This week, I’m in DC and Baltimore giving some talks on behalf of Global Arts Corps. First stop is to give a brown bag lunch presentation to the atrocities prevention division of USAID. Next stop is a pre-conference to Facing Race hosted by the Embrey Family Foundation. I’ll be leading one of the dinner-time roundtables on the theme of Monitoring & Evaluating Arts for Social Impact. Here’s a little bit of my notes-cum-presentation:
At a conference in Tokyo a couple weeks ago, Ong Keng Sen and other artists were speaking on the arts and society in post-earthquake Japan. In his keynote, Keng Sen said, “we have to remain potential … we cannot complete … when you take the action of completion, it’s always about power.” Ong Keng’s idea is common amongst artists doing big things, striving for large-scale impact, yet understanding that sometimes the most powerful interventions are hard to measure through traditional Monitoring & Evaluation approaches. Better understanding how artists and creative practitioners intuitively understand and perform evaluation can be useful to philanthropy and other sectors that may expect ‘completion’ to be a prerequisite for evaluation. As artists arise to leadership challenges by starting organizations to support other artists; strategically articulating their work as ‘social practice’ in response to funding cuts to culture (in the US/west); and making themselves increasingly visible – and thus vulnerable – in pronounced opposition to entrenched power around the world (as was the case recently with Ai Weiwei in China and Pussy Riot in Russia) are new forms of support to artists incumbent on society?
As both members of communities and storytellers, artists are uniquely placed to forge peace after conflict or to raise the alarm on new forms of impunity. And, in recent years, the intersection of Arts and Social Change has notably evolved into a subfield to reconciliation and conflict resolution, as well as an amplifier of indirect and subtle works that may become agitprop – in part – by a third party’s dissemination through social media.
As an artist-led organization, the Global Arts Corps is uniquely positioned to work on the issues of support and sustainability to artists doing critical work. Whereas we create dynamic theatre productions in communities emerging conflict in the short-term, we hold the continued engagement of these artists in conflict settings as our ultimate goal. We understand that other organizations working at the intersection of arts and social justice experience the same sustainability challenges, and therefore accept the additional (macro) responsibility of developing tools that strengthen the standing of artists and artist-led initiatives that are challenging injustice and working towards a peaceful future.
The Global Arts Corps creates theatre and film to advance reconciliation in societies emerging from violent conflict. We work with theatre artists who either once looked down the barrel of a gun at each other or, as children of conflict, still deal with memories not yet healed. Drawing from a global corp of artists – from South Africa, the Balkans, Northern Ireland and the US, we use theatre performances as catalysts for dialogue, from which we go on to build strong community bonds that stimulate and encourage conflict resolution through simple, yet dependable, acts of solidarity such as training professional actors, mentoring youth and witnessing local conditions in a multi-year engagement.