Art by its very nature is a social happening. At the Arts Council, we are working hard to use this concept expertly and advantageously for the arts and heritage organizations we serve by encouraging us all to work more closely together in today’s trying times for the arts.
In the spirit of this idea, last Thursday (Apr 5) three of our grantee organizations, TheaterWorks, Community Partners in Action’s (CPA) Prison Arts Program and Judy Dworin Performance Project (JDPP), joined forces to showcase a myriad of different art forms at Give Night where proceeds benefited both CPA and JDPP. The evening boasted a reception hosted by TheaterWorks, a viewing of the women’s portion of CPA’s 34th Annual Show, as well as performances by JDPP. Additionally, the Arts Council’s CEO Cathy Malloy provided the curtain speech before a production of TheaterWorks’ newest play RED.
Entering the jam-packed City Arts on Pearl building with my coworkers from the Arts Council, I first mused through the Prison Arts Program 34th Annual Show. Unlike other exhibitions I’ve seen where pieces seem connected through a common artistic style or technique, each artwork I viewed represented an entirely different approach manipulated by an entirely different story or background. Whereas some subtly alluded to a longing for family, friends and/or a return to a previous state, some emanated a fury and pain intensified by the difficulties of isolation. Before this exhibition, I have never seen any form of art from those incarcerated in prisons; however, after seeing and feeling the emotion clawing from each piece I saw that evening, I no longer will think about inmates the same way.
This sentiment was only furthered by JDPP’s performances, which included dancing, singing and spoken word excerpts from JDPP’s critically-acclaimed piece Time In and its newest Meditations from a Garden Seat. Inspired by the women of York Correctional Institution’s reflections on time as well as their dreams and aspirations, the performances gave movement and voice to the visual arts exhibition I had just seen. Considering each sight and sound as pieces in the evening’s artistic puzzle unlocked a holistic and affective illustration of what life is actually like for incarcerated women – its tests and toils, its hopes, and, ultimately, its humanity.
Luckily, the investigative and pensive mood JDPP’s performances and the Prison Arts Annual Show generated inside me put me in the proper spirit for TheaterWork’s RED. Following the expressionist Mark Rothko just after his commission to produce murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant, the production challenged me to reinvestigate my understandings of the mind and emotion. Oftentimes I define concepts by contrast; for instance, darkness could not exist as an idea without light, happiness without sadness, etc. Perhaps mistakenly, I had always considered the mind dichotomous to emotion. Throughout Rothko’s passionate descriptions of his philosophies on art and life with his assistant Ken, as well-argued as they were, I couldn’t help but penetrate the words to search for a deeper emotional subtext. In essence, I used arguments, which originate in the mind, as a vehicle to unravel personality and emotions of the characters more than anything else, forcing me to reconsider definitions of concepts I thought I had ironed out through several grad school papers.
In my eyes, this sneaky ability art has to incite reinvestigation is one of the major reasons it’s so vital in today’s world. Rather than remain stagnant, art continues to push creativity and change, expertly maneuvering around a set definition always. Through collaborations like Give Night, individuals have an opportunity to be a part of this social and cultural growth and to experience firsthand the variety of phenomenal, moving art available in our community.
Congratulations again to TheaterWorks, CPA’s Prison Arts Program and JDPP for a wonderful and successful event.
(All photos by Nick Lacy, courtesy of JDPP)