Archive for March, 2011

Art as Engine of Peace

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Peace Performance

Photo by United Nations Photo — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

This year, UNESCO’s ITI annual “World Theatre Day” is devoted to peace.

Jessica A. Kaahwa, a Ugandan playwright, actress, director and senior lecturer in the Department of Music, Dance and Drama at Makerere University, was selected to give this year’s international message. Kaahwa is a well known human rights and good governance activist, who has led international initiatives to use theatre for economic and social development.

Kaahwa’s “World Theatre Day” message will be read from stages all over the world:

A Case for Theatre in Service of Humanity

Today’s gathering is a true reflection of the immense potential of theatre to mobilize communities and bridge the divides.

Have you ever imagined that theatre could be a powerful tool for peace and reconciliation? While nations spend colossal sums of money on peace-keeping missions in violent conflict areas of the world, little attention is given to theatre as a one-on-one alternative for conflict transformation and management. How can the citizens of mother-earth achieve universal peace when the instruments employed come from outside and seemingly repressive powers?

Theatre subtly permeates the human soul gripped by fear and suspicion, by altering the image of self — and opening a world of alternatives for the individual and hence the community. It can give meaning to daily realities while forestalling an uncertain future. It can engage in the politics of peoples’ situations in simple straightforward ways. Because it is inclusive, theatre can present an experience capable of transcending previously held misconceptions.

Additionally, theatre is a proven means of advocating and advancing ideas that we collectively hold and are willing to fight for when violated.

To anticipate a peaceful future, we must begin by using peaceful means that seek to understand, respect and recognize the contributions of every human being in the business of harnessing peace. Theatre is that universal language by which we can advance messages of peace and reconciliation.?? By actively engaging participants, theatre can bring many-a-soul to deconstruct previously held perceptions, and, in this way, gives an individual the chance of rebirth in order to make choices based on rediscovered knowledge and reality. For theatre to thrive, among other art forms, we must take the bold step forward by incorporating it into daily life, dealing with critical issues of conflict and peace.

In pursuance of social transformation and reformation of communities, theatre already exists in war-torn areas and among populations suffering from chronic poverty or disease. There are a growing number of success stories where theatre has been able to mobilize publics to build awareness and to assist post-war trauma victims. Cultural platforms such as the “International Theatre Institute” which aims at “consolidating peace and friendship between peoples” are already in place.

It is therefore a travesty to keep quiet in times like ours, in the knowledge of the power of theatre, and let gun wielders and bomb launchers be the peacekeepers of our world. How can tools of alienation possibly double as instruments of peace and reconciliation?

I urge you on this World Theatre Day to ponder this prospect and to put theatre forth as a universal tool for dialogue, social transformation and reform. While the United Nations spends colossal amount of monies on peacekeeping missions around the world, through the use of arms, theatre is a spontaneous, human, less costly and by far a more powerful alternative.

While it may not be the only answer for bringing peace, theatre should surely be incorporated as an effective tool in peacekeeping missions.

Peace be with you.

- Bill Reichblum

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Banking on the Stream

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Albums

Photo by Kenneth Moyle — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Has the music biz turned us from collectors into only users, from connoisseurs into mere consumers?

At SXSW and the recent Canadian Music Week industry gatherings, the future of the recorded music business appears to be about converting us from owners to streamers.

For the listener, access to a digital file is a lot less expensive than paying for the packaging and transportation of a physical product. For the industry, as its profits have rapidly decreased from the loss of high margins on record and cd sales, increasing the availability of streaming the music to you creates new potential markets.

The current technology play is to move away from digital downloads to cloud access. Why worry about which device you are using at the moment (desktop, laptop, phone, iPod, etc.) when your music can be stored in a cloud accessible from any device at any moment? For example, one of the buzz-producing companies at SXSW was the new Mog service that integrates on-demand music service for cars.

In Kate Taylor’s coverage of the Canadian Music Week in The Globe and Mail, Alan Cross, senior program director of Corus Radio, poses a really interesting question. Do we have the same value relationship with our music from a digital file, let alone one in a cloud?

When we collected and owned those vinyls and cds, each of the albums had a tangible value. Not only was each one a precious possession, but it was also a physical representation of our identity. (Remember going through a date’s record collection? Remember seeing the frayed edges and learning which albums our friends played the most?) We owned the music. We had something to guard.

Even though music is now more ubiquitous and more accessible, is it losing its value as something that is part of our self-created identity, as something that is prized and integrated in our lives?

Fortunately for artists and the industry, the live event music festival scene continues to flourish. Even as the music business has had to endure a complete change in their business model of recorded music, festivals endure, expand, and sell out.

Perhaps the reasons are that we still want to be collectors, the “I was there” tag for our identity; we still want to be connoisseurs, the in-the-know and discriminating who put a premium on integrating music into our lives.

While the passive experience of listening to a record or a digital file is fundamentally the same, nothing can replace the connection between a performer onstage and a fan in the audience.

Imagine if the tech companies could help solve the music recording biz problem by making us all collectors and connoisseurs again.

Who wouldn’t want to be in that stream?

- Bill Reichblum

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Art of Education and Education as Pornography?

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Monty Python

Is it as difficult to know the difference between education and idiocy as it is between art and pornography?

This week, for better or worse, Northwestern University has been front and center in trying to articulate the nuances of both. After a lecture class on Human Sexuality, Professor J. Michael Bailey hosted a student-optional panel discussion on Networking for Kinky People. Two of the guests offered to provide a live demonstration of sex with a power tool. Bailey told the press afterwards that at first he hesitated, presumably about the appropriateness of showing a live sex act to students in a university hall. But then, Bailey thought, “I could not come up with a good reason, and so I said OK.” A man, a woman, a power saw adapted to hold a dildo, and three minutes of pleasure for, at least, her and him. (the woman)

As news spread over the next two days, the university felt obligated to issue a statement: “Northwestern University faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial and at the leading edge of their respective disciplines. The university supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge.” It took until the following the day for university administrators to react more in a “WTF?!?” mode. The university president, Morton Schapiro, questioned Bailey’s educational approach and judgment, and promised to investigate. After all, when one is paying $56,006 per year, one wants a clear articulation of educational value, right?

Bailey, who has been teaching at Northwestern for twenty-one years, has not exactly helped his own cause.

In speaking with the Chicago Tribune about the reaction to the sex-toy show, he said, “I have a thicker skin than most people, …but I’m feeling the nail through the skin right now.” (Here’s a free lesson professor: when you are taking on conservative attacks, it’s usually not a good idea to compare yourself to Christ.)

He went further to note there wasn’t that good of a reason to allow it in the first place, “If I had to bet, I would bet I will not be doing this again, either because of my decision or someone else’s. And that’s fine. It’s not like I think this is a necessary part of understanding kinky people.” Oh. Now we know. A reading would have been as good, and less messy.

In a statement he issued to the university community explaining his choice, he wrote:
“I organize optional events. These events primarily comprise speakers addressing interesting aspects of sexuality. This year, for example, we have had a panel of gay men speaking about their sex lives, a transsexual performer, two convicted sex offenders, an expert in female sexual health and sexual pleasure, a plastic surgeon, a swinging couple, and the February 21st panel…” Ok. But then why didn’t he have the gay men or the swinging couple have sex on stage?

He also couldn’t resist whining about all the work he puts into these gatherings: “I arrange them at considerable investment of my time, for which I receive no compensation from Northwestern University.” Other than his salary for teaching, I guess.

The student newspaper, Daily Northwestern, which by the way is one of the best student papers in the country, printed Bailey’s apology. He wrote that he won’t do it again. But, he couldn’t resist slapping down everyone who might disagree with him: “Those who believe that there was, in fact, a serious problem have had considerable opportunity to explain why: in the numerous media stories on the controversy, or in their various correspondences with me. But they have failed to do so. Saying that the demonstration “crossed the line,” “went too far,” “was inappropriate,” or “was troubling” convey disapproval but do not illuminate reasoning. If I were grading the arguments I have seen against what occurred, most would earn an “F.” Offense and anger are not arguments.” I guess that brings an end to a discussion about grade inflation at America’s best universities.

Northwestern is a great university, especially so for journalism and the performing arts. Many students and colleagues have rallied around Bailey for his right to academic freedom, for his willingness to engage students in uncomfortable topics, and for his devotion to the scientific study of his discipline.

However, he might want to spend more time helping us understand the educational value of his approach rather than attacking his critics. After all, you don’t have to be a prude to ask the simple question, “Why?”

In a more enlightened vein, Professor Bailey could be acting less like a victim and more like a teacher.

He could be a guide to realizing the difference between a porno show and scientific study. In fact, the word “pornography” didn’t begin to be seen as its own category of artistic expression until the 19th century when it was used as a term for teaching about sex in the academy. From Bailey’s point of view, would a Victorian literature class on the era’s suppression of the erotic be incomplete without a live demonstration of their sexual practices?

Our festival inspiration comes from the Dionysus festivals, which were run by the government. In addition to the tragedies, the festivals celebrated comedies with vulgar language and lots of sex references. A popular part of the event was the parade of phalluses. The festivals were purposeful and artistic representations of the community’s shared life and culture from the gods to the gutter. Ovid’s Art of Love, which is required reading at most universities for classics studies, describes a wide range of sexual intrigues, positions, and to be sure, insights. Today’s universities have plenty of sex, even without power tools. There is a long history of understanding the difference between art and pornography.

Art is about revelation and enlightenment, as well as entertainment and erudition. Is it too much ask the same of the academy?

- Bill Reichblum

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