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art for change

Begin with art, because art tries to take us outside ourselves. It is a matter of trying to create an atmosphere and context so conversation can flow back and forth and we can be influenced by each other. 

— W.E.B. DuBois 


Artists have been devoting energy to community and social change for years. They have encouraged dialogue, given people an outlet to express themselves and bolstered a sense of community. The arts have been used to draw attention to persistent social issues of identity, race, and religion. In the attempt to bring change and resolve these issues, the flow of conversation and dialogue is crucial to strengthen understand and change, and there are several groups around the world that I think embody these ideals of community, dialogue, and change if not perfectly then at least well enough to suit my needs. My project will examine these groups, their philosophies, teachings, and how they implement those things. 

The group that inspired this project is Theater of the Oppressed. Founded by Augusto Boal, Theater of The Oppressed strives to plant small seeds of change. It is not aiming to create a global revolution or an overhaul of “the system”, rather, it focuses on local problems, on the problems and hardships of the individual. Theater of the Oppressed uses games and improv exercises to create a space where people can suggest alternatives to abuse, or to speak their minds. It gives them an outlet and a safe space to speak.  “Our Freedom is to invent ways to help to humanize Humanity, freely invading all fields of human activities: social, pedagogical, political, artistic... Theatre is a Language and so it can be used to speak about all human concerns, not to be limited to theatre itself.”(Theater of the Oppressed <>) 

This philosophy is not, by any means, limited to Theater of the oppressed. there are organizations around the world that are making micro changes. Creativity for Peace uses art to create a safe space for girls from Palestine and Israel to talk to each other and understand one another and try to work through the prejudices of their cultural upbringing. Moving Arts, an organization in my home town, was started by two men to give children and teenagers an outlet and a way to express their often hard lives. These people are all making small changes in the world but when you put those small acts together hopefully some greater change can happen.

The People behind these groups are a main focus of my project. Talking about using art to change the world is great but the reality is always different than fantasy. I have heard people sit around and plan for days, citing academic papers and studies about trauma victims and child development and any number of resources that seem relevant, but when faced with a classroom of shy children, or a group of abused women, those theories and plans often get thrown out the window. The theory gets thrown out the window and all that is left is one person trying to help another. I am interviewing those people in an attempt to understand that process. I want to know who the people are that are giving people an outlet and a voice. 

Theater, when used right, can be an amazing tool to initiate dialogue about the harder subjects in life. It gives people the freedom to say what needs to be said but through a safe filter. many people can say through art what they otherwise cant in there real lives. There are groups and theaters around the world that are using this concept for change, and I want to bring those groups to my audience. 


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