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US Department of Arts & Culture: An Act of Collective Imagination

USDAC LogoThe US Department of Arts & Culture is the newest national arts organization in the country. But despite its provocative name, it doesn’t take a penny from the government. In fact, it’s less of an organization and more of an idea. Founder Adam Horowitz calls it “an act of collective imagination.” Advocates like Americans for the Arts and Quincy Jones have been fighting for years for a cabinet-level arts and culture position in the government. Horowitz decided to start from the people instead.

The USDAC was launched during a press conference in October 2013 at the Imagining America Conference. It is based on a core set of beliefs: that culture is a human right, that cultural diversity is a social good, and that artists have important roles to play in community development. Low on funds and big on ambitions, the USDAC is looking to spark a locally-rooted, national movement to “provide universal access to empowering creative experiences that build empathy and social imagination.” Part arts initiative and part public performance, USDAC brings a healthy dose of playfulness to its work, as can be seen in their welcome video:

The USDAC has put out a call for twelve “founding cultural agents.” Those whose applications are accepted will receive six weeks of training, and be charged with hosting local “imaginings” in their communities, at which  artists, organizers, and other community members can envision a future for the country in which “art’s transformative power has been fully integrated into all aspects of public life.” If you’re not interested in being a cultural agent, but still want to get involved, you can enlist as a citizen artist.

With its rights-based framework and talk of community development, the USDAC is a new player in the field of community cultural development. In fact, Horowitz has brought community cultural development guru Arlene Goldbard on board as “Chief Policy Wonk.” The effort also received some unexpected press when it was attacked by Glen Beck, complete with comparisons to Nazi Germany!

The USDAC offers an overarching framework that could help to link and support diverse, often isolated cultural efforts around the country. But it will only work if we all get involved. Check out the website. Does it resonate with you? Might this blend well with the work you are already doing? Does it spark any new ideas? Where should the USDAC go next?

16 Days of (Arts) Activism

Forget the partridge and the pear tree, this past weekend saw the end of a quite different countdown: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. This campaign, begun in 1992 by participants of the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute, begins on November 25th, International Day Against Violence Against Women, and ends on International Human Rights Day, December 10th. Activists across the globe join together in a diverse and creative show of solidarity.

Here’s a little peek at how artists took part in this years festivities.

In Australia, a group of social service agencies brought together popular hip hop artists and youth who have experienced homelessness or sexual assault to create music that raises awareness about violence against women. One result of this is a CD, entitled 16 Songs for 16 Days, with 16 tracks from famous artists and one song written and performed by the youth. Graffiti and stencil artists were brought into the project to do publicity and cover art. Copies of the CD are (more…)

Day of Action: Troy Davis

Death Row inmate Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed on September 21st. Friday, September 16th will be a day of global solidarity. Take action now.

Convicted of killing a police officer in 1989, based on evidence that has been largely retracted or refuted in the intervening years, Davis’s case has become a rallying point for those fighting against the death penalty. For an up-to-date overview, see this article at Color Lines.

In honor of the day of solidarity, I wanted to share this beautiful work by street art collective Mentalgassi in London. It was created in support of the Amnesty International campaign for Davis in 2010. I find it a haunting image, and the choices of the fence to be a powerful one.

The final hope for Troy Davis’s life lies in the possibility of clemency from the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole, who will have a hearing on Monday. You can sign Amnesty’s petition here, and help collect other signatures, or find global solidarity events near you.