The Next Conversation: “Art That Changes People’s Lives”

Event Date: Tuesday, March 19, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

 The Summary

This time, we’re looking at two questions: Can we make art that changes people’s lives, art that actually creates new ways of living, creates new cultural structures? And if so, how? 

The Guests (See below for bios)

Janeil Engelstad, artist; founder and director, Make Art with Purpose

John Perkins, activist, innovative meeting facilitator, organizational change consultant

Tonya Lockyer, artist and educator

And we’re working on getting a fourth.

The Story

This series has been on break for a couple of months. But we’re back. With this conversation, we’ll explore these questions: Can we make art that changes people’s lives, art that actually creates new ways of living, creates new cultural structures? And if so, how?

Here is a background idea: I may walk into a museum and see a set of beautiful drawings. They might be engaging, they might be breathtaking. Perhaps they might change my life, but most likely, beyond providing some moments of powerful imagery, they won’t change much. I will leave the museum and go on with my day, and eventually the drawings, as good as they are, will be forgotten or at least pushed to the back of my consciousness. 

I see a huge amount of art as being that way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most art does not set out to change the world. And it shouldn’t. I do think that all art should change the artist’s life in some way, but for the audience, I wouldn’t necessarily expect that.

I’m wondering, however, whether or not there is art that can change lives on a mass scale, can deeply change ways in which large numbers of people look at the world, and possibly build whole new cultural structures. I don’t know how much art there is that does those things, and I’m not even sure that these are proper requests to make of art. But it does seem that we desperately need to create shifts in how the world works that are both radical and humane. And my question is: do artists have a role to play in creating those shifts?

Come and talk about it.

The Guests in Detail

Janeil Engelstad is an affiliate artist at the Social Practice Art Research Center at the University of California Santa Cruz and the Founding Director of Make Art with Purpose (MAP), an organization that produces interdisciplinary projects addressing social and environmental concerns around the globe. These projects have addressed and led to changes in government policy and regulations and often create a place for individuals and groups who do not have social agency or access to creative opportunities to express their identity, experiences and points of view. Her process for this work, which can be as valuable as the outcome, involves embedding herself in communities, extensive research, collaboration, and building coalitions between universities, government agencies, NGOs and others. Engelstad’s projects and art work have been exhibited and produced in partnership with ArtMargins / MIT, Aurora, California Museum of Photography, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Dallas Museum of Art, Hyde Park Art Center, New York City Department of Transportation’s Art Program, New York City Public Library, Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), International Center of Photography, Stanica Žilina-Záriečie, Whitebox and others. She has contributed essays to numerous publications including Urban Public Art: Community Involvement and Civic Engagment (Rowan & Littlefield), Transmission (Art Words Press), Dallas Morning News, Temporary Art Review and EUTOPIA. Her podcast, The MAP Radio Hour, conversations at the intersection of art, design and science is hosted by Creative Disturbances and ARTECA / MIT. A Fulbright Scholar (Slovakia 2006), Engelstad has taught at universities throughout North America and Europe.

John E. Perkins, PhD in Organizational Change, began his personal studies of social change early as a reaction to growing up in the racist, segregated South. In the fourth grade, he independently studied the people and strategies of the leaders of the abolitionist movement using the resources in his high school library. Bookmarking this lifelong curiosity about effective change, he spent a week in 2013 at the Library of Congress researching how Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson succeeded in integrating Major League Baseball. Along the way he studied for two years the strategies and tactics employed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

His personal activism has focused on changing policy and practices at many levels of the systems of this society. At the federal and international level he worked with the American Friends Service Committee to design and deliver workshops to the public on how international negotiations and agreements worked. At the federal, state, and local government levels he served for seven years on the steering committee of the Tobacco Free Washington Coalition. This coalition had multiple successes including laying the groundwork for the statewide clean indoor air referendum.

His current activism focuses on bringing certainty and stability to tenants’ rents through Rent Certainty legislation. 

Through all of this activism, Perkins places the artist within and by choice and profession at the center. Sustained activism for him is never against anything, it’s for a way of common living that at times can be only sustained by our imagining it. We need our artist selves to imagine and hold on to that vision and skilled impassioned artists to bring the vision alive for everyone.

In his essay on Egalisharianism™, Perkins shows how the poet Rainier Maria Rilke consciously used his artist imagination to stay outside the German war mania during WW I. ( , pp 9-12)

Tonya Lockyer was until this year the Executive/Artistic Director of Velocity, Seattle’s premier arts center and essential incubator dedicated to contemporary dance and movement-based art. Lockyer oversaw the significant artistic expansion of Velocity including: the development of Velocity’s first humanities programs, initiating an Artist-in-Residence program; commissioning and developing more than forty new works of performance, installation and film; and the presentation of over a hundred contemporary performances by established and emerging artists including zoe | juniper, Keith Hennessy, Faye Driscoll, Jennifer Monson, Ralph Lemon, Miguel Gutierrez, Amy O’Neal, Danielle Agami.

As an educator Lockyer has taught internationally with a focus on her research at the intersections of performance, embodiment and social action. Lockyer has been an Affiliated Faculty Member of Cornish College of the Arts since 2001. She has taught Art & Social Justice, Interdisciplinary Collaboration, Movement Analysis, Somatics; as well as Dance Technique, Choreography, Improvisation, History, and Choreographic Culture since 1960. In 2010, Lockyer coordinated Cornish’s yearlong, citywide Merce Cunningham Project. Her course “Live Art and Choreographic Culture Since 1960″ was an inaugural course of the Center for Performance Studies at The University of Washington. She is published in international journals, exhibition catalogues and the book Vu du Corps: Lisa Nelson Movement et Perception. Her essay “Quiet Riot: Modern Dance as Embodied Feminism” is required reading in the curriculums of Texas Women’s University and Cornish College of the Arts.

Lockyer is an accomplished artist with more than twenty-years experience commissioned and presenting her work internationally. She has received awards and commissions from Arts International, The Canada Council, The Banff Center, Artist Trust and On the Boards among others, for projects including inter-cultural collaborations, 24-hour improvisations, and large-scale site-specific performances. She holds an MFA from The University of Washington, is a Certified Movement Analyst, and participated in the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance/Wesleyan.

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