Archive | October 2013

Guest Blogger: Devlon Waddell Art is Important?

You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important.~James Baldwin, Conversations with James Baldwin

I submit that life is justice, and the pursuit thereof. The correlation of life and art can be made in any number of trite, uninspired ways. I imagine that my movement toward my own artistic self was, directly, a byproduct of life–living. I would always find myself experiencing a special sort of alone. Suffering through a oppressively mundane existence; struggling to announce a me that is indeed alive and present. Beyond the platitudes of elders and encouragement of contemporaries there was a void left. The irony seems always to be that one is, too often, unaware of the missing piece.

I’ve only adopted the “artist” moniker to offer society the opportunity to frame what it is that I do to survive. And, I was so inclined only because I read something that I thought only happened to me, and discovered it happened 61 years ago, to someone else.

Where does art and justice intersect? In a full-on, speed limit be damned, unapologetic, unashamedly reckless attempt at experiencing the most rewarding life possible. This approach is predicated on the notion that one’s success, happiness, validation, affirmation and joy are all, at once, utterly dependent on those things being equitably experienced by his/her community. Without regard to religious leanings, certain truths remain:”For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”  So what of the fullness of life, if it is experienced in a vacuum?

I am alive. I am living. I am art. I am justice.

Devlon E Waddell
Co Founder/Director
www.dewmorebmore.org

Guest Blogger: Camilla Roberson Just Kids

October 23, the Just Kids Partnership will be hosting its second annual “Art with a Story” at the Creative Alliance, from 6-8 pm.  This event features visual and performance art as part of Youth Justice Awareness month in an effort to raise awareness about the practice of automatically charging youth as adults.  Art with a Story includes a gallery showcasing artwork by youth who have been in the adult system, an installation simulating a solitary confinement cell, and live performances by poets and musicians, including the nationally traveled spoken-word poetry meets hip-hop soul group, the 5th L.

But what is the Just Kids Partnership?  Consisting of organizers and youth leaders at Community Law in Action and lawyers from the Public Justice Center, we are a collaboration seeking to end the practice of automatically prosecuting youth as adults.  We use public education, community organizing, and legislative advocacy as we work towards this goal.  Art is integral to our advocacy.

Youth 14 and up, charged with any of 33 enumerated offenses will be automatically sent to the adult criminal justice system, based solely on age and charge.  Once there, youth are subject to adult jail, adult process, and adult sentences.

This policy is fundamentally flawed.   The practice casts far too wide a net; almost 70% of the youth direct- filed to the adult system are eventually sent back to the juvenile system upon judicial review or are released outright, but this often occurs months after the initial charge.  Youth charged as adults are usually held in adult jails where they are at serious risk of abuse, harassment and suicide.  A youth prosecuted in the adult system is more likely to re-offend upon release, and offend more violently, than comparable youth processed in the juvenile system.  In addition, this practice has a severely disproportionate impact on minority youth.  Finally, youth charged as adults face all the collateral consequences associated with an adult criminal record upon release, including problems getting a job, housing, financial supports, and higher education.  The practice doesn’t work to keep our youth safe or to make our communities safer.  We can do better.

These statistics come to life with the stories and art that illustrate how truly harmful this practice is for our youth and our communities.  Thus, Just Kids integrates art throughout our campaign in order to bring these stories to the public and the legislature.  The artwork – from poems, to stories, to photographs and multimedia visual art – is how we reach the hearts and minds of the only ones who can push our representatives to change the laws that mandate automatic prosecution.  One can see or hear the individual stories of youth caught in the adult system, who lose months if not years of their life to adult jail, before trial or transfer, and then must spend the rest of their lives trying to overcome the trauma of the experience and the barriers created by the charge alone.

This art, created by youth organizers and leaders, will be showcased at our October 23 Art with a Story event.  So check us out – at the end you will have seen experiences great art, will understand why we are fighting so hard to end this practice, and learn how to take action!  For tickets go to http://justkidsmaryland.org/ or http://artwithastory.brownpapertickets.com/

Star-Crossed in Station North: A 400-year play sheds light on today’s Baltimore

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Juliet (Annie Unger) and Romeo (Michelle Antoinette Nelson)

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared at mobtownblues.com in June 2013.

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Last June’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by Baltimore Performance Kitchen used a centuries-old story to explore very contemporary social issues. In presenting the Bard’s venerable tale (itself based on an earlier Italian novella) of feuding families and ill-fated lovers, director J. Buck Jabaily’s site-specific play exposed fault lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, and generation relevant to today’s Baltimore. [Full disclosure: I was a member of the cast.]

For the play’s setting, Jabaily chose Area 405, a multi-use arts space on the site of a former brewery and fan factory in Greenmount West, one of the neighborhoods that comprise what is now called the Station North Arts & Entertainment District. The building’s transition, from an anchor of the local industrial economy a century ago, to a cultural venue in what is currently an economically distressed area, allowed Jabaily to allude to the tensions that occasionally spring up between Baltimore’s emerging arts community and longstanding residents of the Station North neighborhoods.

In BPK’s retelling, the Capulets represented Baltimore of 1913: staid, conservative, wealthy, and white. The Montagues, by contrast, reflected contemporary Station North residents: younger, less affluent, less formal, more diverse. These distinctions were manifest in the casting of the titular lovers. Juliet was played by Annie Unger, a blonde, hazel-eyed teen just out of high school, while Romeo was played — as a woman — by Michelle Antoinette “LOVE the Poet” Nelson, an African-American spoken-word artist in her early thirties.

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Area 405 courtyard

The venue and casting decisions had a profound impact on the interpretation of the play. Without altering Shakespeare’s text (beyond trimming passages for time and changing the gender pronouns that refer to Romeo), Jabaily crafted a production that touched on themes of racism, sexual orientation, gentrification, and cross-generational friction.

For example, the contempt and outrage that Tybalt (Paul Diem) displays toward Romeo took on topical undertones, given the latter’s interracial, intergenerational, same-sex romance with Juliet. Similarly the street brawls that result in the deaths of Tybalt, Mercutio (Aldo Pantoja), and Paris (Richard Goldberg) were sobering echoes of the violence that continues to plague Baltimore. The production even shed new light on the source of the feud between the two families, which is unexplained in Shakespeare’s text. Since the Capulets and the Montagues represent different periods in the city’s history, their conflict can be attributed to an existential clash of epochs and cultures: the struggle between “old” Baltimore and “new” Baltimore to occupy the same place at the same time.

Just as those boundaries of time and space were peeled back in this rendition, the walls between actors and audience were similarly malleable. The play sbegan in an alley, then moved out onto Oliver Street for Mercutio’s ‘Queen Mab’ speech, before finally proceeding into the Area 405 courtyard for the masquerade ball and the ensuing chain of unfortunate events. The chairs were shuffled and reconfigured according to the demands of different scenes. At times, the audience found themselves leaning in to catch the dialogue above the ambient urban noises of train whistles, police helicopters, bass-heavy car stereos, and talkative pedestrians. Jabaily even reserved a handful of roles — Romeo’s ex-girlfriend Rosaline, Lady Montague, and the fateful apothecary — for adventurous audience members who felt inspired to become part of the show.

In keeping with BPK’s ethos of inclusiveness and reducing boundaries among Baltimore artists and audiences, tickets to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ were free. In the weeks leading up to the show’s opening, Jabaily reached out to members of the Greenmount West community and encouraged neighbors to drop in and check out the play. Each performance began with brief presentations by cast members about the history of Station North and the background of the play.

The result was a Romeo and Juliet that was as far removed from the Shakespeare of floppy hats and flowery accents as Station North is from 16th-century Verona. Like Baltimore itself, Jabaily’s production was earthy, unpretentious, and diverse, by turns absurdly funny and shockingly violent.

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Juliet in her bedroom

The closing scene carried a particularly potent lesson for those of us who love this city. Though the lovers’ suicide marks the climax of the piece, the final action in the play is the reconciliation between the Capulets and the Montagues. Through poetry written centuries ago, Shakespeare reminds us that hope awaits us even on the far side of tragedy, and that we can overcome the bitterest of lines that divide us, so long as we are willing to reach across them and clasp each other’s hands.

Health Care for the Creative Class

As an artist or organizer you may be wondering how the changes under the Affordable Care Act will impact you. If so you are in luck! The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance has collaborated with Healthcare Access Maryland to answer your questions at a free event on October 16th. At the forum representatives from Healthcare Access Maryland will explain what the Maryland Health Connection is, how you can shop, compare rates and coverage options, and enroll in health coverage right for you.

While the event is FREE, you do need to register. Click here to register.

For more information on the forum please contact Melanie Robey at mrobey@baltimoreculture.org

When: October 16th, 2013 @ 6:30PM-8:00PM

Where:

                Baltimore Theatre Project
                45 W. Preston St.
                Baltimore, MD 21202
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