Harmony: Reasons for Artists and Activists to Collaborate – Part 2 (8/19/11)

The previous Harmony Project blog explored two of the many reasons that artists and activists collaborate. This week Arlene Goldbard interviews Sarah Crowell, the Artistic Director of Destiny Arts, and Donna Porterfield, Managing Director of Roadside Theater, about more ways that artist-activist collaborations can multiply impact.

Choreographer Sarah Crowell:
Creating Opportunities for Public Dialogue – Bringing More People into the Conversation

Destiny Arts’ artistic director Sarah Crowell is collaborating this summer with the Rex Foundation and the International and Multicultural Studies Department of the University of San Francisco School of Education in mounting “The World As It Could Be,” an institute that trains teachers, non-profit leaders, and graduate students how to integrate the arts into their teaching of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration, adopted in 1948, is the seed-stock of all modern human rights legislation, as Article 1 attests: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Through direct experience, participants in The World As It Could Be learn to teach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights using spoken word, visual arts, dance/movement, performing arts, digital arts, and music.

Asserting rights isn’t enough to guarantee them, of course, which is why so many people care about keeping the Universal Declaration alive and fresh. (If you’re interested, here’s a little essay I wrote on the occasion of its 60th anniversary.) Watch the culminating video from last year’s institute to learn how arts work has been used to expand the reach of this message.

Each collaboration is different,” Sarah Crowell told me, “and each one is a learning experience. Each one helped me clarify what questions I would ask in starting any partnership. Who are the main players? What is the time that we’re dedicating to the project? What’s the beginning? What’s the process? What’s the middle, what’s the end?”

Sarah Crowell Talks About Destiny Arts

Destiny Arts

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“Destiny Arts helped me discover who I am in this world, and what I am supposed to be doing.”
– Sarah Crowell

Sarah Crowell, has taught dance, theater and violence prevention to youth and adults for over 20 years. She is currently the Artistic Director of Destiny Arts, where she co-founded the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company in 1993, a troupe for teens to co-create original movement/theater productions based on their own experiences. The troupe performs for over 20,000 audience members a year at conferences, festivals and other events.

Theatre Artist Donna Porterfield:
Expanding Awareness to Increase Activism – Building a Movement

In 2002, Roadside Theater’s Managing Director Donna Porterfield developed the play and workshop, “Voices from the Battlefront,” through a year-long residency with HOPE House, a women’s shelter in Norton, Virginia. The project addresses domestic violence, which has been designated by the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association as the single greatest cause of injury to women in the state.

Awareness is one antidote, and Roadside offers the play as part of a five-hour workshop addressing the complexities of domestic violence. As with many of its works, Roadside encourages people to read, adapt, and perform the script of “Voices from the Battlefront,” requiring only that permission be requested and received.

The script was developed through story circles where survivors of domestic violence in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia shared stories. Each workshop includes a performance of the play followed by story circles designed to help the audience members relate to what they just saw.

I asked Donna how she would convey the value of this type of artistic collaboration to potential collaborators, and she told me that nothing can replace direct experience: “It’s an intuitive kind of experience. We can talk about it, and we have written it down, but until you’ve actually done a story circle, you can’t imagine all the possibilities. It has to be about experiencing some part of it, and wanting to experience more.”

It is about people figuring out how to express their own stories and also to define and solve their own community’s problems. They may see the tools that we have to offer and know what we’ve done before, but they have to see that it means something to them. That’s primary.”

Roadside Theater Works with Hope House


Click the Picture to Read about the Play

“The story circle process required them to tell their own stories as well as listen to ours. They had to lay it on the line. Story circles aren’t rocket science, you know. If people listen to each other, they learn. That’s the whole point.”        – Joy Smith-Briggs, Hope House Director

Roadside Theater is an indigenous ensemble located in the coalfields of the Appalachian Mountains. Since their inception in 1975, their mission has been to make their community aware of itself. Their play, “Voices from the Battlefront,” weaves personal stories of domestic violence with archetypal Appalachian folk tales and ballads passed down as warning tales.

Note: This bi-weekly series about successful collaborations between women artists and women’s organizations is part of the WomenArts Harmony Project.

About Arlene Golbard

Arlene Goldbard is a writer and consultant focusing on the intersection of culture, politics and spirituality. See her talks and writings at her Web site: www.arlenegoldbard.com.

Special Thanks

WomenArts is supported by generous grants from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, the Peace Development Fund, East Bay Community Foundation, the Leo S. Guthman Fund, the Do A Little Fund, and by gifts of time, energy and money from artists and arts supporters around the world.

About WomenArts
WomenArts (formerly known as The Fund for Women Artists) is a community of artists and allies dedicated to celebrating and supporting art by and about women. For an overview of our programs and services, please see the About Us section of our website.

This entry was posted in Arts & Social Justice, Dance, Interviews with Women Artists, Theatre on by .

About Arlene Goldbard

Arlene Goldbard is a writer and consultant focusing on the intersection of culture, politics and spirituality. See her talks and writings at her Web site: www.arlenegoldbard.com. Her most recent books include New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development (New Village Press, November 2006), Community, Culture and Globalization (Rockefeller Foundation 2002) and Clarity, a novel. Her essays have been published widely, and she speaks frequently. She has provided advice and counsel to hundreds of community organizations, independent media groups, funders and policymakers. She is writing a new book on art’s public purpose. She serves as President of the Board of Directors of The Shalom Center.