Discussing Art and Advocacy at the BA+JP May Community Dialogue

The Baltimore Art + Justice Project’s latest community dialogue brought together local artists, activists, practitioners, community members, and organizers to discuss building (and maintaining) collaborative, working relationships between artists and non-profits. The dialogue was held in partnership with the Public Justice Center who were not only wonderful hosts but provided insight into their own experiences of bringing together the non-profit sector and artists in multiple successful ways.

Jennifer Pelton, Director of Development at PJC, described the work they do as focused on targeting the roots of poverty.  Pelton described how the advocacy driven organization had used powerful images and photographs of real life situations in Baltimore, such as tenant evictions, to convey the importance of taking action on specific issues. In addition to photography, the organization has collaborated with the Megaphone Project multiple times on films and brought in performers for their anniversary benefit. Pelton described that art makes individuals feel compelled do get involved in political advocacy, bridging the gap between the two communities: “Art makes us talk about difficult topics and justice gives us a course of action for those topics.”

Elliot Rauh and Jessica Garrett from Single Carrot Theatre also described in detail their experiences bridging artistic and non-profit communities. The members from the socially engaged theatre company described working to grow outreach and education programs through the theatre. One program in particular they discussed was their annual reading of the “Murder Ink” column from Baltimore’s City Paper. Without any fanfare the SC Theatre company has read aloud the names from the previous years’ column with the intent to not only bring up those individuals’ names again and have them remembered as Garrett stated that “every human being deserves to be acknowledged when they die.” Single Carrot also hopes to create a conversation through the readings explained by Rauh, “theatre sparks dialogue.”

Elliot Rauh, Murder Ink Reading

Elliot Rauh, Murder Ink Reading

The challenges of bringing together artists and non-profits were addressed during the dialogue and many thought the difficulties often rest in understanding the different communities, cultures, and priorities. Some artists might feel that non-profits have not provided the room for creative possibility while non-profits feel that artists might not respect their responsibilities or priorities. It was clear, however that the desire for collaboration was high and the need for a coalition was strong. Continually individuals discussed how necessary it was to build off of the assets that each community can bring, and make sure that we continue to maintain open communication. It’s clear that there are artists and non-profits working on the same issues in Baltimore City that can make incredible work when they collaborate.

Keeping the dialogue going:

What makes for a successful non-profit/artist partnership?

What are your experiences?

What do you think?

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