Open Engagement has invited a group of contributors to make this year’s blog into a timely resource for organizing, moving forward and thinking creatively during particularly unjust times.
In light of our current reality and to align with this year’s conference theme of JUSTICE these blog posts will feature strategies, testimonies, literature, art and instructions as tools for working and living in the world as we know it.
The 2017 blog project, Resources on Justice, will grow over time, be published incrementally and will feature responses from a wide range of participants including activists, writers, thinkers, artists, teachers, arts professionals, community leaders, cultural workers, and more. It is an inclusive and accessible platform to think through the conference theme, introduce dialogues specific to the conference’s host city, as well as instigate ideas that can be applied beyond the context of this conference.
Carron Little creates public engagement projects for neighborhoods and cities. She founded Out of Site Chicago in 2011, a public performance series that has funded and produced over seventy public performances by local and international artists to date. Little teaches in the Performance Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and in Chicago Public Schools.
Five selected texts:
N-Paradoxa – International Feminist Art Magazine edited by Katy Deepwell
Living by the Word by Alice Walker
The Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacob
The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
I’ve been asked to write about Justice in relation to the texts I have chosen and as a way of living in the world as a creative practitioner. For me justice starts at the point of thinking about what I am going to make and this is highly connected to how I choose to live and engage with the world. I never know what I am going to make when I start a project and this unknowing is an important part of the process. I go in with my eyes open looking and listening.
For example, Eden Unluata curated five artists in Uptown in 2013 for Open House Chicago. Each artist was given a historic building and I was given the Bridgeview Bank. I knew I wanted people to walk away with more wealth than what they entered with. In a meeting with the Bank Manager who was rather dubious about The Queen of Luxuria’s performance, I explained that each participant would walk away with a gift, that the performance was structured like a game of monopoly looking at value and personal happiness. Through further research I came across statistics related to pay inequality in America. I decided to create a calculation where I evaluated what people hadn’t received due to pay inequity. The statistics in 2013 were shocking with Hispanic women earning 53% to the average salary of a white male counterpart. African American women were earning 63% and white women 73%. Each of these statistics have moved up 5% since. Through the performance research of the project I discovered something even worse. Every time I perform this work fifty percent of the participants I interview are earning 15,000 dollars a year or less. When we talk about justice, art has the capacity to reveal the problems that we don’t want to see. This project reveals how people and families are impoverished systematically across racial and gender lines.
In 2015 I was commissioned to do a public engagement project for the neighborhood of Beverly. I had proposed to interview eight people over the age of seventy about their life stories. In bringing the eight participants together throughout the development and making of the project we discussed everything from race relations in America, the Civil Rights Movement, to queer history and culture in context of a worldly perspective and the women’s liberation movement. Open space was made for these people who had been neighbors for fifty years to get to find commonalities and become friends. It also gave room to a younger generation to
learn about their untold history. We all learnt some much from each other. After doing the performance for Beverly Art Walk in 2015 I chose one of the participant’s stories to develop further and started to research through archive in the city. I contacted institutions in Chicago and down state and started to uncover an undocumented story of Women Mobilized for Change that were a women’s collective that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement. They existed for eight years and made a lot of progress in fair housing legislation helping to pass through Bill 155 in Springfield. In 2016 I got funding from Chicago Park District to create a public performance that traveled around the park district. I put together a diverse group of women from all parts of the city, I gave them the poem, the music, the research and with a theater Director and Choreographer asked them to collaborate to create a public performance. We invited original members of Women Mobilized for Change to each performance and after each performance we held hour long circle conversations talking about the issues raised in the performance. Women Mobilized for Change held their first conference on March 4th 1967 and we were able to book Chicago Cultural center fifty years to the exact same day, date and time.
Women’s history being written out of history is a constant struggle within a local and global context. Magazines like N-Paradoxa, the International Feminist Magazine seek to redress this and it is imperative that we provide the tools for the next generation. I was traveling last semester for SAIC doing admissions work and I was in St Louis where this one student said to me: “I’m a child of the nineties, I grew up with no positive female role models. I want to address this in the work I do.” I was horrified that collectively we have all let down the next generation if we don’t make diverse representations now. Writing diverse representations of people into the work we create is imperative and inclusive representation is justice in form. It is imperative that we think about how we make and produce images. It will not be easy, as there are so many divisions to heal, so many prejudices to overcome but everyone entering these spaces is working for justice and that has to be acknowledged, supported and mutually respected. We will make mistakes and the conversations won’t be easy but we have a long road to walk and we need to do it collectively and thoughtfully for the next generation.
That is why I have selected these five texts that have informed the work that I do as an artist. Living by the Word by Alice Walker was a vital book growing up and helped shaped my consciousness as a teenager. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz I’ve carried with me from London to Chicago and is structured around the story of one women from birth to death who is forbidden to leave the house. The Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacobs is a vital book re-thinking our cities and is important to the work I do as founder and director of Out of Site Chicago. In the current climate, I would like to recommend Surpassing the Spectacle by Carol Becker and Spectacle Pedagogy by Charles R. Garoian and Yvonne M. Gaudelius. Both these texts reference and are inspired by Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle that was written in 1967 and predict the current times we are living in.