Art and Community Discussion Guide

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Welcome to the YES! Discussion Guide Series

We're delighted that you've decided to take up some of the issues explored in YES! magazine in your class or discussion group. When people gather in groups to talk with mutual respect and caring about the critical issues of our time, they create a powerful avenue for constructive social change. The staff of YES! magazine has prepared this guide to help you get started. We hope you'll find it useful.

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Art and Community

Where does art fit in your life? Is it something you visit in a museum? Something you buy in a music store? Is art a mere luxury? Or can art change lives and communities, making life more livable by the act of creation? The artists we included in this issue suggest that art is necessary and urgent. These stories tell of the power of art to enrich, transform, and redeem.

We also discovered some causes for hope in a very different field—politics. We found signs of a new American majority and the story of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a politician who chose principle over re-election.

We encourage you to read the following articles to prepare for a discussion of this issue:

On art and community
Sonja Kuftinec, “Bridging Balkan Rapids,” 16-18
Various authors, “Art to the People,”  28-31
Martin Keogh, “The Time of Your Life,”  25-27
Milenko Matanovic, “Turning the Sword,”1 3-15

On a new American majority
Interview with Rep. Dennis Kucinich by Sarah Ruth van Gelder, 44-46
Paul Ray, “The New Political Compass,” 47-49

Art as Redemption
In “Bridging Balkan Rapids,” Sonja Kuftinec writes of a country dismembered by a war so intimate it turned neighbors against each other. Into this rubble, Kuftinec and others brought an absurd tool of reconstruction—theater. And yet it worked. Teenagers in this divided community began to come together as they crossed hostile sections of their city to tell their stories and create theater in a bombed-out building.

Theater helped these war-traumatized Bosnian teens approach explosive issues and speak of the unspeakable, beginning the process of rebuilding the bridges within the community that the war had destroyed. What about this art project made this possible? What techniques enabled the teenagers to interact and to tackle difficult issues?

What issues in your own community are explosive, divisive, and resistant to civil dialogue? What issues are so untouchable that they are not spoken about at all? What kinds of art might open up these topics to discussion? Have you encountered previously untellable stories? Who benefits when these stories are told? Are they sometimes better left untold?

Take a look at the seven examples of community art on pages 28-31; can you add any examples of community art from your own experience? What effects have these projects had on communities? What are the needs in your community that an art project might address? Talk about an art project that you'd like to try that might address one of these needs.

Making Peace with Time
Martin Keogh, in “The Time of Your Life,” writes that we are “time paupers,” constantly rushing. He discovered that an experimental dance form, Contact Improvisation, helped him find his way toward living in the moment, dancing and living more fully.

Do you feel short of time? Are you often rushing? Try some of Keogh's exercises. Try, for example, eating a raisin the way Keogh describes. What do you notice? Are any of his exercises helpful to you?
Have you experienced moments of full presence, when one moment flowed unhurriedly into the next? What techniques or activities help slow time down for you and let you live more fully?

Artists as Culture Scouts
Like Keogh, Milenko Matanovic suggests we look for places of silence, what Keogh calls waiting and Matanovic calls “a fierce listening for subtleties.” To find the seeds of art, artists labor to free themselves from consensus reality. Like children at play, artists look at the ordinary with fresh eyes. Artists can thus be “a culture's scouts, forging paths into the future.”

Have you ever had a “seed moment” of your own, when you saw something anew and re-imagined what was possible? Describe it. How did it change you? What artist or art works have you found to be culture scouts, helping you to see freshly? What artists or art works have most effectively disrupted consensus reality? How?

A New American Majority

New Political Possibilities
Dennis Kucinich explained to Sarah Ruth van Gelder that 20 years ago he was faced with a choice between principle and his political career. He chose principle and went into political exile for a decade. But now he is back in politics, leading the congressional Progressive Caucus and inspiring people across the country with his “prayer for America.” The thousands of supportive emails he has received support Paul Ray's claim that a new American majority is emerging. According to Ray, the social movements of the last 40 years sowed a new progressive culture that demands to be heard.

Do Ray's claims fit your experience? What do you think of his methods and, taking a look at the table on page 49, what do you think of the questions he asks? How do a pollster's choices of questions affect the data they receive? What questions might you want to ask your fellow Americans?

Does Ray's analysis of his data and his description of our situation fit your own observations? Does he accurately describe you or people you know? Do you find his dissection of the political axes into liberal left and social conservatives, on the one hand, and big business conservatives and new progressives, on the other, to be accurate?

Are we, as Ray argues, at a political watershed? If so, what kind? What causes for hope do you see in politics? What sources have you found for new political leadership and ideas?

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