National Exchange on Art & Civic Dialogue - Sessions


Multiple sessions were offered concurrently during the Exchange in addition to plenary sessions and special evening events. Listed below are selected sessions documented by Exchange participants. The format and content of session notes vary based on the nature of the session and the documentation received. Some are more comprehensive, capturing a good percentage of presentation and discussion. Others draw out key presentation and discussion threads or points in more abbreviated fashion. Animating Democracy has edited these notes carefully, aiming to retain as much as possible the voices of participants and to reflect them with accuracy. Some material may have been omitted to respect confidentiality. To view documentation from each session, click on its title.

Additional sesssions were offered throughout the Exchange. View a complete schedule, including information on video space and evening events.


Perspectives on Flint: Moving a Community to Change [PDF]

Flint is a city that is working hard for change. It can boast significant citizen efforts, anti-racism coalitions, public and foundation investments, community art projects, and the development of its cultural assets. But change is hard, progress is slow, and both setbacks and gains can create challenges. Many community-building efforts in recent years seek to create a “new story” for Flint by increasing citizen engagement and connection. This session will feature an open conversation among community insiders who participate in and provide leadership for community change initiatives and outside artists and consultants who have been invited to bring their creativity and ideas to help Flint build a brighter future. These insiders and outsiders will share their individual assessments of opportunities and barriers to change in Flint, the role of story and the arts, and the challenge of coordinating and building effective partnerships and creating synergy.

Presenters: Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Urban Bush Women; John O'Neal, Junebug Productions; Richard Harwood, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation

Respondents: Artina Sadler, Flint Cultural Center; Gloria Coles, Flint Public Library; Karen Jennings, Flint Institute of Music

Moderator: Vic Papale, Community Foundation of Greater Flint

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Youth, Theatre and Civic Dialogue: Implications and Opportunities [PDF]

What unique contributions can professional theater for youth and youth theater make toward fostering civic dialogue? This session will feature presentations by two Animating Democracy Lab theater projects. Children’s Theatre Company’s Land Bridge project examined the Minnesota farm crisis and culminated in Stories from Montevideo, an original production performed for both rural and urban audiences. Flint Youth Theatre’s project on school violence culminated in the original production, …My Soul to Take. People’s Light and Theatre will discuss its work engaging artists and youth in ongoing collabor-ations, and its ideas on how youth and community can be central to a complex arts institution. In an open, moderated discussion, the session will pursue such questions as: What roles can and should youth play in this work and how are their voices invited, heard, and honored? How can theater-making be liberated and artistic expectations exploded through intergenerational projects? How does the intent to do dialogue impact the creative process? What are the specific challenges of partnerships in youth-oriented arts-based civic dialogue projects?

Presenters: David Bradley, People’s Light and Theatre; Sharon DeMark and Rebecca Brown, Minneapolis Children’s Theatre Company; Bill Ward, Flint Youth Theatre

Respondents: Talvin Wilks, New WORLD Theatre; Dr. Shaun Nethercott, Matrix Theatre Company

Moderator: Joan Lazarus, University of Texas at Austin

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The Flint Color Line Project: Connecting Civil Rights Movement Stories to Teaching, Organizing, the Arts, and Change [PDF]

An inability to sustain dialogue around issues of color and racism persists in American society. The national Color Line Project is a response to this dilemma. The Flint Color Line Project (CLP) is a collaboration between Junebug Productions, the Flint Cultural Center Corporation, and Flint community/educational organizations, artists, educators, students, and organizers. Entering its third year, the project has centered around the collecting of community stories about the Civil Rights Movement and the use of those stories by educators, artists, and organizers to promote civic dialogue about persistent issues of civil rights and inequality. During this interactive session, high school students will share poems based on stories they collected, and local artists who are creating a performance piece based on Flint Civil Rights stories will read from work in progress. Artists, CLP Core Committee members, and Junebug Productions staff will offer perspectives on the benefits and challenges of this community story project. In the context of the national CLP, they will examine a new type of "artist residency model" that combines O'Neal's story-circle methodology and plays with the creation of new artwork highlighting local interests, all working toward establishing structures for dialogue and education devoted to catalyzing action for social justice.

Presenters: Artina Sadler, Flint Cultural Center; Kendall Reaves, Northern High School Project; Lee Bell, Flint community organizer; Alfreda Harris, teacher and artist; Sterline Lacy, Flint CLP; John O'Neal, Junebug Productions; Theresa Holden, National CLP; Jim Randels, education specialist; Curtis Muhammad, National CLP

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The Media: Partner, Forum, or Foe? [PDF]

Animating Democracy projects accumulated a wide range of experience with the media through their projects. In some cases, as in Lima, OH, media outlets including radio and TV stations were active partners in promoting projects, recruiting participants, and covering events. In Pittsburgh, PA, as in Lima, through ongoing feature coverage and letters to the editor they fostered ongoing public discourse that expanded the reach of the project. However, in the case of the Jewish Museum's exhibition Mirroring Evil, the New York press pretty much stole the show by launching a sensational, inflammatory, and counterproductive discourse three months before the exhibition opened. Join arts organization leaders and media representatives and specialists to discuss media strategies for coverage and controversy.

Presenters: Judy Gilbert, Common Threads; Will K.. Wilkins, Real Art Ways

Respondents: Matt Zacks, Uncommon Sense; Lynn McKnight, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University

Session Leader:  Shirley Mae Springer Staten, Understanding Neighbors

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Art, Dialogue, and Activism [PDF]

How do we effect change through our work? Where and how do art and dialogue fit into social change activism and movement building? A conversation among activist artists and community organizers will examine a range of approaches for connecting arts, dialogue, and activism. To stimulate a full group discussion about strategies and challenges, presenters will discuss the dynamics of partnerships between artists and organizers, the development of community ownership and decision making, the transformative power of image, story, and metaphor, and the connection between individual and systemic change. They will also explore the tensions that may arise when an activist’s need for outcome clashes with an artist’s creative process or when the point of view, advocacy orientation, and power analysis of an activist campaign runs up against the multiple perspectives and open ended nature of dialogue.

Presenters: Grace Lee Boggs, The Boggs Center; Sonya Childress, Active Voice; Curtis Muhammad, Junebug Productions; Isao Fujimoto, University of California, Davis and Central Valley Partnership for Citizenship; Graciela Sanchez, Esperanza Peace and Justice Center; Geno Rodriguez, Alternative Museum

Facilitator: David Campt, dialogue and diversity consultant

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History as a Catalyst for Civic Dialogue [PDF]

How can we tap the power of history to engage people in meaningful dialogue about today’s civic concerns? Two projects that boldly call forth histories of slavery, marginalization, and displacement are the focus: the St. Augustine’s Church Slave Galleries Project explores issues of marginalization on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; and Evoking History, an ongoing program implemented in conjunction with the Spoleto Festival USA, connects Charleston’s past to current issues of race, cultural tourism, development, and gentrification. Participants will hear about approaches to dialogue through connections to restoration (Slave Galleries) and public art and education projects (Evoking History), and examine practical and philosophical challenges inherent in history-based civic dialogue. Among questions for exploration are: How can the search for truth in histories previously untold, hidden, denied offer opportunity for deep and honest dialogue? How can you offer one group’s history to inspire dialogue and connections between other groups/communities, while maintaining specificity of ownership of that history? What practical (e.g., education, community development) and poetic roles can arts play in history-based civic dialogue? How do you allow a program to morph over time and maintain a sense of trust in the future during dormant or dry periods?

Presenters: Mary Jane Jacob, Evoking History, Spoleto Festival USA; Rev. Deacon Edgar Hopper, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church; Liz Sevcenko and Lisa Chice, Lower East Side Tenement Museum; John Kuo Wei Tchen, Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute, New York University

Respondents: Glenn Wharton, conservator, research scholar, New York University; Rob Jones, National Conference for Community and Justice/Southeastern New England

Session Leader: David Thelen, University of Indiana Bloomington

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New WORLD Theater’s Project 2050: A Call to Action [PDF]

New WORLD Theater’s youth initiative, Project 2050, is a multi-year exploration of the mid-century demographic shift, when it is projected that people of color will become the majority in the U.S. Addressing issues compelled by these changing demographics, the project engages youth communities, professional artists, scholars, and community activists in civic dialogue and artistic creation. The project promotes creative imagining of a near future when it will become imperative to not only address issues such as race construction, ethnic balkanization, social inequity, and power imbalance, but to move beyond these traditionally disempowering institutional frameworks. Presenters will recap the history and evolution of New WORLD Theater’s youth initiative that began as separate programs in three Western Massachusetts communities and is now one multi-cultural community collaboration blurring the lines between intergenerational art, activism, politics, and culture. Through video, slides, performance, and dialogue, the Project 2050 team, including three youth, will explore New WORLD Theater’s intensive summer program to engage youth communities, the work’s impact on year round activity in the various communities served; and how the work has unilaterally inspired the creation of a youth action community coalition.

Presenters: Roberta Uno, Talvin Wilks, and Uday S. Joshi, New WORLD Theater; M.J. Donoghue, Jacqueline Johnson, and Amira Schroeder, Project 2050 youth leaders

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The Artist, Institution, Community Triangle [PDF]

Whether the impulse to develop an arts-based civic dialogue project originates with the artist, the cultural institution, or a civic group, as projects evolve, collaborating partners find that building trust and maintaining a shared vision for the project is challenging. As Animating Democracy projects developed, partner expectations were defined and redefined. Roles were negotiated and re-negotiated as community engagement processes unfolded to bring the community participants themselves into a central role. The shifting kaleidoscope of perspectives surfaced many multi-faceted questions: Who owns the project? Who defines and represents "local culture"? How should political divisions and power relations within the community be acknowledged or addressed? Who is to maintain the relationships and the momentum around the issues developed through this project? In this session participants will consider these issues of trust and power, accountability and sustainability, and ethics and discuss how civic engagement projects challenge existing models for artist residencies, outreach, and marketing.

Presenters: Sandy Agustin, Intermedia Arts, Mary Keefe, Hope Community, Inc.; Deborah Grotfeldt, Project Row Houses

Respondent: Selma Jackson, 4 W Circle Enterprises

Session Leader: Jane Hirshberg, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange

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Facilitating Meaningful Dialogue Around Arts Events [PDF]

Post-performance talkbacks and panel discussions, the norms for much audience participation programming, rarely offer opportunities for true dialogue. Structuring dialogues that both honor the art and meaningfully engage participants challenges institutional programming conventions and the expectations of audiences. Among Animating Democracy projects, Cornerstone Theater's production of Zones within its Faith-based Theater Project blurred the lines between performance and dialogue. The Common Threads project in Lima, OH, used evocative questions, creative exercises, and a mix of large and small group discussion formats to encourage participation. The Center for Cultural Exchange in Portland, ME, choose not to call it dialogue at all. The Warhol Museum provided daily dialogue opportunities for visitors after viewing an emotional exhibition. Most groups reported a "discovery moment" when they really understood how to approach dialogue planning.
While art can be a powerful catalyst for dialogue, the art, and the setting and timing, the audience and the goals of the dialogue need to be taken into account. What are reasonable expectations for a one-time dialogue? When should you break or respect conventions in exhibiting and presenting work? How should the art be brought into the dialogue? Share your "discovery moments" and participate in a full exchange on theory and practice.

Presenters: Lucky Altman, National Conference for Community & Justice; Dr. Patricia Romney, Romney Associates; Carrie Schneider, The Andy Warhol Museum

Respondents: John Haworth, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian; Treva Offut, The Kitchen

Session Leader: Maggie Herzig, Public Conversations Project

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What Difference Are We Making? Understanding Civic Impact [PDF]

As cultural organizations address civic issues through their work, assessing artistic and organizational effects often seems easy compared to figuring out what difference they are making at a civic level. This session begins with the premise that it is valuable to set civic goals, and track and assess what difference civically engaged arts and humanities makes on citizens, the issue, and on communities. Presenters will share from their experience the inherent practical, ethical, and interpretive challenges of evaluating civic change and approaches they have taken to defining and gauging civic impact. The session will examine questions such as: What constitutes civic impact for various constituents of the project? How do you frame intended civic outcomes that are feasible but that also stretch and connect with broader or longer-term civic goals? What’s important to document and track and why? What is less important? How do you document dialogue to demonstrate civic impact? How do you measure what is difficult to measure (e.g., shifts in attitudes and beliefs)? If the long view is key to understanding civic impact, what can you realistically do to track evidence of change?

Presenters: David Campt, dialogue consultant and facilitator; Florence Kabwasa-Green, consultant to Urban Institute’s Cultural Indicators Project; Mat Schwarzman, National Performance Network; Jill Chopyak Hogan, Institute for Community Research

Respondents: Jay Brause, Out North Contemporary Art House; Steve Day, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Sharnita Johnson, Ruth Mott Foundation

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Cultural Perspectives: Honoring Tradition and Working Cross-Culturally [PDF]

What constitutes civic dialogue or participation in different cultural contexts or traditions? How do certain art forms or cultural practices embody or enable dialogue? How do we reconcile tensions between indigenous, non-Western, or international approaches and Western, European, or U.S.-centered approaches to art, dialogue, and engagement? How do histories of prejudice, exploitation, or even laws against inter-group contact affect a community’s or cultural group’s view of participating in public discourse? How do we work together given these histories? This session looks at cultural assumptions, expectations, and notions of appropriateness and power relations in arts-based civic dialogue. Artists and cultural organizers working in a wide range of cultural and political contexts will bring forward their particular challenges in working across borders or cultures, and important moments of realization, understanding, or learning. Brief informal opening comments by presenters will bring forward key issues and topics, followed by initial responses, and facilitated group discussion.
Presenters: Dora Arreola and Bernardo Solano, San Diego Repertory Theatre; Graciela Sanchez, Esperanza Center for Peace and Justice; Greg Howard, Appalshop; Arla Ramsey, Blue Lake Rancheria

Respondents: Raylene Lancaster and Sharon Hayden, Hawai’i Alliance for Arts Education; Wayne Winborne, national advisor and dialogue liaison, Animating Democracy

Session Leader: Andrea Assaf, Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts

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Reflections and Closing [PDF]

ANIMATING has been the focus of our past two days. This morning we conclude the National Exchange on Art & Civic Dialogue by considering, in conversation and through art, the other word in our title DEMOCRACY. How do the idea, ideal, and reality of democracy at this moment in history provide context, challenges, and possibilities for our work? David O'Fallon facilitates a conversation about democracy among invited Exchange participants including Grace Lee Boggs, David Thelen, Pete Galindo, and Margaret Morgan-Hubbard followed by an invitation for everyone to reflect on the convening as a whole and consider the next chapter of this work. We will ask ourselves, individually and collectively: What will be our new story?

Participating Artists: Liz Lerman, Alice Lovelace, Shirley Mae Springer Staten

Recorded Music: Terry Dame

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