July 09, 1998
University Gazette


Full contents
Police Log
Gazette Home
Gazette Archives
News Office



Project Will Expand Civic Dialogue Through the Arts

A.R.T. and DuBois Institute join forces in innovative initiative

The Institute on the Arts & Civic Dialogue, a joint project with the American Repertory Theatre and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, kicked off its inaugural session this week and continues through Aug. 14.

Directed by playwright and actor Anna Deavere Smith, the Institute has chosen artists in film, dance, music, theater, and the visual arts to create new works that illuminate the events and controversies of our time in a community that includes scholars, journalists, and civic activists.

"In a time when people are so alienated from politics and government, the Institute is an experiment that seeks to find ways in which artists can re-engage people not only in art, but also in the decision-making that affects their lives and the larger society around them," said Smith, whose vision led to the creation of the Institute.

Approximately 50 participants are living near the University, dining together, and joining in symposia and performances.

The three-year project has focused on artistic collaboration and discovery as methods for expanding civic dialogue. The goal of the public events is to strengthen the relationships among the artists, audiences, and communities through public discussion of pertinent civic issues reflected in the works of art.

Among the goals of the Institute are to explore ways to add an artistic component to the nation's conversation about differences, to develop artists who will illuminate the events and controversies of our time in a participatory and exploratory environment, and to re-examine assumptions about the relationship between the artist's individual identity and the voice of the community. The Institute creates an opportunity to expand artistic boundaries, develop innovative new academic models, and enhance citizen participation in our democracy.

With a $1.5 million challenge grant from the Ford Foundation, an extensive and broad-based search process has been under way since the Institute was launched in November 1997 to structure a creative community around major artists and their collaborators. The selections are:

* Choreographer Donald Byrd, and the Donald Byrd Dance Company, to rework his 1991 piece The Minstrel Show, which examines issues of race, stereotyping, and bias by exploring America's first indigenous form of popular entertainment, the minstrel show.

* Composer Stewart Wallace and lyricist Michael Korie, creators of the opera Harvey Milk, to develop a new opera titled High Noon, in

collaboration with producer Jedediah Wheeler, that explores the mythology of the American West and examines the use of guns and violence in our society.

* Shu Lea Cheang, a media installation artist and filmmaker of Fresh Kill (1994), will be developing Brandon (1998-1999), a one-year Web narrative in installments, which will be launched at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York on June 30. The project is an innovative cyberspace experiment that explores issues of sex and gender.

To help artists shape the projects, scholars, journalists, civic activists, and other artists will be an integral part of the community that the Institute is creating. A series of five-day workshops will occur within the Institute to focus on the thematic issues in The Minstrel Show, High Noon, and Brandon.

Several theater-related projects are planned, including:

* An improvisation workshop on Brandon directed by Liz Diamond, that will use Institute artist Shu Lea Cheang's model of the cyberspace courtroom to examine several recent cases of abuse and sexual assault.

* A theater laboratory for actors conducted by Anna Deavere

Smith to explore her performance technique, based on the materials she has been collecting for her new work in progress, House Arrest, which examines the presidency and its relationship to the media.

* A collaboration between legal scholar and The Nation

columnist Patricia Williams and composer-musician Oliver Lake.

Visual artist Judith F. Baca, founding director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), will be Senior Fellow at the Institute, providing perspective and reflections on her work linking diverse communities. Other members of the project team are Liz Diamond, Yale University drama professor, Senior Project Adviser, and Sandra Weathers Smith, Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, senior researcher.

The Institute will also include:

* A residency for playwright Brighde Mullins, whose latest work, Fire Eater, is included in New Work Now! at The Joseph Papp Public Theater.

* A presentation by Roger Guenveur Smith of his one-man play, A Huey P. Newton Story (free; Friday, July 17, 8 p.m. at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester), preceded by a series of workshops targeted at youth audiences.

"The Institute is a powerful idea that has generated an enthusiastic response from a wide range of individuals and institutions," said Andrea L. Taylor, Deputy Director. "Through its programs, the Institute seeks to empower artists and communities by developing an innovative process for civic engagement that may shape our democracy in new ways."

Audience development and strengthening the relationship between the community and the artist will be key activities. Several public events will be held on the campus and in the Greater Boston area. Youth participation will be encouraged, and interns have been recruited from local and national schools and universities to work with the artists and scholars.

The Charles Engelhard Foundation, Katie and Paul Buttenwieser, the Open Society Institute, and the Boston Foundation have provided major support for the project.


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College