Mar 23, 2020
Architecture, Arts Council

At the core of this proposal is a belief that there is a unique and intense relationship between creativity and democracy. This can be seen and understood in a multitude of ways. In the Arts, we can think of Jasper John’s engagement with the symbol of the American flag or Augusto Boal’s innovative work using theatre to support civic engagement. More recently, we can include the NEA and ArtPlace America’s efforts to support creative placemaking, which uses the arts as a way to support the vibrancy of our cities. These and other examples show a unique linkage between creativity and our ability to build a society that is rooted in the voice of its citizens. Though beyond the arts, numerous authors and theorist have also underscored similar relationships. In her writing about politics, Hannah Arendt considers the vital role of natality in politics as a means for citizens to creatively engage in vibrant discussion. John Dewey underscores the importance of creativity as a means to achieve democracy’s true vision. To this we can add Paulo Freire, JK Gibson-Graham, Giles Deleuze, Judith Bulter, and host others that consider the role creativity plays in allowing society to achieve new possibilities of which democracy is a resonant counter part. This project wants to cement a similar moment at UVA for exploring these ideas. Through an interdisciplinary event, the Art and Democracy Project will not only academically consider this relationship, but also use the arts as a means to imagine new forms of community engagement to support vital connections between residents and local government. This symposium will consist of two parallel but interwoven threads. The first will consist of a talk and subsequent engagement with students by writer, speaker, and arts consultant Arlene Goldbarb. Arlene is a pre-eminent thinker and writer on the relationship between art, community, and politics which is most vividly expressed in her books Crossroads: Reflections on the Politics of Culture, New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development; Community, Culture and Globalization, and The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future. Though this is also manifest in her work with the US Department of Arts and Culture, where her immense experience and knowledge supported a series of reports about the role the arts can play in healing, grassroots organizing, and responding to crisis. In conversation with several UVA based faculty and PhD students, Arlene will help to further consider the relationship between creativity and democracy spurring possible further collaborations with the UVA based Democracy Initiatives. In connection to this initial conversation and as a way to tangibly use the arts to develop democracy in Charlottesville, Katy Rubin, former Executive Director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, will produce a legislative theatre workshop meant to rethink the relationship between Charlottesville City Government and the community as a response to the events of 2017. Legislative Theater is a leading community engagement tool practiced around the world for 30 years and in the US since 2013, using theater to engage community members alongside policy-makers in shaping policy decisions. Katy, an internationally recognized LT expert and practitioner, has been working with a select cohort of government and institutional leaders to introduce this practice nationally, promoting transparency, creativity, and accessibility in the US political system.As a part of her work in Charlottesville, she will partner with City Council members, select community groups, and UVA students to think more deeply about the relationship that community has with its elected officials and develop a series of policies meant to support more direct community/government relationships. This will take place over a daylong workshop at City Council Chambers in Charlottesville.

The student impact included not only UVA Student but more broadly in partnership with PVCC and local high schools. This consisted of engaging these groups at sites and via multiple means. Throughout the fall of 2019, in preparation for the Symposium in early 2020, we hosted a series (4) of Theatre of the Oppressed Workshop at PVCC that engaged both the community and students. We worked with several UVA classes, UVA Clubs and student clubs to market and invite participation. During the week of the Symposium, the invited speakers engage a series of classes (Christa Robins – Art and Activism Course and George Sampson’s – Arts Admin Course) and spoke with a group of student at Brown College that were interested in community engagement and drama. During the final events at City Council chambers and the next day at the Downtown Library – UVA students both served in the groups developing performances that then served as a means to develop local policy, but also as participatory audiences in the various events. In total we engaged just over 250 UVA students, with that number rising to 350 when including other students.

With a deep commitment to making sure this project was both UVA and community focused, the project worked hard to impact the broader Charlottesville community. As a part of this we worked with community leaders Don Gathers, Shelby Marie Edwards, Adrienne Oliver, Lisa Draine, and a host of others to connect deeply with efforts taking place in Charlottesville. Beyond Charlottesville, the project provide connections to Virginia Tech’s Community/Performance project lead by Bob Leonard, the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation’s Arts and Health program, the People’s Coalition, and in connection to the recent Inside/Out photography project on the Cville Downtown Mall. Beyond this, we worked with Charlottesville City Council and Staff to secure the use of the City Council Chambers as a site for the Legislative Theatre Workshop and members of the Cville Human Rights Commission, a former Mayor, and the Chair of the Charlottesville Housing and Re-development Authority played a vital role as ‘policy leaders’ in the Legislative Theatre Workshop. In total – over 200 community participants were active members of the project at various stages.

We defined the following as our primary metrics for success.

  1. The number of students and community members included in the project – In total 550

2)Media coverage of the events – There was coverage by local television of 3 of our events and an interview with WTJU’s Soundboard and Cville Tomorrow.

3) Academic writing about the outcomes of the projects – This is still in formation as we are presently collecting reflections from participants, but have already been contacted by a journal focused on arts and community engagement to develop a collective article.

4) Spurring further conversation with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the UVA Democracy Initiative.

From the start of this project conversations between the College and the Democracy Initiative were ongoing. At multiple times throughout these efforts there was an expression of interest in the project, and the desire to see the linkage between creativity and democracy. Even so, we found it very difficult to connect and create the needed space with leadership in the Provost office, the College, and the Democracy Initiative to be active members in the project. This we see being the result of the immense about of work they are presently undertaking but could be seen as a lack of true commitment to considering these relationships, which is something we hope is still a possibility and will be pursuing further conversations. Beyond this – there has been an exciting response to the project. We will be partnering with local groups to explore how the legislative theatre process can support both policy development at the city and non-profit levels. We will also be developing a map of belonging in Charlottesville (documenting both places where people feel belonging and unbelonging) this will lead to the coordination of documents developing a policy on belonging that will be presented to both UVA and the City of Charlottesville.

The Arts Council provides advocacy, advice, and support in the Arts at the University of Virginia. It strives to develop and strengthen the bonds of interest and participation among the Arts Departments, their associated programs, and their alumni and friends; to advocate on their behalf; to advise and assist with communications; and to help raise funds in support of academic programs, facilities, and special events. Among its multitude of arts advocacy efforts, the Council awards annual Arts Council Grants. These grants have, and continue to play an instrumental role in a number of residencies, workshops, project and research-based endeavors proposed across Arts Grounds annually. This series of articles will highlight each funded project and serve to inform the UVA community of their unique timelines, progress and outcome reports.

See all 2019-2020 Arts Council Grants Awarded Arts Council Logo