Notes from the Director
“In a moral 9/11, a country’s cultural figures are its first responders.” So writes the novelist Rachel Kadish in an article that resonates stongly with the field of peacebuilding and the arts. It was sent by Lee Perlman of the Acting Together project, one of a number of responses to a call we sent out asking artists, cultural workers and educators to share their thoughts about the entirely new context that confronts us in the US and in the world in the aftermath of the US election. What are the most important roles that artists and cultural workers can play? This newsletter shares highlights from these exchanges and other resources that we have found useful.
Eylem Ertürk, the insightful arts administrator from Anadolu Kültüre in Istanbul who was in residence at Brandeis this fall, sent a link to a description of the post-election, artist-run “Subway Therapy” in NYC. Eylem, with the government crackdown on artists in Turkey surely on her mind, proposed that this election can serve to mobilize more people on a global basis.
Echoing Elyem’s global perspective, Mohammed Sawalha, our friend and the inspiring leader of the Palestinian House of Friendship wrote immediately following the election. He was reminded of the overwhelming victory of Hamas, the victory of the Right in Israel after the assassination of Rabin, and of course the Brexit vote. “Now is not the time to lament or feel frustrated, it’s the time for learning from mistakes,” he wrote. “The world now is one country. Justice is the key word that can make the difference. Revising systems is always necessary to fight corruption and to secure a better world for our kids all over the world.”
Another view from Palestine came from Dan Terris, the director of the Ethics Center, who is completing a Fulbright at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. He found himself at a post-election party with diplomats, Palestinian business people and his masters-level Al-Quds American Studies student. He wrote about the challenges he faced in composing his comments at the very moments he was learning of, and grappling to make sense of, the outcome of the election. He captured a bit of his own experience, and the opinions of his students and colleagues in a blogpost.
Kate Gardner, an Acting Together project contributor and executive coach, sent a post-election declaration, suggesting the election represents an "earthquake" -- a landscape of both dangers and opportunities.
In the week following the election, I happened to be in conversation with Rose Sanders, the remarkable civil rights lawyer and cultural worker from Selma, Alabama. We were discussing Jane Sapp’s songs for a future podcast (stay tuned!) so luckily, the conversation was taped. Rose Sanders said that she was disappointed, but not devastated or disturbed, by the election. “Freedom is all around you. It is really a mindset. It’s in your heart, it’s in your mind, It’s in your being, it’s in your culture. When you have that understanding of freedom, you are always free, and you never lose....No one election, no one person, can take away my freedom.... Young people can’t make sense of a world where a bully can say bad things about people and become the president...So we need to create chances for them to express how they feel – through art, poetry and music. At 71, I feel more motivated than ever to continue with cultural programs. Culture has always been the glue that kept people together... We have always had the will to rise up and push the [proverbial] boulder back up the hill again. What is going to help us do it? Culture and spirituality. When you are feeling tired, just start singing one of the civil rights songs; just start singing one of Jane Sapp’s songs. You will be inspired to struggle another day.”
One resource for making culture the focus of our activism is “Standing for Cultural Democracy: An Act of Collecting Imagination By, For, and Of The People.” It is a platform for a cultural democracy issued by the US Department of Art and Culture, which is not a government agency, but a vibrant and dynamic expression of collective imagination. Readers of this newsletter might want to get involved in USDAC’s Poetic Address to the Nation.
In the weeks since the election, I have felt pulled in many directions: toward immediate action and toward deep and slow analysis of what the election represents; toward supporting vulnerable groups at the most local level as well as seeking global conversations to address the worldwide trends; toward acts of resistance to bigotry as well as recognizing a need to reach out to the people and communities whose sense of stagnation and hopelessness was expressed at the ballot box. The articles and resources referenced below are helping me carve a pathway through these seemingly contradictory impulses – a good workout for strengthening capacities for paradoxical curiosity! I hope you find them useful.
Wishing you much strength, creativity, the support of community and a clarity of purpose in the coming months,
Cynthia E. Cohen, Ph.D., Director
Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts
Artists as First Responders in a Time of Moral Crisis
Three Days After the Election
Dudley Cocke, Roadside Theater, Appalshop
Many, like Bernie Sanders, have argued that since Reagan’s 1980 election we have had 35 years of public policy that ignored rural and inner-city poor and lower-middle class people. It is estimated that now 5% of foundation dollars support rural nonprofits, which are attempting to serve 20% of the U.S. population. C. Bernard “Jack” Jackson told The Los Angeles Times in 1991, "One of the major problems in the so-called minority communities has always been the transient nature of institutions, particularly arts institutions." Dudley Cocke expressed, “What I fear we will see from so-called progressives in the wake of Trump’s election, instead of this commitment to building people-powered organizations, is a flurry of support for ‘bridge initiatives’ – for example, incentives within universities to do more community outreach. We know from experience, however, that without community-based anchor institutions as partners, higher education institutional outreach at best fails to meet the test of need; at worst, it has a disempowering effect on community members’ own sense of agency.”
What It Means To Be An Artist In The Time Of Trump
Huffington Post | November 17, 2016
As the nation collectively struggles to come to terms with what a Donald Trump presidency means, the Huffington Post calls upon artists as activists, optimists, truth-tellers and revolutionaries, to resist the normalization of hate and prejudice, to stand up for the communities that have been marginalized, and advocate for an America that serves all of its citizens.
The Huffington Post reached out to artists to ask their opinion on the role of an artist over the coming four years. Read the full article and read also "What it Means to be a Writer in the Time of Trump."
“The Messy Truth:” A Mini-Series by Van Jones
In the digital mini-series “The Messy Truth” Van Jones sits down with voters who supported different candidates for president in historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania -- the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Van says, “We need to start talking TO each other, not just ABOUT each other… In America today, the establishment is on the ropes, the rebels are on the rise, and now the people are ready to talk. People aren’t just talking, they’re screaming at the top of their lungs. But we can’t seem to listen. In the midst of all the inflammation and toxicity of the election season, we’ve all lost the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and see each other as human beings.” View the series.
5 Books to Read About Artists Under Nazism: How do artists function under tyranny?
Giovanni Garcia-Fenech, Hyperalleric
“I’ve long been interested in how people, particularly those in the arts (my people!), function under tyranny. How much do we compromise, and how much do we fight back? Sure, we all like to imagine ourselves acting courageously in a perilous situation, but would we really? What if our livelihoods were at stake — or our lives? Here’s a selection of five books that examine the many ways artists responded to the Nazi regime...”
Spectre of Treason
John Shattuck, a member of the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, argues that Trump should endorse the proposed investigation of the Russian hacking scandal, in order to avoid the spectre of treason hovering over the president-elect.
Should the Art World Strike on Inauguration Day?
Will the art world in the US close down on Inauguration Day? What will that mean? #J20
“Last Saturday, I heard art critic and historian Yates McKee speak at a conference about the rumblings of an art strike that had started to circulate online... It’s a provocative idea. That would it look like for the art community to shut down? Would our absence be seen or felt?
Unlike bigger cultural communities, including those around music, cinema, and publishing, the ‘art world’ is not led by traditional corporations. It’s still dominated by galleries, museums, art schools, nonprofits, and small businesses, even if some donors and foundations are increasingly instrumentalizing them to promote various agendas…”
The Trump-‘Hamilton’ controversy shows why live theater still matters
Washington Post | November 20, 2016
After Donald Trump's Twitter attack against Hamilton, this opinion piece from the Washington Post reminds its readers of the latent power of theater makers. Citing the national attention garnered by the Broadway musical, this article acknowledges the medium's potential for free expression and expresses optimism about its ability to reach wide audiences.
View additional resources and news from the field.