Dialogues Community Programs

A Conversation on Hope

An Improvisational Performance of Ideas


“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


Friday Evening

Opening Night : Food for Thought

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.

Cornel West:  First,  I think we have to recognize the sheer audacity of talking about hope in 1998, in the midst of the last empire of this dark and ghastly century. (applause) It takes a certain boldness. And we don’t want to be naive.   My first question is: how do we authorize such a talk about ‘hope?’ That is to say, what is it about hope that seems to lure us in such a way that even in this very difficult time, we see the need to talk about it.  The second is: what kind of language about hope and social change ought we to talk with so that it becomes contagious for more and more fellow citizens and human beings?  So that hope itself becomes contagious.  And thirdly, the old question:  What is the difference between hope and optimism, and why is it that so few of us are optimistic? And why is it that we’re not having a conversation about optimism … at all!… even with the stock market breaking records weekly? But we do come together to talk about a blood-drenched and tear-stained hope. 


Why did you come?

“I think there’s a real desire for artists to be able to participate in political culture at the level where politics are made … The personal is political but the political isn’t always personal – and I hope we can think about that at the events tomorrow.”

“...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.”

“This gathering is both home and not home for me …because of the contradictions and connections I’m always in the middle of. But Toni Morrison calls this “the place of paradise,” those spaces in between the separations, and I try to live in between the separations.”

“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?”



The Meal

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)

Barbara Ehrenreich, a featured essayist for Time magazine has been described by the New York Times as “elegant, trenchant, savagely angry, morally raged and outrageously funny.”

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She is also the author nine books including books including Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passion of War; The Worst Years of Our Lives: Irreverent Notes From a Decade of Greed and Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Award in 1989. Her feature articles, reviews, essays and humor have appeared in a wide range of publications, including The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post Magazine. Dr. Ehrenreich, who holds a Ph.D in biology, lectures regularly at colleges and universities and has appeared on “Today,” “Good Morning America,” “Nightline,” “Crossfire,” “The Phil Donahue Show,” and “All Things Considered.”

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Jonathan Kozol, noted author and educator, has devoted three decades of his life to the issues of education and social justice in America. His first book, Death at an Early Age, describes his year as a public teacher in Boston and has sold more than two million copies.

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Since then Mr. Kozol has written highly honored books including Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America and Savage Inequalities, both of which won numerous awards. His most recent book, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, was a national best-seller and received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996—an honor previously granted to Langston Hughes, Nora Zeale Hurston, and Martin Luther King. Mr. Kozol  graduated summa cum laude from Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar.

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Robbie McCauley has been a pioneer on the contemporary American theatre scene beginning her career with Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow’s Not Enuf.

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Her celebrated serial performance works which include My Father and the Wars, Indian Blood, and Sally’s Rape, are about the history of her family from the 19th century as a metaphor of an African American family surviving against racism. Ms. McCauley is one of four women featured in Demetris Royal’s PBS Documentary, “Conjure Women.”  She received a 1991 Bessie award and a 1992 Obie award for Sally’s Rape.  An adaptation of Turf, ‘A Controversial Concert in Black and White,’ one of her local history projects, received the Achievement in Radio (AIR) Award, a national award for Boston’s best cultural program for WGBH Radio in Boston, 1996.  Shay’s Rebellion, her most recent historical performance piece, was created and performed at Mount Holyoke College where McCauley is a visiting lecturer.

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Vernon Reid is an English-born American guitarist, songwriter, composer, bandleader, and photographer. Best known as the founder and primary songwriter of the rock band Living Colour, Reid was named No. 66 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Dr. Cornel West, is a Professor of Afro-American Studies and Philosophy of Religion at Harvard University where he is considered to be one of America’s most important public intellectuals.

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Dr. West, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and earned his M.A. and Ph.D from Princeton University, lectures and writes extensively on topics ranging from race and radical democracy to the American pragmatic tradition and the future of the American family. Dr. West has appeared on numerous television shows including “Firing Line,” “Nightline,” and “ Good Morning America,” and has written twelve books including  The Future of the Race (with Henry Louis Gates) and Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America. His book, Race Matters, was a national best-seller, sparking profiles about Dr. West in both Newsweek and Time magazines.

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Saturday Morning

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


“I am hopeful not out of mere stubbornness but out of an existential concrete imperative… We need critical hope the way a fish needs unpolluted water.” 

Paulo Freire


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.



The video in its relationship to the song, I think is a good example. A video is.essentially an advertisement for the song, right? Ateleast from the point of view of the record company, the money comes from their marketing budget. Butnit’s also “content,” and many people consider it anbartform – and I do too – in itself. I mean Gus Van Zant has just made the new Hanson video, and it’s getting rave reviews, and tech-wise, it’s really pushed things. So when Gus Van Zant is making Hanson videos, what world are we in now? For artists, it feels like we stepped off that Road Runner cliff; we haven’t fallen yet, because we don’t quite realize we’ve stepped off.

John Seabrook 



Note: This session marked the beginning of Seabrook’s next book, NOBROW, in which The Foundry gets special mention. (thank you John.)


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.


SEIU Organizer: 
Here’s the problem I’m having with this artistic edge of the labor movement. We’re trying to sharpen a class conflict – move people to deal with class inequality in this country. We represent janitors: women, men who work 2 jobs, go home and take care of their kids, and then go out to work 2 jobs again; and they do it 5-6 days a week. And we’re trying to organize the building and the cleaning contractors to get a livable wage. And it’s tough and it’s mean. And you don’t feel like “embracing” people at the end of the day, you feel more like…and artists are picking this up – you’re picking that up here, and your resistance is clear. But I’m only reflecting what’s behind me; people with a clear vision of what has to happen, that may upset you that they are so clear about right and wrong and black and white. But there it is.



Joe Uehlein

Elyse Bryant



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.

“I thought I’d offer some resources, some modes of resistance to the negative aspects of globalization, and I want to say, in general, that when we talk about trying to change, or face up to, or understand the massive global phenomenon of globalization – it’s deeply, deeply challenging. It’s like standing in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square, not even because you think you can stop it – you know it’s an unstoppable tank – but just to get a good look at the darn thing, and because maybe it will pause long enough so you can try to figure it out. …the world is shot thru with irony, but there’s all sorts of possibilities out there – you don’t just have watch the tanks going by – you can go stand in front of them and take a look.”

Alan AtKisson


Caron Atlas
Alan AtKisson
John Malpede



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.


“If left up to the marketplace, designer genes could allow the wealthy to not only pass on vast fortunes, but also superior bioengineered lineages.” 

David Shenk


David Shenk
David Magnus


6: Cornel Continued…

Follow up on ideas that have been discussed in a more intimate roundtable conversation with Cornel West.


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.


I think it’s easier for me to be hopeful … I mean for example, I look at slavery, the civil rights movement, and that we got to here, and people made that happen, and it makes me feel hopeful. But I think that adults struggle for us, so they can’t see the way hope’s been working; they worry more about what might happen that could go wrong for us. I think maybe you can’t see, or maybe be feeling hope so much when you get older. I HOPE I don’t get like that.
Ranti Ogunleye, Global Kids


…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

We began raising the question just how audacious it is to even talk about hope at the end of this century– some of the differences between hope and optimism.  And we noted the challenge of coming up with a language to link hope to some social change as well as personal change. And I want to end really – first wrestling with this question John Keats formulated to his brother when living in Kentucky – Keats said that for him it was a question of energy or despair – because hope was fundamentally about energy – about movement, motion, momentum, resilience, resistance – how do you keep on moving. Now for me that is a blues sensibility. Because the blues men and women sing -I’ve been down so long, down, don’t worry me no more. In order to do what – to keep keeping on. To keep up. To acknowledge the downs. And I think of that wonderful classic by the great Muriel Ruykeyser –The Life of Poetry in 1941. When she’s already talking about popular culture and jazz and folklore and linking it to Elliot and Pound and a whole host of so-called highbrow modernist poets. She says art is a transfer of emotional and conceptual energy. Because she was forever on the move. Powerful, towering, progressive artist. In many ways her spirit is here today. And last, but not least, John Coltrane characterizing his art as a force for good. Energy, motion but a force.
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

Vicki Abrash

Kevin Adams

Bruce Allardice

Billie Allen

Mark Ameen

Zoe Anglesey

Kei Arita

Alan AtKisson

Caron Atlas

Shimon Attie

Michael Aubele

Larry Auld

Shiri Avrahampour

Daniel Banks

Tanya Barfield

Gabriella Barnstone

Frederick Bay

Drake Bayer

Caroline Beasley-Baker

Frank Becham

Denise Bell

John Bell

Jonathan Berger

Lisa Bernad

Denny Bess

William Bickford

Laurel Blades

Molly Blieden

Barbara Bloom

Alex Borovoy

Tiffany Brathwaite

Maureen Brennan

Susann Brinkley

Alan Brinkley

Blair Brown

Brenton Browne

Tanisse Browne

Vince Bruns

Michele Byrd

Adane Byron

Rocio Cabello

Michael Cadden

Bruce Caines

Carl Capotorto

Paul Cara

Ann Carlson

Cynthia Carr

Henry Chalfant

Kathy Chalfant

Lenora Champagne

Linda Chapman

April Chapman

Wislene Charles

Denise Chung

Alana Chuong

Sarah Coffey

Trudi Cohen

Beth Coleman

Grisha Coleman

Richie Colon

Alvan Colon

Royston Coppenger

Kia Corthron

Ellie Covan

Robert Croonquist

Tony Crusor

Monique Curnen

Sasha Cutter

Kathie D’Nobriga

Gordon Dahlquist

Shannon Dailey

Susan Davis

Bridgett Davis

Shelton Davis

Helga Davis

Steve Denny

Catherine Dill

Alyce Dissette

Molly Doyle

Leonardo Drew

Marsha Dubrow

Irene Duodonis

Rinde Eckert

Barry Edelstein

Jennifer Egan

Barbara Ehrenreich

Richard Elovich

Eve Ensler

Kipp Erante Cheng

Joe Euline

Annie Evans

Daphne Farganis

Theodore Faro Gross

Rebecca Feldman

Jason Finkelman

Ed Finn

Tristan Fitch

Laura Flanders

Jim Fleming

Richard Ford

David Francis

Bryan Frank

Karen D. Friedman

Norman Frisch

Julie Frisner

Juliet Furness

Diamanda Galas

Nicole Gantt

Nancy Giles

Thelma Golden

Howard Goldkrand

Avivah Goldman

Avivah Goldman

Leon Golub

Theresa Gonzalez

Maria Gonzalez

Robert Gordon

Hattie Gossett

Maxine Greene

Dynishal Gross

Jessica Hagedorn

Caitlin Hahn

Whitney Hamilton

David Hancock

Peter Handy

Evie Hantzopoulos

Kim Harris

Keith Hennessy

Channing Henry

Cheryl Henson

Linda Herring

David Herskovits

Charles Hobson

Bob Holman

Ishmael Houston-Jones

Michael Howett

Holly Hughes

Michael Hunt

Mark Hunter

Jeannie Hutchins

Esioba Irobi

Jay Iselin

Fredrica Jarcho

Teddy Jefferson

Anice Jeffries

Morgan Jenness

Shelby Jiggetts

Dave Johnson

Ana Maria Jomolca

Susan Jonas

Jake-Ann Jones

Bill T. Jones

Ariel Jordan

Ted Joseph

Melanie Joseph

Yoon Kang

Rachel Kaplan

Judy Katz

Tavoria Rae Kellam

Richard Kim

Jonathan Kozol

Bob Kushner

Russ La Due

Ilana Landsberg-Lewis

Paul Lansky

Amber Lasciak

Lloyd Lawrence

Maxinne Leighton

Tiffanie Lewis

Todd London

Lisa Loosemore

Ted Lorusso

Kerry Lowe

Robert Lyons

Michele Macau

Eduardo Machado

Steve Mackey

Constanza Madrid

Matt Maher

Aileen Marie Mahoney

John Malpede

Vivian Mamelak

Adrian Marin

Doug Marlette

Kristin Marting

Nesia Mathias

Mark Matousec

Lisa Mayo

John McAdams

Robbie McCauley

Tim McClimon

Katherine McFate

Glenn McGee

Don McKee

Phoebe McKinney

Peter Meyer

Bebe Miller

Jennifer Miller

Paul Miller

Chiori Miyagawa

Darren Mocri

Rene Molenaar

Trinkett Monsod

Sophia Moon

Evangeline Morphos

Seth Morris

James Morrison

Emily Morse

Erika Munk

Elizabeth Murray

Madeline D. Murray

Lee Nagrin

Marilyn Neimark

Sherin Neshat

Carole Nichols

Jim Nicola

Rigaud Noel

Tim Nye

Mark O’Donnell

Lorraine O’Grady

Jim O’Quinn

Ranti Ogunleye

Benga Okunoye

Cynthia Oliver

Mary Oyedijo

Patrick Panico

Peter Parnell

Olivia Parry

Sally Ann Parsons

Anne Pasternak

Tim Paulson

Maureen Payne

Peggy Peloquin

Siva Persad

Peggy Pettitt

Anne Philbin

Katha Pollitt

Charlie Ramsburg

Bonnie Reese

Toshi Regan

Audrey Regan

Vernon Reid

Maggie Robins

Esther Robinson

Beth Rudin DeWoody

Cricket Rumley

Mark Russell

Carl Hancock Rux

Larry Sacharow

Dana Salisbury

Ellen Salpeter

Sonia Sanchez

Steven Sapp

Suvir Saran

Carolina Sarquero

Michael Saslow

Said Sayrafiezadeh

Jessica Scaramore

Beth Schachter

Heidi Schlater

John Seabrook

Paul Shapiro

Nina Shapiro-Perl

Bina Sharif

Peggy Shaw

David Shenk

Todd Shepard

Everett Sherman

Don Shewey

Joan Shigekawa

Kunle Shobowale

Sarah Shulman

Beth Shulman

Beatrice Sibbles

Erica Silberman

Rocio Silverio

Shari Simmons

Samina Sipra

Sarah Jo Skaggs

Yuri Skujns

Carl Skutsch

Judith Sloan

Andrea Smith

Ashley Smith

Alisa Solomon

Diana Son

Melissa Soros

Patricia Spears Jones

Nancy Spero

Rene St Jean

Marin Stange

Matt Staniec

Cherice Starling

Paige Stephenson

Martin Stevenson

Latoya Stewart

George Stoney

Elizabeth Streb

William Stricklin

Mary Ellen Stromm

Ralf E Suarez

Laura Swindle

Everton Sylvester

Greg Tate

Andrea L. Taylor

Ya’el Teplo

Gregory Tewksbury

David Thomson

Ronen Tivony

Virlana Tkacz

Cesar Trasobares

Barbara Tsumagari

Urvishi Vaid

Ching Valdes

Leinz Vales

Michael Van Steyn

Kukuli Velarde

Christine Verleny

Yuri Weber

Petol Weeks

Jeff Weiss

Meredith Weiss

Cornel West

Khristopher Whidholm

Ruth Wikler

Talvin Wilks

Martha Wilson

Barry Wolifson

James Wood

Denise Woods

Joanne Wypijewski

Michele Zacheim

Abigail Zealey Bess

Francine Zerfas