The last Harmony Project blog explored two of the many reasons for artists and activists to collaborate: to put a human face on issues, bringing them home much more powerfully; and to engage people in unearthing and exploring their own direct, personal relationships to issues. In this blog, two more ways that artist-activist collaborations multiply impact.
Creating an opportunity for public dialogue about issues, bringing many more people into the conversation.
Destiny Arts’ artistic director Sarah Crowell is collaborating this summer with the Rex Foundation and the International and Multicultural Studies Department of the University of San Francisco School of Education in mounting an institute for teachers, non-profit leaders, and graduate students. The Universal Declaration, adopted in 1948, is the seed-stock of all modern human rights legislation, as Article 1 attests: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Through direct experience, participants learn to teach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through arts work.
Asserting rights isn’t enough to guarantee them, of course, which is why so many people care about keeping the Universal Declaration alive and fresh. (If you’re interested, here’s a little essay I wrote on the occasion of its 60th anniversary.) Watch the culminating video from last year’s institute to learn how arts work has been used to expand the reach of this message.
“Each collaboration is different,” Sarah Crowell told me, and each one is a learning experience. “Each one helped me clarify what questions I would ask in starting any partnership. Who are the main players? What is the time that we’re dedicating to the project? What’s the beginning? What’s the process? What’s the middle, what’s the end?”
Expanding awareness in ways that lead to increased activism, building a movement.
In 2002, Roadside Theater’s Managing Director Donna Porterfield developed the play and workshop Voices from the Battlefront through a year-long residency with HOPE House, a women’s shelter in Norton, Virginia. It addresses domestic violence, designated by the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association as the single greatest cause of injury to women in the state. One antidote is awareness. Roadside offers the play as part of a workshop focusing on the issue. As with many of its works, Roadside also encourages people to read, adapt, and perform the script, requiring only that permission be requested and received.
I asked Donna how to convey the value of this type of artistic collaboration to those who care about issues, and she told me that nothing can replace direct experience: “It’s an intuitive kind of experience. We can talk about it, and we have written it down, but until you’ve actually done a story circle, you can’t imagine all the possibilities. It has to be about experiencing some part of it, and wanting to experience more. It is about people figuring out how to express their own stories and also to define and solve their own community’s problems. They may see the tools that we have to offer and know what we’ve done before, but they have to see that it means something to them. That’s primary.”