by Pam Korza, Andrea Assaf, and Barbara Schaffer Bacon
Drawing significantly on the experience of projects within Animating Democracy, as well as a broader sphere of community-based cultural work, this essay considers what value art and humanities can uniquely bring to discourse on important civic issues. It shares some of what the Animating Democracy Initiative learned in its initial phase about the opportunities and challenges of this arena of work, and how Animating Democracy's thinking was evolving regarding the role of the arts in civic dialogue. First published on the Community Arts Network.
The Art of Dialogue [PDF]
by Pat Romney
Dialogue specialist and clinical/organizational psychologist Patricia Romney offers an accessible review of the ideas of selected historic and contemporary philosophers and dialogue theorists including: Socrates and Plato, Mikhail Bakhtin, Paulo Freire, David Bohm, and David Isaacs, and considers the implications of their ideas for arts-based civic dialogue practice. Romney shares her observations about a production of West Side Story that was never carried out due to a polarizing debate that ensued in the community. West Side Story was seen alternately as an extraordinary artistic production with powerful messages about the impact of bigotry, racism, and interethnic conflict, and as a play written by Anglos stereotypically characterizing Latinos as gang members. The tale of West Side Story serves to illuminate how the various dialogue theories may inform current arts-based civic dialogue efforts. The Art of Dialogue raises questions for further field exchange such as: How can these theories help to define the intents and parameters of arts-based dialogue? How do any of these dialogue theories help to understand the role of artistic provocation in engendering dialogue? How do Bakhtin and the intergroup theorists shed light on the relationship between the personal and the public in terms of the intent for art to promote civic dialogue? What should be considered to determine if a cultural organization has the potential to be, as Isaacs suggests, an effective holding environment for an issue to be explored?
by Suzanne Lacy
In November 2001, artist, writer, and educator, Suzanne Lacy participated in an Animating Democracy Learning Exchange in Chicago. She joined more than a hundred artists, cultural organization leaders, community partners, and scholars from around the country who were involved in arts-based civic dialogue work, most through the Animating Democracy Lab. In the shadow of September 11th and stimulated by artist Marty Pottenger’s exploration of the meaning of U.S. citizenship at the gathering, Lacy considers anew what it means to participate as an artist in civic life. Her essay, “Seeking an American Identity (Working Inward from the Margins),” pursues a host of questions about “civic discourse art” related to identity, representation, transparency, aesthetics, and gauging effect, prompted by the arts-based civic dialogue endeavors of Animating Democracy project organizers and artists. Lacy weaves an eloquent exploration of these questions through a fabric of historical context and her own artistic and personal experience, and opens up the issues and possibilities at the intersection of art and civic dialogue for fresh investigation.