A theatrical performance, an exhibit, or a piece of sculpture
can foster civic engagement, says Pam Korza, co-director of Animating Democracy, a program
of Americans for the Arts.
| Pam Korza, co-director of Animating Democracy, a program of Americans
for the Arts, discusses the role art can play in creating opportunities for
dialogue, during a workshop on art and democracy.
|Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer
“Art can open opportunities
for people who typically wouldn’t come together,” Korza said during a workshop, “Animating Democracy through the Arts,” in the
Student Union on March 14.
The event was the first of a six-part series that explores the connections between university education and democracy.
“Art creates indelible images,” she said.
“It can communicate beyond the limits of language.
Art can express different ideas through metaphor. It’s a powerful force for illuminating the civic experience. The resonance of imagery has a lasting effect.”
She said the idea of art connecting democracy is evident across a wide continuum of work and activities.
“When we began our work in Animating Democracy, we started with the notion that at one end of the continuum is art that makes social commentary,” she said.
“The artists may or may not have any intention that people will engage with it through dialogue or participatory process. It exists. It makes a statement, and it may incidentally provoke people to connect around an issue.”
At the other end of the spectrum, she said, “there is art that
is motivated around a particular action – artists who are activists working toward social justice
and social change. Then there’s a
wide body of activity that happens in between.”
Korza co-authored, with Barbara Schaffer Bacon and Andrea Assaf, Civic Dialogue, Arts & Culture: Findings from Animating Democracy. She co-edited Critical Perspectives: Writings on Art & Civic Dialogue.
She worked with the Arts Extension Service (AES) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for 17 years.
AES develops community through the arts and the arts in community by supporting the educational needs of arts administrators, artists, and community partners.
At AES, she coordinated the National Public Art Policy Project, in cooperation with the Visual Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Korza said art is “a spark or catalyst. Creative work itself – a performance, an exhibition, a street theater piece – can be a focal point that gets people thinking and engaging around an issue. It might open up an opportunity, or create an invitation for people who typically wouldn’t come together.”
She showed video clips from Animating Democracy art projects that brought people and communities together, opening civic discussion about a range of issues.
Hair Parties, for example, a
project of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Urban Bush Women, brought dance and dialogue into people’s living rooms, beauty salons, and church basements in Brooklyn.
“They explored issues of race and class around the common notion of our hair and the embedded politics,” Korza said.
The exhibition, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, showcased photographic prints and postcards that document the history of lynching in the U.S.
“The museum used the exhibit as an opportunity to reignite dialogue about race in Pittsburgh,” she said.
Another project, called Abundance, brought minimum-wage workers and millionaires together to discuss money and create collages about the subject.
“The idea of art as a space for engagement is not only about physical space that art may inhabit,” Korza said.
“There’s a psychological place that it can create that’s conducive to discussion and reflection. In that too, is the notion of emotion in public engagement or in democracy. Issues typically stir people. We get emotional about them, yet in our society they’ve been squelched in public realms. Art can give permission for emotion in public space and get us to a more honest place in our engagement with