John Dewey famously described art as experience—emphasizing that not only the aesthetic artifact but the entire process, which unfolds over time, makes art so vital. Dewey writes, "Works of art are the most intimate and energetic means of aiding individuals to share in the arts of living. Civilization is uncivil because human beings are divided into non-communicating sects, races, nations, classes and cliques" (1934, 336). Dewey was equally committed to experiential education, so much more aligned with democracy and the individual's proactive discoveries than a one-way authoritarian model of learning.
My touchstone for an art experience whose profound educational impact emanated from its whole process, took place when I was 21, co-facilitating a theater workshop in a men's maximum security prison. To say it produced knowledge does not capture its impact, shaking me to the root of my being, making me realize that I carried unexamined notions about who is incarcerated. We went deeper than our skin, and revealed things about ourselves we'd never have shared in "ordinary" encounters. This seems to me an example of Dewey's "arts of living." The plays we made gave form to aspects of our experience that resonated with and stretched the inmate audiences and makers alike.
Years later, I applied how I had learned in the prison theater workshop—through art's capacity to deepen relationships over time and allow people kept apart to know one another—to how I taught theater students. It's an approach familiar to many who do engaged art, humanities, and design. Expanding our students experience and complementing their book learning with hands-on, in-the-world learning inspires them to go back to books in order to probe deeper, which in turn arms them with more tools to go back out into the world. We desperately need experiences that allow us to know not merely the facts about people who are in different situations from us, but also their hearts and aspirations, fears and wounds, and mechanisms of survival and resistance. I feel a resonance with 2016 McArthur Award winner and African American poet Claudia Rankine, in her desire to found a Racial Imaginary Institute: "When white men are shooting black people, some of it is malice and some an out-of-control image of blackness in their minds" (2015). If ideas about race often take root in our imagination rather than as a result of our lived experience, because of de facto segregation, do we not need experiences that shift those perceptions?
Think of this issue of Public as a story circle with contributors responding to the prompt, "Tell a story of an experience involving art that generated new knowledge." In the Front Matter, choreographer/thinker Liz Lerman unpacks artistic methods as tools, including her marvelous-in-its-simplicity insight that the very shape that participation takes in a circle—the norm in many a performance workshop—sets everyone up as equals, reinforcing that we all have much to give and receive whatever our pedigree. Then numerous contributors honor our late, beloved colleague Randy Martin, whose life epitomized the intertwined threads of making art, producing knowledge/scholarship, being an active citizen in the political world, and teaching. Kathy Engel and David Dorfman each pay homage to Randy as a dear friend and colleague, emphasizing lessons both obvious and subtle that they learned from him. Bruce Burgett revisits an interview that he and several colleagues conducted with Randy, published in the journal the two of them cofounded, Lateral, opening the piece to four additional artist/scholars who dig into selections from the original text in retrospect. Randy, thank you for bringing attention to many different ways of producing knowledge in the world, and many kinds of people who do so. And thank you for your loving kindness.
The section Principles and Practices begins with Peter O'Connor and Michael Anderson's conception of applied theater as a form of participatory action research. It does not simply reflect the way the world is, but is a potent tool to help communities consider what they might become. Anthropologist Katinka Hooyer, grounded in objective science, affirms the subjectivity art brought to her work with veterans, teaching about social difference in a manner that nurtured empathy and compassion amongst participants and promoted healing. Art historian Elizabeth Grady argues for the importance, and frequent invisibility, of the duration of knowledge-generation set in place through an art project. Joe Osmundson uses an installation by Simone Leigh to reflect on how art can function as medicine.
In Case Studies and Resources, Amy Shimson-Santo shares how art and design both contributed to youth learning and reflected the youths' understanding of LA's transportation system. Anne Basting and Casey O'Brien describe an intergenerational project that used Little Women to inspire an arts-based look at changing ideas about gender. Lindsay B. Cummings and Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla describe the impact on students of not just the production of a musical linking people of joint Latino and Appalachian heritage, but also the opportunity to talk with people involved in making it.
The issue is rounded out with two reviews: Richard Alomar on Community Matters: Service-Learning in Engaged Design and Planning, edited by Mallika Bose, Paula Horrigan, Cheryl Doble, and Sigmund C. Shipp; and Aimee Cox on Camille Brown's dance piece, Black Girl: Linguistic Play.
Taken as a whole, this issue endeavors to express that knowledge creation through art-making is a multilayered, multisensory, multidimensional experience and that knowledge producers are more diverse than generally acknowledged. The articles challenge the notion that aesthetic practice is supplementary to knowledge production. And they are an antidote to the Gandhi saying that he was saddened by the hardness of heart of educated people. This brings us back to Dewey's notion of the arts of living, which take place with more than just our minds.
This marks my last issue as senior editor of PUBLIC, which I cofounded with Kathleen Brandt and Brian Lonsway. I thank Aimee Cox and Kim Yasuda for thinking this issue through with me. I am grateful to the many people who have made the journal possible, including the members of the editorial board and the staff: Judy Susman for her thoroughness as copy editor, Lynn Wilcox for her lovely layouts, and Suzanne Preate for her steadfast kindness and professional expertise as digital editor. It's been an honor to contribute to engaged scholarship through generating Public. I thank all those at Imagining America who believed in my capacity to shepherd this initiative.
The National Advisory Board of Imagining America is deeply grateful for the fantastic work of Jan Cohen-Cruz for co-founding PUBLIC, the IA journal and for being it's senior editor. Jan's unbounded enthusiasm, vision, and leadership defines what this online journal represents. She has worked ceaselessly to open and democratize scholarship to include the reflections of practitioners and engaged academics. An inveterate networker with deep roots in theater and performance, she has brought rare combinations of liveliness and intelligence, depth and range to these pages. This founding work has been both generous and critical, setting the foundation for the greater exercise of community cultural development and a more just, a more participatory democracy. Along with cofounders Kathleen Brandt and Brian Lonsway, a robust platform has been created for an IA e-journal surpassing limits and crossing borders. Thank you Jan Cohen-Cruz for this important work and your unflagging spirit.
—The IA National Advisory Board
As co-founders and co-design editors, we, too, wish to express our deep gratitude. We are grateful for Jan's invitation to share in her vision for a journal that would build on IA's commitment to public scholarship and break important ground in this field. She offered us an opportunity to explore and share with her ideas that would expand upon the forms, media and technologies of dissemination. Together with the support and investment of Syracuse University, the three of us were able to create and guide the journal you see today. Jan invited us warmly into the IA community, supported what at times may have seemed an insurmountable undertaking, and guided the editorial content of PUBLIC since its inception. As the journal embarks on a new chapter, Jan's vision for a public venue created for, with, and by the diverse community of engaged scholars and practitioners remains the core guiding principle of PUBLIC. Thank you for all that you have given both us and PUBLIC over the years.
—Kathleen Brandt and Brian Lonsway
In this keynote to the annual gathering of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, choreographer Liz Lerman reflects on artistic research as a source of tools with trans-disciplinary value. She references her “hiking the horizontal” theory (in which values conventionally perceived on a hierarchy can be reconceived on a level playing field), and discusses recent work with veterans that has led her to recognize that risk, purpose, and love provide essential meaning to the human condition. With examples from her career at the intersection of art, social purpose, and the quest for knowledge, she characterizes artistic research as a plurality embracing multiple forms of practice. Lerman urges artists to recognize and formulate how they make discoveries, gather meaning, and translate it into significant experience for diverse audiences. This process of “harvesting intuition” formulates tools that hold potential for applications that transcend the formulaic prescriptions suggested by the phrase “best practice.”
This is a personal remembrance of working with Randy Martin.
The conversation with Randy Martin explores the hows and whys of developing the capacity to move laterally across disciplines and sectors, a capacity that marked Martin's career perhaps more than any other. The conversation includes "elaborations" by some of Martin's collaborators in work that engages with the methods and practices of arts and design.
Considering that we live in a post normal world with multiple contradictions, ongoing chaos, and complexities, the authors argue that a different form of research is imperative for the planet's survival.
Combining ideas from performance research, decolonizing research methods, and particiapatory action research, an argument is made for applied theatre as research and as a form of democracy and community building.
Grounded in Freirean notions of critical hope, the authors argue for research which moves beyond describing the world as it is, to being part of a process in which it imagines it as it might be.
This “practice biography” of a participatory performance and anti-stigma classroom educational tool, Tracings of Trauma, illuminates the important role of emotion in intellectual work. It is rooted in interview data from Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans and illustrates how artistic translations of research provide social scientists ways to contemplate their work subjectively. Beyond benefits to the researcher, these translations can flow into the emotional landscape of audiences in ways that encourage reflection. This practice of transforming emotion and judgment into artistic products connects us more deeply to the people we work with and can be applied in ways that are relevant and accessible to those who help to produce the findings. The public practice of these interventions in our broader communities produces social change in ways that often escape traditional academic forms of dissemination.
In 2012 Craig Shillitto, in collaboration with a great many partners and collaborators, created the socially engaged artwork, Proyecto Paladar. It nominally took the form of a pop-up restaurant operating for eleven days during the Havana Biennial, adjoining the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, serving dinner to over 800 Biennial visitors and local residents. However, its duration was really much longer, requiring nearly a year of preparation, and its impact continues to be strongly felt. In this essay, I will explore the ways in which such socially engaged projects as Shillitto’s generate knowledge through their dialogic creative process, and how the ongoing dialogue and exploration that they initiate effectively extends their impact long past their putative completion date.
In collaboration with the arts funding organization Creative Time, artist Simone Leigh recently created an installation recreating the Free People's Medical Clinics that the Black Panthers originated in the 1970s. Her installation provided bodies with preventative care, while incorporating some of these acts into public performance. In this article, I consider the history of biomedical racism and sexism that were the canvas for Leigh's performance and consider why, and how, bodily care becomes artistic expression.
Basting and O'Brien share their collaborative experiences in building Slightly Bigger Women, a joint effort between the elders in Milwaukee's Creative Trust, UWM Theatre students, and UWM Women and Gender Studies students. A year of workshops yielded an original and interactive play exploring the changes since Alcott first published Little Women and the changes still needed.
This essay analyzes the activities of the Scholars’ Circle, an interdisciplinary cohort formed in conjunction with the musical theatre production of BETSY!, by Roadside Theater and Pregones Theater. From our position as participants, the authors consider the engagement ideals of community-based theatre and analyze the Circle’s attempts to use pedagogy and scholarship to engage new academic communities in dialogue, some of whom were geographically removed from the performance location. The challenges we encountered point to an ongoing challenge in community-based, popular, and publically-engaged art: the emphasis on dialogue, while central to the ethos of the work, can make engaging new participants and reaching new audiences/communities difficult. The authors recount their experiences in the collaborative process, observing that dialogic relationships need contact, inclusion, and time to germinate, emerge, and develop. Despite these challenges, this experience reinforces the artistic, pedagogical, and scholarly value of dialogue and engagement with community-based artistic projects.
This praxis informed essay analyzes a school-wide arts integration project with high school students in East Los Angeles that performed participatory research on Safe Routes to School (SRTS) in the neighborhood. The essay outlines a social engagement research design, conceptual framework, and case study analysis. The theoretical discussion shares philosophical ideas about social justice driven teaching and learning through the arts. The case study reveals micro-transformations that took place in classrooms committed to youth empowerment. Studying the city through the Arts allowed teenagers to amplify local knowledge, practice leadership, and envision alternative futures. Along the way, students cultivated personal and social agency as the heroes and heroines of their own stories, and learned new ways to intervene in urban systems that impact their daily lives.
Aimee Cox reviews choreographer Camille A. Brown's latest work, Black Girl: Linguistic Play which premiered at the Joyce Theater in New York City in 2015 and continues to tour throughout the United States.