Currents of Change: Arts, Power + Politics
Friday, October 21, 2016
The world is besieged with fundamental changes – some good, some potentially not so good. The recent Brexit vote is leaving many questions about next steps; the looming election in the US is causing understandable anxiety globally, and the recent referendum on the peace process in Colombia are just a few examples of huge shifts in policy and the future.
In New York this January, we hope to capture these ideas and movements and contextualize them with respect to the performing arts.
The theme of ISPA’s 99th Congress is Currents of Change: Arts, Power + Politics.
The global landscape is changing more quickly and to a greater degree than ever before. There is a sweeping sense of powerlessness and alienation. Disparities in equality, perceived identities, and the global realities of climate change, migration and terrorism are often overwhelming. Is it enough to reflect conversation or do cultural institutions need to engage their power and act in a more meaningful way? Join us as we explore in and through the arts the realities and the opportunities of an ever-changing society.
The Congress takes place over 3 days (January 10-12, 2017) in New York at a variety of venues. We wanted to take this opportunity to share a few reflections on what this theme means to our members.
Arts, Power + Politics
Tamasi is a collective of 11 organizations from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine & Jordan. The collective has been founded to support & strengthen artistic excellence of the independent arts sector in the MENA region (Middle East, Northern Africa). We believe that:
- The struggle for freedom is primarily a struggle for space, be it physical, discursive, or social.
- Democracy does not start, nor indeed, end at the ballot box. Democracy is a holistic process where diversity is respected, accepted and encouraged; where freedom of expression is practiced at every level in society. In fact, Democracy at the level of ballot boxes is a consequence of this process without which it becomes void of meaning and can sometimes even be counterproductive.
- People develop, rather than being developed.
Therefore rather than seeking a linear type of social change paradigm, we open up spaces for “movement, dialogue, collaboration, and reflection. We provide a wide range of performances and productions to build a solid audience base. We also provide a comprehensive capacity building program: structured trainings, fellowships, financial and technical support, and residencies which open up social, economic, and career development opportunities.
We run seven regional festivals that provide exposure, dialogue, and congregation space for artists and communities. We also manage nine artistic spaces offering a meeting hub, training and rehearsal space for young artists. In addition, we engage with a range of institutions ranging from NGOs to universities, media, and schools on collaborative projects. Above all, provide technical and financial support opportunities to the independent arts sector across the Arabic-speaking MENA region.
Maria Claudia Parias
The correlation between artistic practices, power, and politics – in the amplest sense – has been frequently debated, particularly since it is not possible to consider an artistic product in today’s world that lacks a political position. The same applies to organizations springing from an intention or end associated with the “modern” idea of making this world better. This is the case of Fundación Nacional Batuta, created by the government 25 years ago with the purpose of taking musical education to communities removed from centralization and mainly comprised of victims of the armed conflict that scourged the country until a few days ago.
The interesting aspect of the vision in the creation of Batuta is the precept thatmusic can be included in the basic conditions for social development in marginalized areas, where – together with basic public services and health – music teachers came with their music and their instruments. This has consolidated an option for 45,000 people a year toseek dignity in life through musical practice, and the possibility to fully exert their cultural rights. At Fundación Nacional Batuta, we believe in the transformative power of music.
Director of Arts
In a world where building walls seems currently more important than strengthening bridges, I have been having the most transformative experience in working with a community of people historically kept at large from the main stage. In the past few years, the British Council in Brazil has been implementing a large-scale programme focused on giving voice and space to Disabled and Deaf artists, aiming to change perceptions towards difference and diversity.
Last month we had a culmination of this work when the UK-based theatre company Graeae presented “The Garden”, directed by Jenny Sealy, at the Olympic Boulevard in Rio de Janeiro as part of the Cultural Olympiads, reaching 48.000 people in four striking performances featuring disabled and non-disabled artists, fully accessible to all audiences with text in Portuguese, English, British and Brazilian Sign Languages and audio-description. Tears, laughter and self-awareness glinting in the sun. The emotional response from the audience and local artists harmonized well with the Paralympic Games breaking records only a few miles away, which had more than 1,5 million tickets sold.
In times when identities and life aspirations are so matter-of-factly neutralized by the powers that be, it’s rewarding to see how the Arts allow for bodies and spirits to be lifted above walls of intolerance.
Photo credit: Andreia Testoni
I believe that we, as art makers, have a responsibility to engage with the global, national, and local issues of our time. It is no longer enough to do art for art’s sake in a world that is as fractured as the one we live in. Art has the unique ability to look at issues through the use of our senses that can touch people’s minds and hearts and cause reflection, dialogue, and ultimately change. Art also has the ability to make the world smaller by bringing diverse artistic cultures together in the hopes of a deeper understanding of each other. Performing just another work from the historical Western canon without connecting it to our contemporary time feels meaningless to me. How can what we do change the world for the better; how can we move the dial forward? These are the questions that every artist and producer must ask.
SOLDIER SONGS is an example of this work that combines elements of theater, opera, rock-infused concert music, and animation to explore the perceptions versus the realities of a soldier, the exploration of loss and exploitation of innocence, and the difficulty of expressing the truth of war. Though music can be easily co-opted to serve a political or ideological message, it can equally be a vehicle for reflection, engagement, and emotional connection.
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