by Lara Davis
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, we see tremendous uprising in cities and states across the Unites States of America. From student-led walkouts to bank boycotts, marches and rallies for justice, communities are engaging in civil disobedience and movement building – coming together to take action and be heard.
Youth development expert, trainer, and author of Hope and Healing in Urban Education, Shawn Ginwright speaks to the need of struggle and resistance with imagination, defending with dreaming, and demanding with creating. One does not lead to justice without the other. If we are solely engaged in response to dominant culture, we may not tend to the energy needed to envision what is on the other side of injustice. As American composer and playwright Jonathan Larson once said, “The opposite of war isn’t peace… It’s creation!” Conversely, if we do not work to dismantle racism and its intersecting oppressions, we deny the deep, systemic harm done to communities of color. Our creativity becomes shrouded in notions of a post-racial utopia. Thus, we must tend to both.
I spoke with three Seattle-based teaching artists and cultural workers leading critical and creative work both in our region, and nationally. Their collaborations with young people, other practitioners and organizers take place in classrooms, cultural venues, and on the streets. Here’s how they show up for the movement thru arts and culture.
NANCY CHANG. Executive Director, Reel Grrls
Before the election, Reel Grrls was concerned about the backlash of electing our first female president. We began to gear up on our response and vision by adopting an inclusive motto: “The Future is Feminist.” We imagined a space for inclusion to bring feminists together, to ensure that we turned our long-standing view of “making the personal political,” into a community practice using the feminist lens to engage our Grrls and communities on social issues. The election was devastating for us, but our response was a renewed solidarity in media justice. Our urgency to bring our community together became critical, so we made our commitment to community activism with Reel Active. Reel Active encapsulates a new way we believe our communities need to operate in order to build social norms of empathy, advocacy and amplification. Our first event space was in December, where we prepared for the Womxn’s March in Seattle. We hosted with other community groups a fun outdoor gathering where participants learned how to be civically engaged by enjoying music, learning about how to plug into activism, and watched the Fifth Star, a short video made by a Grrl examining Washington State’s Suffrage Centennial Celebration. Our next event was organizing young people, and their allies to archive the Seattle Womxn’s March. As we move forward, Reel Active will be community driven, with a focus on creating community spaces for ensuring that diverse stories and conversations take place.
TINA LAPADULA. Teaching Artist. Arts and Equity Consultant.
It’s been a difficult time. The collective anxiety is rising, but there are a couple things counteracting my anger and emotional fatigue; The radical imaginations of my high school performance students and remembering to tend my own creativity. I’ve been collaborating with the White on White Artists Collective, a group of white artists exploring whiteness with the goal of healing, reciprocal learning and strengthening our work as creative accomplices in the movement for racial justice. We’ve been meeting for over a year, writing, reading and scheming ways to merge our artistry and our activism in more intentional ways. The inauguration prompted our first event for an invited audience of participants. We describe the piece as “an excavation ritual” and titled it Toward Love in Public, in reference to Dr. Cornell West’s quote “Justice is what love looks like in public”. The goal was to create space for white people to examine where we come from, what we’ve been told, and what we have lost in order to be white. The 2-hour performance installation was hosted by ACT Theatre and featured nine artist storytellers addressing the question, “What do I need to unearth, release or reclaim in order to make space for true justice and liberation?”
SHONTINA VERNON. Writer. Musician. Teaching Artist.
My work, both as an artist and activist, is always about amplifying the voices of marginalized communities, including my own. But in the days following our recent election, I was as disillusioned as anyone. It took me reconnecting with music, my own work as a performer, and the powerful stories of our warrior women in social justice to find my way forward.
Sitting at the intersection of a black, female, queer identity during this time when so many groups are under attack by the current administration means there are countless opportunities to build solidarity, and an urgency to connecting art back to the people as a tool to aid the resistance. Through a workshop titled, Black Artists Lead: Creative Education for Liberation and Survival, I am engaging other artists, educators and community organizers of color in how we can collectively heal and create new approaches to freedom.
I also work to educate court-involved youth through art to dismantle the mass incarceration system. With the education system primed to be gutted, I am engaging them around what it means to re-imagine the school to prison pipeline in a multidisciplinary art project called PUBLICLY SCHOOLED.
Art is providing cohesion to our collective movement. And I am grateful for that. This is, indeed, a powerful time.
Lara Davis is an artist, racial equity consultant, and arts administrator with the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. She co-leads The Creative Advantage, a public/private initiative to reinvest in equitable arts education for all Seattle students.