Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange: An Aesthetic of Inquiry, an Ethos of Dialogue [PDF]
by John Borstel

Throughout the Animating Democracy program, we have seen multiple approaches in exploring the meaning of civic dialogue. Dance Exchange’s project—analyzing the kinds of dialogue in which the company engages as they develop work in a community setting—gave us a deep insight into art itself as a form of dialogue. The following report offers an outstanding example of a highly respected group that looked deeply into their practices, then found ways to reflect and share those practices in the context of the Animating Democracy construct. It is rich with sidebars, and offers a story within a story as it describes the genesis and development of a particularly powerful residency project.

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Urban Bush Women
The Hair Parties Project Case Study: Urban Bush Women [PDF]
by Caron Atlas

Hair Parties is a project of the Brooklyn-based and internationally recognized Urban Bush Women (UBW). The project uses a method of cultural sharing that alternates between dance performance and dialogue to explore how ongoing debates about the politics of hair within the African American community can lead to deeper dialogue about issues of race, class, and social justice. Hair Parties were held in homes, barber shops and beauty salons, YWCAs, corporations, and other community settings. As UBW sought to establish a home for the company in Brooklyn, Hair Parties became a vehicle to bring community residents together, build new relationships in Brooklyn, and begin to explore growing issues of development and gentrification. The case study, written by Animating Democracy project liaison Caron Atlas in collaboration with Urban Bush Women, explores the powerful combination of art, dialogue, and social analysis in the Hair Parties themselves, focusing on such questions as: How does embodying dialogue within dance deepen the dialogue? Can a party format encourage candid, from-the-heart "kitchen talk"? What is the role of conflict, passion, and point-of-view in these exchanges? How does the seemingly personal topic of hair lead to critical thinking about challenging societal issues? The case also illuminates how the work with dialogue trainers helped UBW to understand its own intuitive approach to dialogue, enhance its work through skill building, and codify practice. 

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Out North Contemporary Art House
Understanding Neighbors: Art-Inspired Dialogue Bridges Diverse Viewpoints About Same-Sex Relationships [PDF]
by Lynn E. Stern

In 2003, Understanding Neighbors brought together nearly 100 citizens in Anchorage, AK, in a month-long series of dialogues to address one of the community’s most contentious civic questions: “What is the social, moral, and legal place of same-sex couples in our society?” Understanding Neighbors, a collaborative project sponsored by Out North Contemporary Art House, in partnership with the Interfaith Council of Anchorage and Alaska Common Ground, aimed to foster respectful dialogue and mutual understanding among community members holding divergent views on this question.  Artists Peter Carpenter, Sara Felder, and Stephan Mazurek created eight performance-based video works derived from interviews with community members to serve as dialogue catalysts. Using a dialogue approach based on a Public Conversations Project model, the project trained 25 community volunteers to facilitate dialogues. To engage a mix of Alaskans with socially conservative, moderate, and liberal viewpoints on the topic, the project implemented a broad-based recruitment and media strategy.

This case study reveals project organizers’ discoveries in relation to employing art with a “point of view” in dialogues, as well as in relation to tensions between creative autonomy and civic intent in creating the artistic work. In addition, given Out North’s activist-oriented leadership and previous work, the case study also examines the benefits and pitfalls of Out North’s effort to position itself as a more neutral space in order to encourage diverse participation, and also endeavors to answer the key questions that this prompted about civic dialogue as a means to achieve Out North’s vision for social change in its community.

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