Here are five questions that the play, Something to Behold, prompts me to ask. Check out the project overview for context.
#1. What does art in a democracy look like?
In the play, at first the Artist is worried: With the perceived trappings of privilege that being an artist often carries, I worried I’d face a problem working in West Baltimore. So I was hesitant to show off my skills. Until one day, a community member told me, “Man, we need you to share what you got.”
Thinking about the art that’s made in the play – for example, those 12-foot outdoor sculptures conceptualized by young, single mothers in the community: What’s the relationship between art and the lives of people in an economically struggling community like West Baltimore?
#2. How do people decide to work together to better their community?
The Artist brings people together to tell their stories about Baltimore’s Highway to Nowhere. In the play, the Community Organizer recalls: “A lot of people showed up, and they were teary-eyed talking about the past. I started thinking about my own memories and realized – damn, this is part of my story too.” The community starts to express their history through art. The Organizer notes: “I had organized before around crime, sanitation, infant mortality – you name it. Deficit ideology. To organize around something that the community could create – now that was fresh and new!”
What strategies do you find most effective for getting groups to imagine a healthier, more just community and to work for their vision?
#3. How can art, culture, and organizing produce positive social change?
The play includes several theories of change:
- The Framework of “Remembrance, Healing, Celebration, and Resilience”
- The Analysis about “The Rock and The Hard Place” and the fluid “Third Space”
- The need for constant awareness of and opposition to the status quo’s unrelenting exertion of force
What theories of change do you use in your work, and how do they affect your artistic process?
#4. How can a large-scale festival advance social justice locally and nationally?
The play focuses on producing a festival in West Baltimore. CultureWorks was the local community organizer and festival host, and Alternate ROOTS was the national organizer and festival producer.
What successful strategies have you used to form a bond between the local and the national?
#5. How can we better understand the power dynamics involved in advancing social justice?
Within the play there are numerous power plays. I’m asking myself, what are the underlying assumptions and motivations for each of these opposing stakeholder groups?
- The Barber and other community residents who strongly disagree with CultureWorks’ vision for a “Highway to Somewhere”
- The foundation and university leaders who will only support the festival if it’s moved to East Baltimore
- City Hall who slaps a $50,000 “culture tax” on the festival
Please share your insights to these questions, and other questions the play raises for you, in the comments.