Does Art Matter? A Capital Fringe Discussion
With oil still spilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and multiple wars ongoing, can art make a difference in our nation’s capital?
That was the focus of Does Art Matter, a lively discussion sponsored by the Capital Fringe Festival’s Training Factory. On a steamy Monday night, artists and art lovers got together to talk about the role of the creative arts in DC.
Led by Brian Francoise of the Baltimore Theatre Project, this was not a dry symposium with experts on stage and an audience politely listening. Instead, everyone had to participate. The first thing Brian did was get everyone to stand up. Then he asked the group to align themselves on an imaginary axis, with one end representing the belief that art must have a message. The other end was for people who believed in art for art’s sake.
Brian then asked the participants why they chose their spot on the axis. People who believed that art should have a message thought that it should serve the community. Those at the opposite end of the spectrum, felt that art should be, above all, art and didn’t need to express a political belief.
In the next exercise, the group reshuffled itself, this time along the imaginary axis of community. Do you feel connected to your community? This prompted discussions about the nature of belonging and connectedness, key concerns for such a transient city as DC.
These exercises had the purpose of bringing the diverse group together as you got to know your fellow participants. Discussions followed in smaller groups, as people were asked to talk about how art had made a difference in their lives or the lives of others. The stories were fascinating, everything from listening to Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock to seeing how theater could help injured war veterans. Art had changed lives, helping people heal or inspiring them to pursue their own creative goals.
The end of the meeting saw Khadijah Moon Ali Coleman of Running:AMOK and John Chambers of BloomBars lead the group in a discussion of next steps. How could we strengthen the artistic community in DC? The emphasis was on bringing people together, face to face, as we had done that evening. Art has the power to create community in the very diverse and often disconnected city of DC. The Capital Fringe Festival had brought together “every type of person you can imagine,” in the words of Julianne Brienza, director of the festival.
Does Art Matter was part of the Fringe Training Factory, Capital Fringe’s year-round program that supports the development of emerging performing artists and companies in DC and beyond. The Capital Fringe Festival runs until July 25.
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