[Page_Top_Explanation]Each spring, we select an annual theme by considering the projects of our Fellows, as well as prevailing trends that emerge from annual project proposals and the field at large. This theme is reflected within our public programs and DISCUSS online forums. Content generated from this exploration will culminate in a bi-annual book publication.[/Page_Top_Explanation]
A Legacy is something–an inheritance, an idea, a tradition–passed down from previous generations. Some of the 2016 ABOG Fellows celebrate cultural tradition that has been preserved in spite of oppression and economic duress; others work through the troubling heritage of slavery, racism, and colonialism that bedevils our present moment. Their processes vary widely, from studying the past in order to empower future creativity and growth, to approaching specific problems like clearing criminal records, or working to revitalize an abandoned neighborhood. Among them, some even seek to engineer renewal, overcoming old economic and social patterns while laying the groundwork for a more prosperous and equitable future. The artists ABOG is supporting this year ask us to acknowledge the responsibility we all share to address and remedy those elements of our historical legacy that have led to systemic injustices, while recovering and celebrating those that have been suppressed and repressed as a result.
2015-16: The Great Divide
“The Great Divide” captures the structural, social, economic and political divisions that our 2015 ABOG Fellows for Socially Engaged Art have identified as particularly pressing challenges for our current moment. In an unexpected look back, these Fellows are proposing that equity and inequity; access to resources, or lack thereof; and the relation between an individual and the law as we experience them today are profoundly shaped by the still dominant mythologies that were the bedrock of our nation over two hundred years ago. The Great Divide examines the legacy of Manifest Destiny, and the colonialist, expansionist ideologies that are still present in political speech but also the everyday aspects of life in the United States and beyond. Whether the issue is the post-colonial legacy, seen in the aftermath of slavery; the oppression of indigenous women in Ecuador; or geographic and economic expansion, the dissonance resulting from the clash of outdated visions with harsh reality is the focus of our Fellows’ investigations. The Great Divide acknowledges this historical legacy, while exploring the tensions it has engendered in the present, with the aim of exploring new possibilities for resolving them in the future.
2014-15: Future Imperfect
Social change often challenges “the system”. Sometimes the system is visible—the prison system, the health care system, the education system. Sometimes, the system is a habit of thought or internal “cop in the head” (hat tip to Augusto Boal) that polices our behavior and governs the way we see ourselves in the world.
Perhaps the failures of our governmental, economic and social systems can be seen as a failure of the imagination. If so, what happens when art, an act of imagination, is used to creatively address these failures? What happens when instead of “fighting the man,” artists become involved in reimagining the way things work? A Blade of Grass’ 2014 Fellows for Socially Engaged Art and Organizational Grantees address this notion in different ways. By creating and expanding on ad hoc solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, the artists’ projects we are working with this year visualize ways of addressing, changing, getting around and otherwise confounding “the system” to foster greater freedom and equity in our society.
This year’s theme is Activism. We define an artist’s activism as the effort and intent to enact social change through his/her work. In taking up the topic of Activism, we as an organization are also interested in continuing to develop a critical stance toward our own relationship to power. In what ways can we responsibly acknowledge it? How can we work to mitigate its less positive effects, and maintain transparency in our decision-making?
Why is activism important to socially engaged art?
- When we think of activism, we think about people who are working together to enact social change. People use radical ideas, collective actions, and creative exchanges as ways to impact the way we think about the world around us, and to inspire us to make a difference.
- Activism is important to socially engaged art because it is inherent to the principles of this art practice. Socially engaged art is social rather than material – it places emphasis on what is possible when people come together to do something.
- Socially engaged artists often think about how practical a project can be – they are thinking about the communities they will affect and how the outcome of their projects will make an impact.