Art2Action and Animating Democracy present Animating Democracy: Voter Mobilization and the Arts, the first event in the series Animating Democracy: REFLECTING FORWARD, livestreaming on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Wednesday 28 September 2022 at 1 p.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC -7) / 3 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 4 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC -4).
For more than two decades, Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, has created spaces for critical exchange and catalytic learning in the field. In supporting projects on the ground, so many issues and questions were raised and addressed by artists, cultural organizations, and their community partners. Many of these issues and questions persist, but in a changed and more charged context. In three fall events, the Animating Democracy: Reflecting Forward series considers the practice and progress of community-based and socially/civically-engaged art and culture over recent decades, and its promise, now and into the future. Each session brings together trailblazing artists and cultural leaders from Animating Democracy’s founding years with a new generation of leading-edge practitioners and thought leaders from the arts and other sectors. Through the lens of their work, featured speakers and artists will help articulate critical questions of the day, and for the future of arts and culture work, as a spark, invitation, and space for social and civic change.
Watch the livestream on this page, or register here to join the Zoom room, receive reminders, and request a free copy of the groundbreaking book Civic Dialogue, Arts & Culture: Findings from Animating Democracy.
Animating Democracy: Voter Mobilization and the Arts
Ongoing voter suppression, disinformation, the overturning of laws protecting women’s rights: U.S. democracy is in distress. With mid-term elections approaching, this session explores the roles that artists can play in working together with organizers to motivate voting and civic participation, and to promote dialogue about the state of our democracy. How can artists and activists navigate their different ways of working, and how can cross-training prepare them for strong collaborations and impactful results? What creative strategies have worked best? How do organizing bodies integrate the artistic imagination, and how can artists integrate organizing principles into their work? What’s needed to animate democracy right now?
This session centers two projects, #HTownVotes and THE RACE. #HTownVotes was a partnership between Houston in Action and Art2Action designed to mobilize youth and people of color to vote in the 2020 election. Through ten artist-led projects, artists worked with organizers in Harris County, Texas, and nationally, creating culturally relevant (and mostly virtual) artistic works to inspire and mobilize voter engagement. In a case where numbers count, cultural organizing contributed to the largest voter turnout of people of color in the history of Houston.
Sojourn Theatre’s THE RACE was presented across the nation in the lead up to Presidential elections in 2008, 2016, and 2020. Sojourn Theatre devised this piece over the course of two years (2006-2008) at the invitation of Georgetown University, using theatre to provide space for civic inquiry and civic dialogue on campus and in Washington, DC. The show blends performance, call and response, question and answer, a global Skype chorus, dance, and karaoke into a participatory, highly choreographed, and at times improvised exploration of what the United States wants in a leader and how we decide our leaders.
Andrea Assaf (facilitator) is a writer, director, performer, and cultural organizer. She is the founding artistic and executive director of Art2Action Inc., and co-director of the National Institute for Directing and Ensemble Creation, a partnership with Pangea World Theater. Her seminal work, Eleven Reflections on September, commissioned by Pangea, has been featured at the Carver Community Cultural Center, the National Asian American Theatre Festival at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (produced by Consortium of Asian American Theatres and Artists), La MaMa, The Apollo Theatre, the Kennedy Center, and internationally. Awards include: 2021 Silk Road Film Awards Cannes (Director, Best Experimental Feature), 2020 Pushcart Prize Nomination, 2019 New England Foundation for the Arts National Theatre Project, 2019 and 2011 National Performance Network Creation Fund Commissions, 2017 Finalist for the Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, 2010 Princess Grace Award/Gant Gaither Theater Award for Directing, and more. Andrea has a Master’s degree in Performance Studies and a BFA in Acting, both from NYU. She currently serves on the Board of the Consortium of Asian American Theatres and Artists, Alternate ROOTS, and is a founding Steering Committee member of the Middle Eastern/North African Theatre-Makers Alliance (MENATMA).
Michael Rohd is director of the new Co-Lab for Civic Imagination at the University of Montana/Missoula (UM), focusing on building collaboration between campus, local, regional, and national partners. Michael also will join the UM faculty in the College of Health and the College of the Arts and Media, serving in a collaborative role that will prioritize cross-discipline coordination. A theatre artist and community dialogue designer with a national record of cross-sectoral work and thought leadership, Michael’s professional focus for thirty years has been on civic imagination, defined as the capacity among residents and local leaders to collectively and creatively envision a just, healthy and equitable future for everyone. He is an Artist for Civic Imagination at Center for Performance and Civic Practice, and an ensemble member at Sojourn Theatre. Sojourn Theatre, a grantee of Animating Democracy in the early 2000s, implemented a project in Lima, Ohio to address issues of race, leadership, and water resources that divided city and county officials and residents. Michael authored the book Theatre for Community, Conflict, and Dialogue. Prior to his new post at the University of Montana, Michael was Institute Professor at Arizona State University on a leadership team with a mission of disrupting and innovating the ways arts and design are perceived and deployed in community settings beyond the arts sector.
Frances Valdez is executive director of Houston in Action, a collective impact initiative that believes that by working together to reduce systemic barriers they can increase civic participation in the greater Houston region. The collective work of Houston in Action’s more than one hundred members, partners, and affiliated stakeholders is moved by the shared ethos that, regardless of social identity, people should have equal opportunities to participate in and have a meaningful impact on civic life. In 2020, Frances engaged Houston in Action to be a central leader in Census 2020 efforts and 2020 election coordination in Harris County. Instead of focusing solely on numbers and votes, Houston in Action’s Census work focused on holistic care, recognizing that communities most at risk for an undercount were also suffering from COVID-19. Leaning into the collective impact model, Houston in Action worked with and directed funding to organizations already embedded in communities, encouraging the growth of community bonds. In 2021, that work continued post-census to include coordinating efforts for equitable vaccine implementation in Harris County, the creation of Unity Maps with member organizations to affect redistricting lines, and the implementation and funding of Black, Latinx and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) grassroots organizing cohorts in Houston. Prior to starting Houston in Action, Frances was an immigration attorney, advocacy and policy advisor, director, and civic engagement coordinator within the immigrant rights movement.
Save the dates for the rest of the series!
Session Two: Art, Race and Dialogue
Thursday 13 October, 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET (New York, UTC -4)
Featuring: Traces of the Trade filmmaker Katrina Browne, and multimedia theatre artist James Scruggs, facilitated by life strategist, writer, and curator of the Lumbee Film Festival, Kim Pevia
Session Three: Artistic Imagination as a Force for Change
Friday 18 November, 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET (New York, UTC -4)
Featuring: adrienne maree brown, author and writer-in-residence at the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute, and choreographer Jawole Zollar, founder and visioning partner of Urban Bush Women, facilitated by culture strategist Sage Crump
Click here for more details!