Posted at 10:19 AM on August 25, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Culture
Iranian-American stand-up comic Maz Jobrani was a founding member of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. Now Jobrani is touring solo with his show "Brown and Friendly." In this TED Talk Jobrani offers some insight - and laughs - into how comedy helps us break down stereotypes and fear.
"Mideast Madonna" by James Allen
For the past month, raw, honest artwork by Iraqis and Americans have been presented together on the walls of Tarnish & Gold Gallery in Minneapolis. According the Kathy McKay, Director of the Iraqi/American Reconciliation Project, the exhibition was created by her non-profit to stimulate dialogue around the war in Iraq.
The Iraqi/American Reconciliation Project came together to facilitate connections betweens Iraqis and Midwesterners, connections that break down the stereotypes we're fed through the media. The primary image Americans are presented with are suicide bombers, while the primary image Iraqis get are of people in military uniforms with guns coming to their front door.
For some years the IARP - created by a bunch of self described peace-niks in their 50s and 60s - has been showing and selling traditional Iraqi art in the United States. But McKay says it wasn't until some new young blood got involved in the organization that the idea was hatched to bring Iraqi and American artists together in an exhibition about the war.
"Airport Village Diptych" by Aaron McLeaod
One of those relative "young bloods" is curator Tricia Khutoretsky, who sifted through submissions from artists all over the country wanting to lend their voice to the conversation.
I was expecting a broader range of artwork about conflict in general, but people were very focused on the Iraq war. I thought most people would be numb to it by now, but the work we got was very charged and very specific. The artists weren't all necessarily involved directly in the war, but as Americans they wanted to say something about it.
Images range from paintings of destroyed mosques and war-inspired fashion to a woman holding a child, overshadowed by an approaching helicopter.
"Mosque" by Matthew Lawler
Khutoretsky says she was interested to see how the work by Americans differed from those pieces submitted by artists in Iraq. On the whole, Khutoretsky said, the Iraqi artists dealt much more in abstraction, while the American works tended to be "in your face."
Perhaps the Iraqis are so close to the war and its atrocities, that abstraction is more palatable, while Americans are trying to make the war more real for themselves and their audiences, and so they focus on the harshest images?
One artist, Fatin-Al-Jumail, who came to the United States for the opening of the exhibition, painted a piece titled "Iraqi women" which at first glance appears to be an assemblage of colorful dots and lines. During a panel discussion she revealed that for her, the dots represent women, and the lines, fencing. It is only where the women are clustered densely together -supporting one another - that they can break through the binds that oppress them.
"Iraqi Women" by Fatin Al Jumail
The exhibition, titled "The Art of Conflict,"
got a bit of a rocky start when it opened with out the work of its Iraqi participants, due to visa and passport issues which delayed their arrival. But a few days later their work was up, and the show had a four-week run, featuring panel discussions with the artists and movie screenings on related topics. By the end of the week the exhibition's website will have a gallery of images not just from the show, but from those artists who submitted work, but didn't make the final cut. "They all had something they wanted to say," said Khutoretsky, "and we want to honor that."
Once the exhibition is over (it closes tomorrow) the American art will be returned to its owners, but the Iraqi/American Reconciliation Project is looking for other places to show the work by the Iraqi artists, to keep the dialogue moving forward.
Rocco Landesman has lots of love for Lowertown.
"If I could put Lowertown in my briefcase and take it around the country, and be able to say 'Aha! See? Look that the arts presence, what a cluster of artists can do to transform a neighborhood, a community, a city.' Lowertown is exhibit A."
Landesman, a former Broadway producer who now chairs the National Endowment for the Arts took a whirlwind tour of St Paul today, meeting with the folks in Lowertown, before heading to SteppingStone Theater for a town hall meeting with some 300 members of the Minnesota arts community.
It's part of Landesman's ongoing national "Art Works" tour, a six month campaign to promote the importance of cultural activity to the economy, to job creation and for future innovation.
Landesman says as a Broadway theater guy he likes "Art Works" as a slogan because it's a triple entendre.
As a noun it covers pieces created by artists.
As a verb it means the way art 'works' on an individual in a profound and personal way.
The third way is about the work of the arts, the jobs and the economic muscle produced by people who work in creative pursuits.
He lauded Minnesotans for passing the Legacy Amendment which provides money to support arts and cultural activities. he says it's the only state in the nation which has "arts baked into its constitution," as he put it.
"Now we only need 49 others."
He says Minnesota has the three things necessary for a successful and beneficial arts community: creative artists, engaged audiences, and supportive corporations and foundations. He says as he's toured around he seen some communities with two of these three, but few with the full set.
Of course Landesman was preaching to the choir, but he did take the opportunity to warn the crowd arts funding should not be taken for granted. He talked about how the inclusion of arts funds in the Recovery Act was used as political weapon by opponents to claim the entire package was frivolous, even though it was just $50 million in a $787 billion budget.
Landesman quoted a member of Congress who said it was ridiculous to spend the $50 million on the arts when it could be spent on "real jobs like road-building."
He says it was then he realized just how tough his job would be.
Landesman says he wants to change that bias against the arts. It's his aim at the NEA to as he put it "be making the case wherever we can, in the public sector, with the Federal agencies, with Congress. also with the private sector, corporations, foundations, individuals, that the arts have a real role in this country's coming out of recession, in neighborhood revitalization, in economic development, in urban renewal, in the real world."
He says this is a very different narrative from simply saying individual arts organizations are in trouble and need help. He says that the arts do face challenges, so a new message has to be found.
Landesman was supported all the way by his host for the day, US Representative Betty McCollum. She sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, which has jurisdiction over the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She stressed how important arts jobs are to the economy, and the knock-on effect the loss of such jobs can have.
During the meeting Landesman took questions about the impact of budget cuts on arts programs in the schools, the lack of coverage of arts issues in mainstream media, and how cultural exchanges might aid international diplomacy.
After the meeting the mood seemed buoyant, with many people pleased that Landesman had come to speak,
"It brings a spotlight onto what's going on here," said Jack Becker, of Forecast Public Arts in St Paul. Becker acknowledges that NEA funds don't make a huge difference to individual artists, but the visit has great symbolic value.
"I see it as a good reason to get people fired up again and back to work!" Becker laughed.
The occasion was of such significance to SteppingStone's Artistic Director Richard Hitchler, that he came back early from a vacation on the Superior Hiking Trail.
"This is usually one of those types of things that would have ended up at a much larger institution, but I think with his message, the chairman's message, that really ties in to what we are doing here at SteppingStone."
Hitchler points out how the company provides jobs, theater classes, and community building.
"I, as the leader of this organization, am responsible to a number of employees to make sure they are paid, they are paid on time, and they are paid a living wage. I am also responsible to make sure that the kids that we serve are served well, and the only way I can do that is to count on the artists to be there and to be working with the youth."