Carlton Mackey, the Chair of the Ethics & the Arts Initiative at the Emory Center for Ethics, recently returned from Art, Culture & Creativity: a National Learning Exchange as part of Roots Fest 2011 hosted by Alternate ROOTS in Baltimore, MD. Alternate Roots is a 35 year old, artist-driven, 14-state-and-Washington, DC, regional arts service organization based in Atlanta.
|Mural in West Baltimore along side Highway to Nowhere|
As stated on the website, the National Learning Exchange is a holistic and ‘community-oriented’ process in developing a ‘shared road map’ of creating resilient local and national communities. This year's Learning Exchange was followed by an arts festival featuring dozens of performances including internationally recognized performers such as Talib Kweli, Anthony David, and Chuck Brown. The festival covered fifty-two acres of the ‘Highway to Nowhere’ in West Baltimore, "a governmental highway construction project that displaced 19000 people before coming to a dead end after 1.5 miles". Construction of the highway was halted due to public protest in the 70’s. The abandoned highway also put a halt to progress in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Cultureworks, the co-facilitator for the exchange, represents the local grassroots work in Baltimore bridging communities torn apart by the highway through art and creative projects. The Roots Fest inspires ‘everyday people’ to cultivate the types of values needed to create healthy communities nationally through the exploration of art, dialogue and culture.
|Performance of Last House Standing by Sheila Gaskins|
Carlton began with a bus tour of the area guided by Denise Johnson of CultureWorks. As Carlton got to know the neighborhood and returned to the Exchange, convening at a local high school, the impact of the location became apparent. Carlton comments that the purpose of the Exchange wasn’t to “solve anything, but to learn about the history, needs, challenges, and problems of specific communities.” Alternative ROOTS, in turn re-invigorates the national conversation about the responsibility that artists have towards building community and addressing social justice issues. Art is therefore a vehicle for positive social change. Carlton joins the conversation in his reflection that, “It was the people, and what they were doing that mattered.” He now has, “new ideas and ways to make the Ethics in the Arts Initiative better, more concretely routed in the ongoing work of social justice with a pool of people to carry it out.” West Baltimore proves that clearly there is a need for creative ways to address social justice issues across the country. Alternative Roots asks who will address that need if not the arts community?
The President's Commission on Race and Ethnicity (PCORE) awarded Carlton a grant to assist with the cost of attending this conference. The President's Commission on Race and Ethnicity (PCORE) and the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP) assist professional staff and junior faculty of color with career development by providing grants to help cover the costs to attend professional conferences or training. The Professional Development Fund (PDF) began in 1982 as the Minority Faculty Conference.
-Contributed by Cate Powel
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1. What is it about art that allows for innovative responses to social justice issues?