Women sitting at a table with bric a brac, making collages and art

It’s hard to imagine a better fit than the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse and the upcoming Re:NEW Festival, making its debut September 9 and running through October 9, 2016, throughout Pittsburgh.

Re:NEW seeks to highlight the possibilities involved when artists and makers combine creativity and sustainability, recognizing Pittsburgh’s emerging community of artists and makers dedicated to creating with sustainability and re-use in mind.

The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse has been promoting those same objectives since it was founded in 2007, said executive director Erika Johnson. The Center makes available used and discarded materials that cover an enormous range of artistic possibilities. The store, located at 214 North Lexington in Point Breeze (around the corner from Construction Junction), sells materials ranging from more traditional artistic fare—paper, fabrics, magazines and photographs for collage artists—to the utterly unexpected: VHS tapes, trophies, and puzzle pieces, among dozens and dozens of items.

“It’s an inspiring place to come and think about reuse and creativity,” Johnson said of the store. “When you see 100 of something together, it makes you think of it in a new way.”

Beyond offering craft materials and inspiration, the Center’s work taking in, sorting, and selling materials for reuse diverts thousands of pounds of waste from landfills each year. In 2015, 41 tons of waste were diverted, and in 2016, Johnson said, she expects to keep more than 50 tons of waste from hitting landfills.

Children standing around a table of various construction materials, making birdhouses

That makes it a perfect participant in the Re:NEW Festival, which brings to Pittsburgh an array of exhibits, music showcases, eco-tours, hands-on workshops, educational sessions, films, performances, environmental exhibits, and markets selling upcycled goods.

“We absolutely wanted to be a part of the Re:NEW Festival in order to help highlight all the great stuff happening in Pittsburgh around creative re-use,” said Johnson.

Festival-goers will have a number of chances to experience all the Center offers:

  • The Center will unofficially kick off the Festival with its 4th Bantam Night, a “pre-party” fundraiser at Wigle Whiskey (1055 Spring Garden Avenue) on Thursday, September 8, from 6 to 9 p.m. Attendees can make a fancy hat, screenprint the PCCR logo onto a shirt, and dance to the sounds of vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield. Tickets are available, right here.

  • The Creative Conundrum Lab will invite the community into the Center’s Point Breeze shop to create art out of this month’s “creative conundrum”: a surprise material that is full of creative potential. Creative Conundrum, a monthly event, will be held Friday, September 9, from 2 to 5 p.m.

  • The Center’s biannual Reclaim! event returns on Saturday, September 17, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering artists, makers, and educators a shopping bonanza: come into the Center’s warehouse and for just $5 (minimum suggested donation per person), take as much Center material as they would like. With the help of its volunteers, the Center has diverted over 6,000 pounds of materials destined for the landfill through its past two Reclaim! events. Their goal for this special Re:NEW edition of Reclaim! is to exceed 10,000 pounds!

  • Reclaim! is also a perfect opportunity for the public to check out the Center’s shop, open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

  • The Center will celebrate the fourth show in its in-store gallery space with an opening reception on Thursday, September 22, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Center’s Point Breeze shop. Join artists, volunteers, interns, and staff for a fun night of art and music - information, right here.

  • Artists of all ages are invited to a hands-on art-making activity on Saturday, October 1 from noon to 4 p.m. Center for Creative Reuse teaching artists will provide a curated array of materials and tools, as well as guidance to help young artists with their projects. Children and families are especially welcome. This art-making activity takes place at the PPG Wintergarden downtown, where the Re:NEW Festival will present the North American premier of Barcelona-based Drap-Art, an exhibition of international artists working extensively with reused materials. Participants are encouraged to explore the Drap-Art exhibit as they create their own works of art.

  • For grown-ups, the Center will offer Bar Crafts at the Allegheny Wine Mixer (www.alleghenywinemixer.com, 5236 Butler St., Lawrenceville) on Sunday, October 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. For a minimum $5 donation per person, thirsty artists can work on projects ranging from upholstery-fabric purses to dioramas made from cigar boxes, and more. Zero arts and crafts expertise required.

With all these events, Johnson laughed, the Center is going to have to transport many vanloads of materials.

“One of the things that makes our programming unique is rather than bringing a kit to make a project,” she said, “we bring an array of material that’s very open-ended and provides what we call ‘the inspiration of abundance.’”

Adam Reger is a writer, editor, and teacher.

Photos: courtesy Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. Top: PCCR Open House; Bottom: People Making Birdhouses

 

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African American female youth with a big smile and her hand outstretched, in front of her, with small ponytails, greeting the viewer in front of a theater set of cut out treesJackie Baker is the General Manager at Bricolage Production Company and served on the creative team as Assistant Director for Welcome to Here, a large-scale immersive theater piece intentionally designed to welcome and include people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Inspired by last week's Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability Conference, Jen Saffron asked Ms. Baker to describe the experience behind creating a work that begins with inclusion as an artistic tenet.

Autism Spectrum Disorder often presents barriers to attending theater because of the many triggers associated with traditional theater experiences, including lighting and sound, as well as the restricting expectations of start and end times, expectations of silence in theater spaces, and the high emphasis on language as the main form of communication. As a result, many ASD families opt out. Some theater companies have responded to these barriers by featuring “sensory friendly” shows; they alter the front-of-house rules and technical elements of productions, bring the house lights up, add a “safe” room for families to decompress, implement “relaxed” rules, and offer additional lobby activities to help ASD families cope with the structures of traditional theater. 

When we were approached by the EQT Children’s Theater Festival to create a show for children with ASD, we thought a lot about sensory friendly performances. It seemed to us that these performances were originally made without ASD kids in mind – but since we were in the unique position to create a theater piece from the ground up, we wondered what it would look like it we intentionally created this way, from the start. Would the result be a show that didn’t need adjustments for ASD families to attend and truly open to everyone? What do the concepts of universal design look like in theatermaking?

Through our research into ASD, benchmarking various artistic programs created for the autism community, and conversations with people with ASD and their families about what makes them nervous about coming to the theater, we crafted a plan to create a personal and immersive world that not only accommodated, but embraced our audience’s needs. The main objective was to create a program that provided a safe space where children of all abilities could participate and enjoy themselves.

We promoted the message “come as you are” with no need to adapt to traditional rules of the theater. We encouraged families who often need to move from stimulus to stimulus to encounter the piece at their own pace. We wanted both ASD and neurotypical siblings to be able to have a meaningful experience together that would become a lifelong memory. We hoped to show parents their children were capable of things they didn’t previously think were possible. Pam Lieberman, director of the EQT Children’s Theater Festival, immediately offered enthusiastic and strong support, and we embarked together on the creation of Welcome to Here, a world premiere new work with a clearly defined central inspiration: children on the autism spectrum and their families.

To rise to the occasion, we knew we needed to gather a stellar team of artists capable of authentic collaboration. We thought about the most sensitive, generous, and brave artists in our community and asked them to join us on the journey. The actor/devisors included local favorites David Bielewicz, Siovhan Christensen, Parag S. Gohel, Missy Moreno, and Gayle Pazerski. The designer/devisors included scenic artist Stephanie Mayer-Staley, a sound design team led by Sarah Pickett, lighting designer Michael Papinchak, and costume designer Madison Hack. Stage Manager Ryan Looke made sure to check in and support everyone’s needs throughout a constantly-changing process.

The team was led by Bricolage producing artistic director, Tami Dixon, who also wrote and directed the piece, and I served as the assistant director. Everyone on board was committed to this intentional work and remained flexible when they needed to make changes after feedback from our early test audiences.

As our last major immersive piece OjO: The Next Generation in Travel taught us while working with the blind community, it is imperative we heed the mantra: “nothing about us without us.” We knew we had to involve the ASD community at the onset of the play’s development and throughout the entire creative process. We were fortunate to connect with several organizations that helped to contribute to our success.

The Arts for Autism Foundation was instrumental to the company’s understanding of autism, to creating a cohort of ASD families who were willing to workshop the piece as it evolved, and to connecting Bricolage with this target audience. Director of Arts for Autism Foundation, Carolyn Hare, and Firefly Arts’ Rebecca Covert both led training sessions during the first week of rehearsals to educate the team and to empower us with best practices for engagement through the arts. But it wasn’t enough to have people outside the creative process educating and inspiring us; it was paramount to have someone inside the creative process influencing every step of the journey with lived experience.

Young boy, about the age of five, listening to a device in a dark room, during a theater experience

Through our partnership with Arts for Autism and the Joey Travolta Film Camp, we were introduced to Vanya Rumsey, an autistic actress and self-advocate who proved crucial to the success of this project. As a self-advocate with two younger brothers also on the spectrum, Vanya had the unique ability to inform the production from the viewpoint of three different children with diverse sensitivities and triggers. Vanya’s input helped to steer the show’s development around language barriers, technical obstacles, and sensory activities, towards a more inclusive and intentional piece designed to meet each adventurer where they were. Together this amazing team of artists embarked on a six-month development process that challenged everyone’s preconceived notions around engagement and theatrical storytelling.

When we learned that many children with ASD have difficulty engaging with new people, and that puppets act as an effective surrogate for helping to make real connections, we asked Cheryl Capazutti to come in and lead the actors in a puppeteering workshop. When we understood that verbal communication could be a huge barrier to engagement, the approach to writing was examined and words did not become the primary vehicle for storytelling. This activated wonderful new frontiers of engagement.

We honed in on the seven senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, sound, and the little talked about vestibular and proprioceptive senses) and explored how removing and amplifying them would effect the artistic results. When we looked at storytelling through a multitude of lenses, the set became a lush dream-like forest playground of sensory engagement; the sound was designed so that when all sounds were playing at once (which was often the case in our small space) it would create a harmonious effect. The lighting was created to welcome and soothe, and the costumes were made to look simultaneously familiar and magical. Every artist had to challenge their personal creative process and open their minds to alternative methods of information processing and expand the lens through which story could be delivered. Simply put, we learned that one way of processing information was not necessarily better than any other - it is our cultural emphasis on “accepted” ways of processing information that cause most barriers.

The resulting production, Welcome to Here, was a receptive real-time hands-on immersive experience that allowed families to be themselves as they moved through at their own pace and connected with whatever elements or characters that most appealed to them. This freedom made the arrival and departure experiences more fluid and less rigid. This took the emphasis off following rules and put it on the experience that was happening in the present moment. If a child became overwhelmed, there were multiple spaces designed to calm, soothe and provide a break from the action. If a child wanted to leave immediately, families were free to do so without feeling as if they were interrupting or missing anything. If a child wanted to sit by one puppet character for the entire experience and feed her plastic bugs that was possible. If a child wanted to hop from space to space and engage in fits and starts he could. If a child wanted to crawl through a large log or curl up inside a giant cloud and observe the action going on around her in relative privacy she could do that too.

By rethinking “best practices” of both traditional theater and accessibility, we were able to customize a piece, working alongside ASD children and their families - one that actually met their individual needs. It was incredible to watch children of all abilities sing, dance, collect, create, and explore a sensory-sensitive environment, and encounter puppet characters who met each child’s response with acceptance and belonging.

It was a life-changing artistic experience, one for which we are incredibly grateful. Every single artist involved in the project felt a deep sense of accomplishment and gratitude. Knowing that children with ASD struggle to be accepted in our fast-paced, impatient culture and witnessing the faces of parents light up as their children were engaging, responding and happy was enough to solidify to us that this work is not only meaningful, but makes for powerful storytelling and purposeful artistic contributions to our community. We really hope that we can find the support to expand this project and make it a destination place for all families to enjoy and a more permanent part of what Pittsburgh has to offer this often-overlooked community.

To learn more about Bricolage Production Company and their productions, please visit this link, here.

 

Photograph of Siovhan Christensen courtesy Tami Dixon
Photograph of boy experiencing Welcome to Here courtesy HG Photography
 

 

 

 

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Portrait of a woman with short, dark hair with a grey streak in her hair at her forehead, smiling and looking at the viewer. She is wearing earrings, a necklace and glasses.
The Arts Blog talked with Betty Siegel, Director of VSA and Accessibility, the force behind the global
LEAD
® conference (Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability) from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This blog post is one of several leading up to the conference, hosted by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust here in Pittsburgh, July 31 – August 6.

Why Pittsburgh?  Two words – Fried Pickles!  I am really looking forward to fried pickles next week – I had my first fried pickle in Pittsburgh. I can’t find them in D.C. and I only have them when I travel – I think I will be getting them from Meat and Potatoes….

REALLY we chose Pittsburgh for this year’s LEAD® Conference because the Pittsburgh cadre of arts administrators that have been attending LEAD® for the past five years or so have been so enthusiastic and excited about the work.  From the beginning, they’ve taken what they’ve learned at LEAD® and applied it in the community in a way that is meaningful, insightful, and impactful.

Our larger vision is that we believe we can change the world through our long standing commitment to inclusion and cultural access. This year, the Kennedy Center is celebrating the JFK Centennial, and focusing our efforts on programming that reflect 5 ideals particularly important to President John F. Kennedy: Courage, Freedom, Service, Justice, and Gratitude. LEAD very much embodies our 35th President’s ideal of justice by advancing his personal and political vision of equality and inclusion in the arts, for everyone.

Early on, I remember the Trust sending some folks to LEAD®. They were new to accessibility and still learning how to apply it, but were enthusiastic. At LEAD®, this group from Pittsburgh met with many fabulous people, went to the workshops, and went back to their offices at the Trust and said, “Hey, look: we have to include people with disabilities in our audiences, on our stages, and on our staff.”

The next year they came back with a young woman with a disability who was now on their staff – they took the employment aspect of it, too, not just how to get someone with a disability in a theater seat – the Trust really integrated the concepts LEAD® embodies into the way they do business.

Then they, of course, took a look at their theaters and took on some challenging situations - When you are dealing with older and historic buildings in particular, it’s much more challenging to make them accessible.

The next year, they came back to the LEAD® conference with even more people from more venues from across Pittsburgh.  This became a city wide initiative – the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre became one of the first dance companies in the country to offer sensory-friendly dance performances.

When we look for a place to take the LEAD® conference, we are looking for that level of enthusiasm and engagement. These are the types of partnerships and collaborations that are necessary for accessibility to be sustained in a community and Pittsburgh has that level of collectivism that’s necessary to really do this work.

Pittsburgh brings to the table the funders, the city, a variety of cultural venues – the Children’s Museum, the August Wilson Center, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, the Andy Warhol Museum – all of these amazing partners who have joined in.  That’s a really interesting, diverse group of folks with the will to do this work, which is really civil rights work.

I always look forward to the people who come to LEAD®. They are always an interesting, passionate and caring group of people. They are excited about this work – this revives me. It’s a challenging job and I leave LEAD® feeling refreshed in the area of advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, because that is what it boils down to – this is a social justice issue, it’s about honoring the rights of people with disabilities and supporting their civil rights.

I am very excited about our opening session. Jess Thom will be coming from the U.K. to give the keynote – she will talk about her own challenge in accessing the arts as a person with Tourettes Syndrome. This keynote will be live streamed through HowlRound TV– while the conference attendees can see her live in the closed session, others will be able to access this session through the live streaming url that will be posted hereI recommend tuning in to what promises to be a dynamic talk – she’s an amazing speaker, and she’ll bring it home for us by making a very personal, compelling (and funny) case for WHY do we do this work!.

There are many wonderful public performances too that the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council have organized along with wonderful capacity building workshops. We’re thrilled that they decided to host Innovation, Accommodating Artists with Disabilities, a special, one-day conversation. You go from international disability rights issues to hometown leadership – a perfect blend.

Photo by Yassine El Mansouri

 

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Profile of a seated woman, wearing glasses, a turtleneck sweater and blazer with a nametag, reading into a microphone, gesturing with her left hand, in front of a small screen.
MaryAnn Graziano, above, recently completed her 100th audio description of a live performance andThe Arts Blog interviewed her about this important volunteer work for arts patrons. This blog post is one of several leading up to the LEAD Conference (Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability), which is part of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. LEAD will be hosted by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, July 31 – August 6, 2016.

MaryAnn Graziano, middle school Physical Education teacher with Seneca Valley, started volunteering about 12 years ago with Radio Information Services, reading on the radio for blind audiences. Another volunteer at the time was Marilyn Egan, longtime education director for the Pittsburgh Opera.  Marilyn asked MaryAnn if she’d be interested in giving audio description a try and MaryAnn said, "Sure, why not?"

But, MaryAnn said, “I didn’t know squat about Opera. I thought, ‘It looks kinda cool.’ I shadowed Marilyn on The Marriage of Figaro. I didn’t know how to read music, but I could follow the words they were singing. I told Marilyn: if you’re willing to teach me, I’m willing to learn.”

Not long after that 2004-2005 season, Diane Nutting hosted audio description training at City Theatre by Bill Patterson of the Audio Description Coalition, and asked MaryAnn to the training. There were eight willing souls at that training, and two are still doing it today – Kellee VanAken at the City Theatre and MaryAnn.

MaryAnn has since gone on to audio describe over 50 operas, plus three seasons with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and theatrical audio descriptions with City Theatre, PICT, and Bricolage Production Company. The Pittsburgh Playhouse recently had a spring production described and is looking to do more.  

The purpose of audio description is to describe the visual content of what’s happening on stage for people who cannot see the stage – it provides the missing visual information that is critical to understanding what is happening in a performance.

Sighted people generally do not think about what we take in, visually. But if you are visually impaired, being able to understand the action in the full sense of the production and staging is critical to understanding the plot, and helps visually impaired people understand the audience’s reaction.  For example, why did the audience gasp? Is a character quietly sneaking up on another?

Necessity is often the Mother of invention.  Marilyn Egan started audio description for the Pittsburgh Opera when a blind patron said that their friend sat next to them whispering what was happening on stage.  The patron enjoyed the singing, but couldn’t always understand the stage action. Their homespun methods of audio description were annoying to those around them, so a new solution was created to serve patrons with visual impairment.  

Those who need audio description receive an earpiece from guest services.  The audio describer, in this case MaryAnn, sits in the tech booth, listening to the performance and watching on a smaller screen, following along the score and describing the story and action to the person in the audience, who hears her voice directly in the single earpiece while the other ear is available to the live performance.

Over the years, MaryAnn has developed relationships with her opera patrons, people who trust her to interpret the performances with nuance and understanding.  As in life, it’s not always perfect, but MaryAnn welcomes the feedback; it’s how she has honed this craft, which, as she says, “…is a service, it’s about what THEY need.”

It can be fun, too. One of Mary Ann’s favorite fun moments was seeing the Lieutenant of Inishmore, at PICT. There was a humorous moment in which she timed her description perfectly to the staged humor so that her listener could join in the roaring audience laughter.

There is homework to prepare for that kind of timing. For example, for the Pittsburgh Opera’s production of Tosca, MaryAnn sat in the balcony and watched the dress rehearsal. She saw the lead character slide the knife into her sleeve – something she would have missed on the small screen in the tech booth, but she caught it in the dress rehearsal so she made note of it in the score and brought that scene to life for her listeners.

Most audio describers are volunteers, giving of their time to make the arts more accessible and enjoyable.  It’s an adventure for MaryAnn, too – she used to sit in the Opera’s pit orchestra storage room among the instrument cases - jokingly referred to as the Belly of the Benedum. She now sits in what she fondly refers to as the “Taj Mahal” – the sound booth in the back.

Audio description can be fun, too, like City Theatre’s audio description of Sister’s Late Night Catechism, a late night comedy played by a character who’s a nun. When asked to audio describe that production, MaryAnn said, “Heck yeah!”

Photograph by David Bachman 

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Man standing next to a lighted movie poster, in a black t-short with a white X on the front and a black baseball cap, holding up his right index finger as if to signal the number 1.From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, silent films were “the thing” before IMAX and 3-D glasses. Silent films, with no recorded audio, were shown in a theater where there was space for an orchestra to play live music during the movie, making for a whole new level of watching movies at the theater.

Pittsburgh’s Hollywood Theater in Dormont, in collaboration with Jasiri X and 1Hood crafted a soundtrack for Oscar Micheaux’s 1925 silent film classic Body & Soul, starring Paul Robeson. Together, we created a unique, artistic and emotional experience unlike any other

Body & Soul 2016, is a combination of silent film, theater and live, operatic-Hip Hop; connecting themes that were happening in 1925 to what’s happening with us today.

When Jasiri, 1Hood teaching artist & producer LiveFromTheCity and myself began working on this soundtrack, the creative team from the Hollywood Theater suggested “character theme songs” that we could build off of.

But before we could do that, we had to watch the movie.

The first time watching the movie had us like, “Wait, what?” Watching the movie a second time, along with research on the synopsis of it to follow, the movie covered a few emotional subjects that stirred people. Themes of interracial racism, sexual abuse, corruption, love and the misuse of leadership in godly worship were tightly integrated through the film. We watched the film on YouTube, which had its own soundtrack by the George Eastman House; not the original soundtrack from 1925.

And that’s where we started with making ours.

Jasiri directed us in creating themes that would connect to both the scenes and characters, respectively. Following Live’s lead, we created 10 core songs, accompanied with non-lyric production that incorporated today’s Hip Hop and Trap sound. Bass-driven with an attention to “space”—especially on songs like “Won’t He Do It” (featuring 1Hood Media Academy artist Dejah Monae and LiveFromTheCity), “Faded Memory”(featuring Dejah Monae) and “Courage”—we created a bouncy and “minor over major” soundscape.

With Body & Soul being a silent film, the only dialogue, aside from our music lyrics, is in the film in between scenes. Because of this, it makes the musical element of silent film even that much more important, since the music (even without lyrics) has to match the emotion and tone of the scenes as closely as possible. With silent films being the predecessor to the movies we see today, which sometimes have an overload of special sound effects over common epic orchestra themes, it makes you listen to movies differently now.

Personally, working on this was insightful in that I was educated on other forms of media that predate our current media. Seeing our roles as African Americans in silent film was inspiring—a black director with a leading black Actor that told a story and not a minstrel joke, to have the opportunity to restore this story in our own way, and present it to the public in a professional and orchestrated manner.

And to understand and respect the sound and power of silence.

Idasa Tariq is Assistant Creative Director & Artist at 1Hood.
1Hood celebrates their 2nd Annual1Hood Day on Thursday, August 11 and Friday, August 12, featuring live performances, music, speakers, and more.

 

 

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New Community Visions and the Arts Sector

Friday, 22 July 2016 09:52 AM Written by

 Three people with their backs to the viewer, outside painting a colorful mural on the wall of a building.


We in the non-profit arts talk a lot about ticket sales, individual donors, foundation and corporate support, memberships, and public support for the arts.  Understandable.   Steady, reliable income streams are essential to our survival and to our abilities to reach and serve the public. 

But, increasingly, our sector is having different kinds of conversations.  In a variation on the words of President Kennedy offered in 1960, we’re saying: “Ask not what our communities can do for the arts, ask what the arts can do for our communities.” 

One platform where these ideas are taking shape is the “New Community Visions Initiative” of Americans for the Arts (AFTA), the nation’s largest arts service organization, of which the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is a member. 

The Initiative’s starting point is the premise that the arts don’t stand alone.  We are, instead, one of 30 linked “contributors” which can make our communities healthy, vibrant, and equitable.  Sectors, in addition to the arts, range from social justice, the environment, faith, aging, cultural heritage, and the economy to innovation and technology, education, the workforce, health and wellness, the military, and infrastructure, among others. 

The over-riding question for the Initiative is: “What roles can the arts sector play, in partnership with these other sectors, to help our communities become more vibrant, healthy, and equitable over the next decade and beyond?”   We as a sector seem no longer satisfied to be “amenities”—as nice but not really necessary, at least in some eyes.  How can we make a difference on this broader platform?  

I recently had the opportunity to participate in one of the AFTA Initiative’s many national conversations, a gathering of 120 arts leaders from around the country held on June 16-17, 2016, in Boston.  The group generated a number of visions for how, in the future, the creativity of artists can and will work in partnership with other sectors to make positive change in communities:

  • In the face of neighborhood gentrification and displacement, artists will help preserve cultural traditions, and bring new and existing residents together
  • The arts will provide ways for individuals, including recent immigrants, to express their true identities in the face of pressures to deny and suppress those identities
  • As new devices create ubiquitous connectivity, artists and other “creatives” will be a driving force in the design, structure, and nature of those devices
  • The arts will be integrated more fully into the health care system and entrusted with the care of our citizens though arts-based therapies and preventative regimens
  • In response to pressing ecological issues, artists will increase their production across all mediums that will create new public knowledge, dialogue, and action. (We're doing that, soon with the Re:NEW Festival

Realizing these ambitious visions, of course, will not be easy.  Within the year, AFTA will be offering “A Blueprint for 21st Century Healthy Communities through the Arts,” a combination of visions and practical, how-to strategies to help the arts sector along this path.   

In the meantime, GPAC, for its part, held a workshop called “The Why, When, and How of Cross-sector Arts Partnerships” in May to explore the risks, challenges, and benefits of artists and arts organizations working across sectors.  We drew on the experience and expertise of three local organizations—The Sprout Fund, the Office of Public Art, and New Sun Rising.  Based on their collective, cross-sector experience with government, community development organizations, real estate developers, environmental groups, the gathering identified a number of keys to cross-sector success:

  • Meet people and organizations where they are
  • Build trust and familiarity
  • Define and agree on specific goals-- some shared, some individual—and develop strategies to reach all of them
  • Anticipate, communicate, negotiate (and communicate some more)
  • Be sure you have “skin in the game”

It’s clear that cross-sector arts partnering is here to stay and will likely grow.  The days of focusing mainly on income streams are over. Yes, there is much to learn, and much to aspire to.  But going forward, the arts sector will continue to seek collaborative ways to engage our communities that help ensure those communities are healthy, vibrant, and equitable.  

David B. Pankratz is the Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Thank you to Citizens for the Arts in PA and the PA Council on the Arts for a 2016 Professional Development & Consulting grant to participate in the New Community Visions conference. 

photo: courtesy of Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center, artists and community members painting a mural, together.

 

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Image of five middle aged African American men standing together in casual clothing, facing forward and smiling in front of a brick building.

James Brown was the hardest working man in show business. Pittsburgh’s Mark Clayton Southers is the hardest working man in theater. As an artist, I’ve long admired Mark’s work ethic, long before I ever got to know him personally. I have a deep respect for his ingenuity as a former steelworker turned founder and producing artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company (PPTC), an organization committed to racial and cultural diversity among its playwrights, directors, actors, technical specialists, staff, and board of directors. I also appreciate Mark’s unparalleled commitment to the legacy of August Wilson, as one of the nation’s leading interpreters of Wilson’s work. At PPTC, Mark has produced more than 125 full-length and one-act plays, including Wilson’s ten-play Pittsburgh Century Cycle, since 2003. An award-winning playwright, photographer, scenic designer, theatrical producer and stage director, Mark is a tireless creative. Even his recovery from serious injuries in May 2015 car accident has inspired a chronicle, first documented on Facebook and now compiled on Mark’s website, here.

I wanted to catch up with Mark after the acclaimed local debut of his playMiss Julie, Clarissa, and John,” and when I did, he was in Columbus, Ohio, serving as the artistic director for Short North Stage’s August Wilson Festival and directing “Ma Rainey” for the Festival. I asked Mark about what seemed to be a dizzying level of productivity, not even a full year after his accident.

“Working keeps me feeling alive and relevant,” he said. “In 2015, I was in the hospital for four months, but I also directed three August Wilson plays, including two prior to the accident, and a directed reading of “Gem of the Ocean” at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. So in a two year-span, by this September, I will have directed seven August Wilson plays and two readings. And I’ve written plays. It’s like my medicine.”

The August Wilson Festival in Columbus was followed by a collaborative production in June between PPTC and CCAC South for a six-day run of “Fences,” to commemorate CCAC’s 50th anniversary. PPTC’s production of “Seven Guitars” will run in August, with performances taking place on the site of August Wilson’s childhood home on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District. In September, Mark will return to Short North Stage’s mainstage to direct “Fences.” He’ll also direct a reading of “King Hedley II” there this fall. Also in September, “Miss Julie, Clarissa, and John” will open the St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre’s season. In November, at Trilogy: An Opera Company in Newark, New Jersey, Mark will direct “Five,” a new opera about five teenagers wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989.

On top of directing, writing, and producing, Mark also handles fundraising and marketing for PPTC. “I used to build sets. I still cut wood and put up a wall or two,” he said. “The accident makes me want to enjoy life. It looks like I do a lot, but I take whole days when I just sit, relax, write, and let my body heal and not beat myself up.”

Mark’s healing process has not been a one-man show. “My wife took off work for almost a whole year. I also had the support of my daughter and my mother. [Actor] Leo Beatty took off from work for a few months, and I had the help of [actor] Will Williams, [PPTC’s resident sound designer] Mark Whitehead, and lots of other great friends. If I had to do it on my own, I would’ve thrown my hands up.

“And people probably don’t realize how important my Facebook family has been. That community of 4,600 friends is a major part of my life. They offer words of encouragement. They call and pray with me. And Pittsburgh’s theater community has also been good to me.”

As we wrapped up our conversation, Mark gave me one last set of important dates: January 1 - December 31, 2017. But don't look for him at any theater. “I will be at Falling Rock, at home! And I’m not leaving. I want to renovate, put a garden in, raise my sons, write, relax, heal.The only thing that will get me out of the house is a having a play go to Broadway. I might creep out for that. And if my daughter gets married.”

Bravo, Mark.

Photo: Mark Clayton Southers (fourth from left) and actor friends (left to right) Chuck Timbers, Will Williams, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Mykelti Williamson. Henderson and Williamson are co-starring in the film version of “Fences” currently being shot in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Mark Clayton Southers.

Deesha Philyaw is a writer and a mama. She believes in seeing color, talking about race, and using the Oxford comma.

 

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Originally posted on the Pittsburgh Symphony's blog.

Symphonic and classical music entered my world when I was eight years old. It wasn’t in a particularly sophisticated way — if one goes in for notions of art belonging to “high brow” and “low brow” classes, which I don’t — but rather the same way it does for a lot of people. I was exposed to it through the release of a specific film which resonated with me before I’d seen a single frame: SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. I had already been a fan of the Man of Steel for half my life, and was at the perfect age to see that film. SUPERMAN was big and full of spectacle and it perfectly brought to life a character I needed in my topsy-turvy home life. Much of my early years were characterized by dysfunction and instability; Superman always delivered the opposite of those elements, wherever I encountered him. He was always strong, smart, caring, and dependable. These traits immediately made him my lifelong hero.

Reading his adventures in comic-books directly inspired me to start drawing, which in turn became my lifelong profession. I realized that most people decided what careers they wanted to have as adults only as they got older. Some wanted to be doctors or police officers, and some wanted to be firefighters or astronauts. My mother was a gifted musician, and her siblings and their children always said she had “the gift” of being able to naturally play the piano in church from a very young age. I ended up taking a cue from my father, who had visual arts talents, which led directly to my exposure to comic-books and the worlds of superheroes. Every time I opened the covers of another issue, I knew, without question, that making stories with my own artwork was what I wanted to do with my life.

Other media reinforced this notion. I watched cartoons and television, like every other child, and Superman and his cohorts were there as well in various incarnations. Reruns of the 1950s television show The Adventures of Superman brought a different kind of thrill into the living room. I instantly memorized the opening title march and heroic music became synonymous with the character. In much the same way, the William Tell Overture had, over time, became synonymous with another fictional hero who also had a tv show in the ’50s, The Lone Ranger. Unlike that western hero, however, Superman merited his own original music, and no one understood this more than composer John Williams. Having just scored a hit, literally, with the soundtrack of the original STAR WARS, Williams then turned his attentions to helping us all believe a man could fly. His results have since proven to be one of the most impressive special effects to have ever been derived from comic-books.

It’s more accurate to say that I felt the music of SUPERMAN more than I heard it. That’s probably the way most movie-goers absorb orchestral movie soundtracks. The more impressive scores produce melodies and motifs that we recognize in our day-to-day lives. Most people on the street could identify the treading water DA-du, DA-dum, DA-dum notes of JAWS (another Williams composition) as readily as the Dum-dum-dum-DUUUUUUUM opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. So it was for me in 1978 with the soundtrack to SUPERMAN, one of the first albums I owned. In the days before most homes had VCRs, that was how I managed to re-visualize the cinematic world I remembered. Thanks to Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra, I was able to temporarily lift myself out of the tumult of my surroundings and soar on musical wings, just like my hero, every time I played that album. And I played it a whole lot.

You should believe a boy can fly…because I did.

line drawing of an astronaut flying in space in a white spacesuit

More than 20 years later, I was finally able to see Williams, my orchestral hero, in person, conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra through a program of many of his most well-known works at Heinz Hall. The night was grand, and I found myself buoyed by his music in a way I’d never realized was possible. Listening to orchestral music in a hall designed for it is an experience that can only be described as metaphysical. I left Heinz Hall that night convinced that everyone should experience the fullness of a performing symphony in person at least once in their life.

I had only one quibble with that night’s performance: the Theme to Superman had been performed in truncated form, as part of a heroes-and-villains montage (which ended with the indelible image of Christopher Reeve in costume being projected on a big screen above the Pittsburgh Symphony). We’d all heard a few notes of my favorite symphonic piece ever, but not the full thing. You could say this allowed us to hover, if not fully fly. I got to see Williams conduct his music with the Pittsburgh Symphony again just a few years ago, and it was an equally moving experience…except this time the piece wasn’t a part of the program at all. It felt like one of the most cruel plots Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor could have ever devised.

None of that quelled my love for symphonic music in general though. By adulthood, I’d branched out far beyond movie soundtracks into the work of classical composers. I often listened to the three Bs — Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms — in direct rotation with contemporary musical artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. Everything was fair game, and when I sat down at the drawing board (a real drawing board, with paper, pen and ink), Mozart, Chopin, Vivaldi, etc. all helped inspire me to bring super-heroic worlds to life on paper.

And, intermittently, I continued to go see the Pittsburgh Symphony perform. For a while, my girlfriend worked in ticket sales with the symphony, and this allowed the opportunity for her to take me to a number of shows I may not have otherwise experienced. My belief that everyone should experience this music in person increased with each performance I attended, but I also became aware of barriers which keep potential audiences at bay from these shows. Some of these barriers are invisible if you aren’t the person experiencing them. For me, this was noticing that I was usually in the minority in distinct ways when going to shows, much like in the rest of the world. I was often one of the younger people in attendance, and usually I was one of few people of color. When I would actively count the people I saw at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra shows who looked like me (trust me, we all do this), the numbers rarely entered double digits.

But I wanted this music to affect people like me in the same way I’d been affected. I wanted it to open up worlds in both directions. I wanted more people to fly.

line drawing of an astronaut flying in space in a white spacesuit

A few years ago, I attempted to bring this to the Pittsburgh Symphony’s attention, along with some ideas I had for marketing and promotions, and had a brief discussion with one of their representatives. They were very polite in listening to my suggestions, but it was quickly apparent nothing was going to be used, and I was somewhat discouraged. It felt as though the symphony was locked into a certain way of presenting itself. I’ll admit my attendance at their shows tapered off and my enthusiasm for live performances dimmed. I always listened to the music, and certain shows still brought me back (the aforementioned return performance by John Williams being emblematic of that). I’ll even admit to getting into a heated public (and then private) online discussion once in defense of symphonic music concerts. I loved this stuff! But I wanted more people to be able to enjoy it too, people who, like me, had to deal with exclusive barriers.

Flash forward to 2015 when an article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about how the Pittsburgh Symphony was looking to expand its audience membership to broader age ranges and racial groups. The article cited research studies the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra marketing staff had conducted towards these ends, and the comments section was full of people who had much to say about their goals. I also chimed in and posted a comment, citing my own experience attending shows and my thwarted attempt to change their marketing. I fully expected my comments to get lost in the flood of others, but to my surprise, the symphony staff reached out to me and invited me in to revisit my thoughts and solicit my feedback.

I like to talk. A lot. So, I met with them and talked a lot. And you know something? The Pittsburgh Symphony listened. They still didn’t use my brilliant idea (which really is a thing of genius), but they listened. And during the conversation, I also learned of some of their current initiatives and saw that, yes, the symphony was looking to make the concert-going experience more inclusive for its audiences as well.

One of the things that came up was their Sensory Friendly concert series, shows designed to make for a more comfortable experience for people with various types of disabilities. The promotional artwork for their original performance was drawn by local artist Joe Wos, and I had heard great things about the show. My friend Mike took his daughter, Zoey, to the show, and they both loved it. It was essentially made for her, and others like her. She even appeared for just a moment in the promotional video the Pittsburgh Symphony created, culled from footage shot at the event.

The staff of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra encouraged me to come to new events they were holding, and took the time to follow up and see what I’d thought about those concerts. Over the following months, I also crossed paths with some of their staff at local arts events, and they became more aware of my comics-based artwork. The last few years, I’ve had opportunities to combine my passion for creating comic-book art, and my love of super-heroes, along with projects that showcase real-world heroes educating us on real-world topics. (Things like COMIC-TANIUM and CHUTZ-POW!) Little did the PSO and I know that we would soon be combining forces in a way that played to both of our strengths.

This past January, I was approached by the symphony about doing the promotional artwork for their next Sensory Friendly concert. They said that while discussing the theme for this show, it was suggested that I would be a good match to come up with something appropriate. When they revealed what the theme was, I couldn’t fault their logic: HEROES AND INSPIRATIONS. I felt destined to draw this artwork.

When asked if there was anything specific they wanted included on the promo art, they said it was mostly up to me as their artist. I was allowed to include whatever kind of heroes I wanted, including superheroes, and it was an all-ages show that everyone was encouraged to attend. Now, having that kind of freedom to create artwork for a client is great, but it’s also daunting. I thought, what should it be?! Some imagery came to me right away, and I wanted to include faces on the poster one might not typically associate with classical music, but that do exist everywhere in our world. I wanted this to be something in line with the other artwork I’ve been producing…but I needed the spark to make it all come together.

Then my friend Wayne Wise suggested something magical (which he often does when I’m pondering an approach to a project) by saying, “You should include Mike’s daughter Zoey in the poster.” And just like that, I knew how it was going to look. There would be two groups of characters, a group of kids and a group of adults, and they would be dressed alike. The kids would clearly be deriving inspiration for their future professions from the adults, their heroes. And Zoey would be a superhero.  Actually, she already is a superhero…I just revealed her secret identity.

I took a more methodical approach to producing this piece than I often do. First, I drafted the composition and got it approved; then I drew the figures separately in layers. This allowed for more flexibility in positioning the characters, but I also did it because the characters quickly became very real to me, and I wanted to give each one my full attention. I even named each of the fictitious children in the drawing, because they had very vivid personalities in my mind. They had souls. After a point, I wasn’t making them up, but rather they were dictating how they would be drawn. Even their choices of professions came organically. These kids already knew what they wanted to be when they grew up just as surely as I knew what I wanted to be at their age. I wanted to be an artist…and you better believe there’s an artist included in the group, smeared with paint and full of enthusiasm.

It’s up to the viewer to decide if the adults in the drawing are the kids’ parents or the kids themselves as adults. I don’t even have the answer to that. What I can say is that everyone in it is taking inspiration from someone else. We may be inspired by our heroes, in the way my dad inspired me to draw, and Superman inspired me to be use my powers for good. But heroes are usually inspired by their own heroes, and they are also inspired by you and me to become better heroes.

Someone else took a cue from Superman’s example too…

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is working to become a better, more inclusive venue for promoting the arts. In my vividly illustrated book, that’s pretty darn heroic.

line drawing of an astronaut flying in space with a white spacesuit

The Pittsburgh Symphony liked my artwork, and it’s been an adventure watching them use it in promotions online and out in the world. Friends have posted photos of the fliers for the show when they see it the world. My friend Jami took one that gave me my first glimpse of the actual poster outside of Heinz Hall, which made me do a double-take. When I saw it in person I discovered the poster is at least six-feet tall! Usually the only thing oversized about me is my ego. This may have even exceeded that.

When I drew the poster, and created the adult version of Zoey’s superhero, I hadn’t thought of the back-story for her character. But almost immediately after I sent it to the symphony, the character told me who she was. It was so obvious, as though the hero had been shouting at me the entire time: She’s Crescendo – The Hero of Symphonic Music! If I could compose music, I’d create her a march to rival Superman’s. Who knows, maybe I’ll ask my mother to help me with that.

There was also an unexpected follow-up offer. It’s the kind of thing that solidifies your belief in destiny.

Last year, Joe Wos did some live-drawing during the actual performance of the Symphony, sharing the stage and creating artwork that was projected while they performed a selection. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra now made me a similar offer, and whether they knew it or not, they sealed the deal as soon as they told me what the musical selection was.

Yes. That one.

The Theme from SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE.

So, I invite you all to come to Heinz Hall on Saturday, June 25 at 2:30 p.m. and experience the thrill of the amazing Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in person, the way everyone should hear symphonic music at least once in their life. Come out and allow the Symphony to see YOU and take further inspiration from all of the many colors and ages and abilities that you embody. Because, you know, this inspiration thing works both ways.

Come see me either floating to the gilded ceiling of Heinz Hall with joy, or crashing and burning under the weight of my massive ego. (I suspect I’ll just remain grounded onstage, which is fine.) Watch me live out a dream as I draw while backed by the Pittsburgh Symphony, performing music I’ve been drawing to since I was eight years old.

Watch as my drawing is projected on the same screen that they showed Christopher Reeve dressed as Superman. And who will I be drawing? None other than Crescendo, the Hero of Symphonic Music.

Come on out and be someone’s hero, or bring your hero and share this performance. And don’t forget your capes.

I do believe an audience can fly…because you will.

Marcel Lamont (M.L.) Walker works in Pittsburgh as a freelance illustrator, graphic designer, comic-book creator, writer, and photographer. He taught comic-book creation classes and workshops at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts for several years. He continues to instruct at Pittsburgh’s ToonSeum, The Museum of Cartoon Art, where he is also a member of their Board of Directors.

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Counting Culture

Friday, 03 June 2016 10:46 AM Written by

 

Culture Across Communities title in yellow over a black background of the night sky

As the Pittsburgh arts ecosystem grows and changes alongside of other economic and civic trends, we at Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council thought we’d share some recent observations from the growing treasure chest of arts data. There are so many ways to measure the “health” of Greater Pittsburgh’s arts and culture sector, be it job creation, sheer number of arts and culture nonprofits, or earned income. Different factors impact different data – for example, that numerous small nonprofits don’t fill out 990 forms, so they are not represented in US Census Data. Therefore, we look to an array of information sources to offer a more complete picture of our diverse and far-reaching arts and culture sector. And, we work with other research-driven arts service organizations so we can investigate our own research questions as a sector and tell our story.

Data helps us tell stories and also helps dispel myths, too, like that nonprofits don’t generate any taxes. During the last Arts and Economic Prosperity Report (2013) we discovered that our arts and culture sector generates about $75 million in tax revenue each year for Allegheny County, alone. In the same report, it was revealed that in Southwestern PA the arts & culture sector annually generates 29,347 full-time equivalent jobs, $567,655,591 in household income, and $108,657,526 in state and local taxes.   

Greater Pittsburgh also ranked #14 nationally among all regions in the National Center for Arts' "Arts Vibrancy Index," out of 900 areas, a ranking based on the supply of arts & culture organizations and employees, dollars spent, and public support.     

Rankings, like those we see in other reports such as Pittsburgh TODAY, can sometimes help us think through how we stack up. Knowing this, GPAC recently participated in the comparative research of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s Culture Across Communities: An 11-City Snapshot report (which studied the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, the Twin Cities, and Washington, DC).  The main national data source was DataArts (formerly the Cultural Data Project).  We asked: How does the 2015 arts & culture sector compare with the sector in 2010?  How do we stack up against other metro areas nationwide? And: How do we compare with other sectors?

The findings helped us think through the strengths and challenges of the arts and culture sector in our region.  The nine counties of SWPA are home to 1,054 arts & culture organizations (including parks and libraries), compared to 1,133 in 2010.  These numbers were steady across artistic disciplines and budget sizes.  Other key findings:       

  • Attendance at arts & culture events has risen 7.9% in recent years. Our 5,025,240 in paid attendance is higher than combined attendance at Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins games (3,477,267).
  • Subscription sales also increased—16% in five years.
  • Government funding: we rank #2 among the 11 regions, thanks in part to our Allegheny Regional Asset District dedicated tax.
  • Foundations: we rank #2 in per capita contributions, and our rise in foundation giving since 2009 of 35% also ranked #2.
  • Corporations: donations rose 17.6% since 2009.     

One of the reasons Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council has a Research and Policy area is to track these trends and consider strategies and policies to address where we fared less well in reports such as our own 2016 Culture Counts. We can consider and put forth soluttions to issues like the percentage of arts & culture organizations in deficit, Greater Pittsburgh’s low ranking in individual giving, arts and culture’s over-reliance on part-time/contract workers, and the extent to which private and public funding is equitable.  Our organization is here to strengthen and support arts and culture, regionally, and that means taking a leading role in identifying trends and knowing when and how to make improvements. This includes chairing the Pittsburgh Arts Research Committee, comprised of our terrific and passionate colleagues from organizations like the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and VisitPITTSBURGH.

The data never stops – right now, we’re collecting baseline data for the next Arts Economic Prosperity Report (number 5!) and look forward to sharing the June 2017 results.  In addition to data on economic impacts, we are investigating intrinsic, social, and community impacts as well, all in order to provide broader evidence of the many ways the arts & culture sector serves and benefits the general public of Greater Pittsburgh.

 

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Congratulations to Misty Copeland on making history as the first African American principal dancer with the renowned American Ballet Theatre! Now, if she would just stop talking about it.

That’s the attitude Copeland is responding to in the interview clip above. To those who say she talks “too much” about being black, Copeland states what should be the obvious: Prima ballerina status is a tremendous accomplishment for any dancer, even more so for a black woman, given the paltry numbers of elite-level black ballerinas. Further, Copeland doesn’t want to separate her identity and experiences as a black woman from what she has achieved.

But as usual, someone has to come along and tell black people that we’re doing it all wrong. In this case, someone named Erin Roy:

So let’s unpack this tweet:

#ABallerinasTalePBS refers to the PBS documentary that “documents Copeland’s historic rise while shining a light on the absence of women of color at major ballet companies.”

Here’s what Erin’s “Though...” means: “Kudos, black girl. But ballet is about happy things.” Erin wants us to focus on the “beauty&joy” of the ballet world, not its inequities...even as we watch a documentary about its inequities.

This is everyday white supremacy in action. No wonder Erin doesn’t want us to talk about it.

But Misty Copeland set Erin straight:

I wonder if Erin and other women who subscribe to the fallacy of colorblindness see Hillary Clinton as just another presidential candidate. Perhaps they are taking in the spectacle of American politics without any pesky considerations of the fact that it is male-dominated. Perhaps the Clinton campaign slogan should be #ImWithThisPerson.

Let’s amplify issues of gender inequity, yes. But let’s silence talk about racial inequity because it’s just so..unpleasant? People like Erin find talking about racial inequity so undesirable and uncomfortable, but apparently give zero thought to what it’s like to actually experience racial inequity, to not have the privilege of opting out.

Those who enjoy the privilege of picking and choosing when their race matters should not direct conversations about racial inequity. There must be an intentional commitment to centering non-white people in the work of dismantling racial inequity in the arts (or any field). Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of silencing and self-congratulatory posturing.

This Misty Copeland situation led me to reach out to Staycee Pearl and Joseph Hall, co-creators of the Pearl Diving Movement Residency, a month-long residency in Pittsburgh that supports multimedia-based artwork by providing rehearsal space, technical support, mentorship, and a stipend to professional artists. They encourage “diverse voices in the local and national contemporary dance field” and non-dance fields to apply for the residency. Pearl says that black dance and movement artists in particular need to know that opportunities like the residency exist to help hone their skills, reach their dreams, and to have their voices heard. “Dance and art and performance are about life,” Pearl says. “They’re about putting each individual’s personal truth and our collective truth, on the stage.”

Pearl wasn’t surprised by the pushback Copeland has gotten for talking about race and dance. “People like Erin just don’t care, because they don’t have to care,” she says. “And they think equity means flipping the script so that black people are dominant. But that’s not what equity is. Equity is about justice and access.”

For further reading on this subject, Hall recommends The Black Dancing Body, a book by cultural historian and choreographer, Brenda Dixon Gottschild. In it, Gottschild explores the essence of black dance and talks about race “through the black dancing body.”

So at your organization’s next meeting about equity initiatives, look around the table. Who’s leading the conversation? Are you asking marginalized people to remain silent about being marginalized? To just be thankful they have a seat at the table? Or are you using your power to amplify their voices and respond to the challenge of what they’re saying about your field, your organization ... and you?

Deesha Philyaw is a writer and a mama. She believes in seeing color, talking about race, and using the Oxford comma.

 

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