a good parent loves her children. I could hear what each person was saying – the specific content of each message, including the edges that invited conflict. But I could also sense something of the joy or pain, the yearning or striving that colored each attempt to communicate, regardless of message. That voice told me to hold each person’s words in the same light, as part of a brave and beautiful persistence to care and connect despite all the rejections we may have experienced, all that may have been done to us. At first I thought of it as a game I played with myself: could I root myself in a position of fairness and enabling, of respect and mutuality?
But then something magical happened. I fell in love with that voice. I started genuinely wanting each person to speak his or her truth and the love infused my gaze and my capacity to listen. Now, so many years later, I’m not consciously doing anything when I facilitate a meeting. It reminds me of many years ago, when painting rather than writing was my medium as an artist. I painted a great many portraits, and when someone sat for me, my former feelings about that person fell away. Spending hour after hour sitting close, gazing at another’s face, breathing the same air, letting the stories flow: the word for the feeling generated by that experience was the same: love.
No matter what the context, this unbidden love – this grace – is a form of spiritual practice. I only have one endorsement, but I think it’s pretty compelling: if it works for someone as full of opinions and preferences as I am, it can work for anyone.