“It is a question of learning hope….The most tragic form of loss isn’t the loss of security; it’s the loss of the capacity to imagine that things could be different. ” – Ernst Bloch (Principles of Hope)
Hosted by The Foundry Theatre and Cornel West, this event brought together 300 artists and public thinkers, many for the first time, to improvise a performance of ideas; to engage in a series of creative conversations and encounters exploring notions of hope and its impact on the actions we do and do not take in the politics of our everyday lives. The event is itself a process … an extemporaneous journey; and the first of many unique events designed to directly explore and challenge the relationship between artists and the larger society. Next stop … to be continued.
March 6, 1998 : The Ukrainian Ballroom, East Village, NY
March 7, 1998 : The Great Hall @ Cooper Union
300 people sit down for a meal of 4 courses and 4 Acts of conversation. Questions were first posed by guest speakers to one another, then taken up at the 30 individual tables.
Why did you come?
“...wrestling with despair day in and day out, I need some connections, some links, some solidarity that reassures me that there’s other people in the world who are willing to talk about something so radically against the grain as “hope” right now.”
“… before you have hope, you have to have a vision. And I realized that my vision is under assault all the time. When we heard that message from Chomsky I was reminded of that – that vision is always under assault. And we need to protect it and guard it … I encourage all of us to share strategies that help us hold — maintain — vision.”
“I’m so happy right now… when do teenagers get to gather with adults like this – to really share this kind of deep conversation together? Never.”
“It seems I’m constantly seeking hope out there, beyond myself, But for me to come to the fact, that as an artist, a voice, how do I embody or represent hope for others … how are we the hope for others behind us?”
Conceived and prepared by Chef Suvir Saran, who chose ingredients and spices for each course, that are considered to provoke imagination in different ways.
Barbara Ehrenreich: “One reason you feel so good right now Jonathan, is that you’ve had a really good meal. This is making me think of how so much of my political life, my work life, is all about words — arranging them on a computer screen or paper, or exchanging them in meetings. But it’s nice to recognize that there are things being communicated with food – we played with our food this evening! (laughter) But I actually think it’s a serious thing to think about — hope, courage – and how we can transmit it, that it isn’t all just words.”
Guest Panelists: (all bios as of 1998)
1: A Generational Barometer: A Workshop with Global Kids
Global Kids, an international leadership program led by young people from across NYC, brought the weekend’s participants to their feet in one of their world-renowned interactive workshops, exploring the ways we pass the language of hope, hopelessness, possibility and action between generations.
2: A Small Town Hall Meeting
w. Cornel West & Barbara Ehrenreich
Moderated by Alisa Solomon, Writer and theatre critic for the Village Voice, Author
What does it mean to be ‘political’ in the current culture of irony? When skepticism has become a reigning form of political discourse, when politics can no longer be neatly categorized in a right-left divide, how are we to understand and confront the world? Rousseau worried that the attempt to unmask the follies of common belief would leave people with nothing in which to believe. Have we reached that point? Can we activate an informed sense of ‘hope’ to help us create the future?
Note: Noam Chomsky was meant to be with us for this town meeting, but suddenly had to have surgery (and is fine) but couldn’t make it. He sent this fax to be read.
Saturday Afternoon - 7 Dialogues
1: Sparking the Social Imagination
A Conversation on Paulo Freire
w. Maxine Green & George Stoney
Paulo Freire’s educational philosophy, presented in the Pedagogy of Hope and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, have inspired educators and artists throughout the world. Freire dedicated his life to helping the marginalized classes overcome their powerlessness and act on their own behalf. This provocative discussion on Freire was facilitated by Maxine Greene, a professor of philosophy and education at Columbia University and the founder of the Center for the Arts, Social Imagination and Education, and George C. Stoney, who occupied the Paulette Goddard Chair of Cinema at NYU and is co-founder of the Alternative Media Center.
2: The Culture of Marketing, The Marketing of Culture
All the old notions of art have been fundamentally altered by the force of marketing. But marketing is not the art, it’s the idea about the art. It’s not the song, it’s the video. What does artistic independence mean in a world in which six media companies own almost all of the popular culture? This discussion was hosted by author and journalist John Seabrook whose article “The Big Sellout” in The New Yorker inspired this session.
3: The Culture of Resistance: Labor’s Heritage, Labor’s Future
The labor movement is reinventing itself, and it’s about more than just paychecks and pensions. It’s about a movement for economic and social justice, encompassing all workers from artists to nurses’ aides to bricklayers. This discussion focused on the ways in which labor, art and activism work together. Facilitated by Joe Uehlien, the President of the Labor Heritage Foundation and Elise Bryant, cultural worker with the George Meany Center, AFL-CIO.
4: An Activist Approach to the Global Economy: From Market Values to Community Values
The economy is booming and the social fabric is unraveling. The common good has been chopped-up, privatized and sold to the highest bidder. What is the artist’s response? What are the values beyond the dollar sign? This discussion was led by Caron Atlas, a consultant working with Appalshop, an Appalachian arts center, and the Rockerfeller Foundation; Alan AtKisson, a leader in the field of sustainable development; and John Malpede, the founding director of the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD), a theatre company based in Skid Row, LA.
5: Bioethics and The Genetic Revolution
To what extent do genetics tell us who we are? What are the limitations of the right to privacy of this information? What decisions are best left to individuals and where should state regulation enter in? Bioethicist David Magnus, a fellow at UPenn’s Center for Bioethics and journalist, and David Shenk (author of the Harper’s article Biocapitalism), writer and commentator for magazines and radio from Wired to The New Republic to NPR’s As It Happens, discuss the genetic revolution.
6: Cornel Continued…
7: “Hope” for Inter-generational Empowerment
An intimate conversation with Global Kids about what hope means to their lives and how the notions of opportunity and action play out across and between generations.
…how can you live without hope? If there was no hope, there would be no surprises in life, you’d just know what to expect. My nephew is two years old, and he hopes he’s going to get that juice in the refrigerator when I tell him no.
Rocio Silverio, Global Kids
Dr. West Closes the Day
How do you get folk moving such that they can overcome their paralysis and sense of debilitation? Hope is, in that regard, not simply about a discourse of ends and aims — but how we get the whole self, whole soul, whole person moving. And in part what this conference is about, it’s trying to preserve some synaptic vision – to say – thinking synechdocally — in relation of parts to wholes, so that we don’t break the existential from the economic, the personal from the political, the social from the spiritual. We know they all are intertwined in so many significant ways. No hope without conviction, no hope without courage, but also no hope without joy. I want to end on joy – subversive joy. Joy that can bring people to their feet, still in their right minds, thinking critically, still with compassion flowing from the souls to make the world a better place but with smiles on their faces in the midst of the darkness, because there’s a subversive joy in being an artist who is involved in soul-searching, truth-telling and witness-bearing. And if you lose the joy, you ought to be doing something else. Coltrane – the love supreme – could put a smile on his face because he knew that spirituality of genuine questioning and interrogating with a link to the spirituality of genuine giving and serving –and that fusion of those two forms of spirituality generates the joy. So that when people say – ‘Coltrane don’t blow so hard, you gonna hurt yourself’ – he said it’s all about the joy. But it hurts. Because he’s pushing himself. Because he’s giving all of himself – the giving of soothing sweetness –giving the bruises and wounds and scars that are out there. It is also the sharing of an ennobling compassion. And in the end, what better life could we have to then pass that on to the younger generation, and for you all to pass it on to the next generation.
I want to thank again The Foundry Theatre, and my dear sister Melanie, and I thank each and every one of you for being here. Let us go out of here devoted and committed to linkage, let’s commit to conviction and courage and joy … and I do hope we decide to meet again. I’ll simply say when The Foundry Theatre calls me I’ll begin to reconvene and readjust my schedule, because I’m going to be here to get in on some of that.
Who Was There?
The people who attended came at the invitation of 50 hosts, who the Foundry invited to each bring 4 of their own guests, with the request that 2 would be artists.
As of 3/2/98
Kipp Erante Cheng
Theodore Faro Gross
Karen D. Friedman
Ana Maria Jomolca
Bill T. Jones
Tavoria Rae Kellam
Russ La Due
Aileen Marie Mahoney
Madeline D. Murray
Sally Ann Parsons
Beth Rudin DeWoody
Carl Hancock Rux
Sarah Jo Skaggs
Patricia Spears Jones
Rene St Jean
Mary Ellen Stromm
Ralf E Suarez
Andrea L. Taylor
Michael Van Steyn
Abigail Zealey Bess