Artist Julia Hensley on the Arts & Social Change Symposiumby 4Culture on Oct 30, 2012 • 4:34 pm 1 Comment
Guest blogger Julia Hensley recently attended the Arts & Social Change Symposium and shares her experience:
“The dialogue around the arts is imperative. We need to create a space where we can unpack it, discuss it, take it apart.” - Donna Walker-Kuhne, Walker International Communications Group
“Organizations are building themselves. Movements are building ecosystems.” – Dr. Manuel Pastor, the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at USC
“Why do we think that what we have to teach is the only thing worth learning?” - Jordan Keith, The Urban Wilderness Project
“In order to believe that art can create social change, you have to believe that social change needs to happen.” - Jen Graves, the Stranger
I’m Julia Hensley, a visual artist and founder of Julia’s Studio where I teach and mentor adults in drawing and painting. I recently attended the Arts and Social Change Symposium sponsored by 4Culture along with a number of other public agencies and funders. It affected me in ways I am still processing.
One of the most powerful ideas I heard as a thread running through the Symposium was the idea of going into communities and listening to people and hearing what they are interested in and what they have to contribute, rather than imposing ideas on them.
Dow Constantine and Mayor McGinn both gave warm pro-arts talks, Constantine’s in the morning and the Mayor’s before the evening performances at the Intiman Theater. These two politicians as well as the new interim director of the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Randy Engstrom, made me glad to live in a town that values art.
The performances were well chosen. Splinter Dance is a young troupe that portrays weighty topics like domestic abuse, war, and racial prejudice with an emotional power that would be the envy of any seasoned company. Tou Ger Xiong is a comedic social activist, a Hmong performer and communicator whose personality could melt a crowd of gangsters.
I enjoyed the workshops, panels and performances but my favorite events were the two out-of- town guests, Dr. Manuel Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at USC (PERE) who spoke on the changing national demographic, and Donna Walker- Kuhne from New York who spoke at the end of the second day.
Dr. Pastor was funny and engaging and delivered serious insights about the needs of immigrants, who are “not angry but aspirational,” he pointed out. “They want to be part of America.” He also emphasized the need to anticipate the “majority minority” the US will see by 2042.
But it was his use of a metaphor that sent a ripple of recognition through my brain. “There are two kinds of leaders,” he said at one point, “those who like the game of chess and those who like the game of jigsaw puzzle.”
“One system,” he explained, “sees in black and white, the other in multicolors. One system relies on a hierarchy, the other on the equal importance of every piece. In one system you try to win, in the other you try to put together a whole.”
One of my favorite metaphors in teaching drawing and painting is the jigsaw puzzle. All my students know that you can’t draw a shape without simultaneously drawing part of the one next to it, because they share an edge. They know that the way to make a whole picture is to pay attention to how all of the parts fit together.
Here was the same “puzzle” image applied to leadership! I liked that but I started to think, couldn’t it be applied even more widely, to the place of art in the world along with the economy, the environment, education, health and social concerns?
A big, obvious truth was sitting in plain sight waiting for me to stub my toe on it. Every aspect of life that concerns us and our politicians is connected. You can’t neglect one without affecting the others. It may seem obvious but it struck me hard, and suddenly I could picture it.
New York guest Donna Walker-Kuhne’s company, Walker International Communications Group, consults with arts organizations all over the world to increase audience diversity. She spoke at the end of the second day. Her talk was dynamite. It reinforced and expanded my thoughts and gave me new ones.
“The secret is, she continued, Seattle is leading the way. People think it’s New York. Look around this room; it’s like the United Nations in here!”
And it was good to look around and see a much more representative slice of cultures in the room than I usually see in my limited rounds of the Eastlake-U-District-Capitol Hill-South Lake Union parts of town.
“The arts,” said Ms. Walker-Kuhne, “let us see what’s right about each other.”
And nothing happens till we act, as 4Culture’s Charlie Rathbun pointed out, quoting Peter Drucker: “Culture, eats strategy for breakfast.”