Radical Imagination: Launching Equal Justice Programming at SFAI

BY JAMIE BLOSSER, SFAI EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Each year, we at SFAI choose a social issue as an annual theme to ground our programming, and each month during the thematic year, we welcome an amazing cohort of artists, innovative thinkers, and engaged citizens from all over the world here in Santa Fe to collectively investigate that theme. This melding of artistic practice, expertise, and activism builds creative community and critical dialogue; with serendipity and strokes of genius, it also cultivates radical imagination.

SFAI just kicked off our Equal Justice thematic year with La Pocha Nostra, who were at SFAI completing two books, one of which is a follow up to “Exercises for Rebel Artists,” which Guillermo Gomez-Peña worked on while at SFAI in 2009, as well as teaching a workshop on their performance art pedagogy. Their residency culminated in a public “jam session,” where Guillermo Gomez-Peña acted as mad conductor co-creating tableaus with more than 20 performers – raw art images at once tender and defiant, fierce and poetic. These courageous performances came with a request by Gomez-Peña to help them… “Not to fall. And if we fall, please catch us in the process.”

This simple request reflects the profound belief in humanity and personal courage that artists and activists share. These traits are the wellsprings of social criticism and dissent, and they force the rest of us to confront our own courage in standing for our beliefs. Artists and activists see through the cracks of our ideologies to profoundly shift our narratives. Poised at the edge, or well beyond, the borders of comfort and propriety, these change agents bare themselves – sometimes literally – and then ask that we embrace them, and that we not let them fall.

 

Guillermo Gómez Péña of La Pocha Nostra at SFAI’s La Pocha Nostra Jam Session

 

Like La Pocha Nostra’s radical pedagogy, radical imagination is paradigm-destroying; it is intimately personal and often physical; it is bursting with empathy and ferocity. Many of us are hungering for alternatives to our current politics and divisive rhetoric. We seek a society in which Black Lives Matter, our responsibility to the planet and Water Protectors is paramount, women and the LGBTQ community are safe, and immigrants and Dreamers are welcome. Radical imagination is a collaborative process. Through art, activism, and creativity, it requires that we look beyond what isn’t working to re-imagine a more equitable world.

The desire to radically re-imagine a more equitable world is at the core of SFAI’s mission. We strive to bring artistic practice together with radical thinking so that we can help to enact social change. On September 20, Mary Miss and I will tackle the challenges and opportunities of art and community action along with an exhibit of resident work. And we are so excited to bring Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground (formerly the Weathermen) to the Santa Fe community on September 24, alongside six of our Equal Justice artists in residence, for an intergenerational conversation on art, activism, and politics. Since their radical activism of the 1960’s, Dohrn and Ayers have of course become esteemed professors and responsible parents, but they are still “demanding the impossible.”

Bernardine Dohrn & Bill Ayers in Chicago

SFAI chose Equal Justice as our 2017-18 focus a year ago, in the midst of intensifying Black Lives Matters protests, the wintry occupation of Standing Rock by water protectors from all over the world, and a brutally divisive presidential campaign. “Equal Justice Under Law” is carved on the capital of our U.S. Supreme Court building, and it feels to many like an inalienable American right. Yet our financial, legal, and educational institutions systematically segregate, dehumanize, and exclude so many of us – especially people of color, the LGBTQ community, women, and immigrants.

From now through August 2018, SFAI will bring to Santa Fe over 80 artists and creative practitioners of myriad disciplines from 21 countries and across the U.S. While here, they will live and work together at SFAI alongside local artists, community partners, and content experts such as lawyers, sociologists, health administrators, and educators. Each artist and collective have proposed specific projects of focus: Brazilian artist Eva Rocha will address sex trafficking through interactive sculpture and installations; Testify is a Canadian collective of indigenous artists and lawyers working together to facilitate restorative justice; California artist Jessica Lawless will explore labor laws, unions and the Precariat through interdisciplinary works; and Jackie Munro of La Familia Medical Center here in Santa Fe will guide participants of their “suboxone program” in telling their stories through photography.

The work of our residents guides us. Last fall, the SFAI board and executive leadership re-envisioned its mission, programming, and long term goals. To underscore our commitment to disrupting inequality, SFAI made a critical decision to sponsor residencies free of charge, beginning with the launch of the Equal Justice residency this fall. It took an act of radical imagination for us all to see this shift as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. For the first time since the 32 years of our founding, SFAI is working to develop a financial model that is not dependent on financial support from the artists and activists whom we currently serve.

We are deep in the midst of developing this new model. We created the Public Workshop Series to invite our local community to meet our residents and learn new skills. We built an alumni archive to show our gratitude to, document, and share the work of our international network of artists since 1985. We are launching a fall fundraising campaign that will allow you all to participate in our decision to become tuition-free by supporting our artists in residence.

We invite our international SFAI community to join our Equal Justice investigation and dialogue through this blog, which will be written each month by members of our Equal Justice cohort, community partners, SFAI alumni, staff, and board. We invite our Santa Fe community to participate in monthly public events, exhibits, and workshops that showcase the work and talent of our resident artists and innovative community members, such as the Equal Justice exhibit that will open on September 20 and our SFAI 140 on November 17.

We know that all of you in our local, national, and international SFAI community understand the critical importance of this work, and we ask that all of you help us not to fall. As Bill Ayers writes in his latest book, if the simple question “What if?” is taken up collectively, “it can be forged into a powerful tool with the potential to crack open the given world and provide previously unthinkable alternatives.”

“Demand the Impossible!” Written by Bill Ayers

Let’s get to cracking, then.

Thank you.

Jamie Blosser, SFAI Executive Director

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