Nov 19, 2019
Michael ROHD is a Lead Artist for Civic Imagination, co-founder of the Center of Performance and Civic Practice and Artistic Director of the Sojourn Theatre.
“The Center for Performance and Civic Practice believes that with the right approach, the same tools and capacities that artists use to make meaningful art can be utilized to transform systems and improve the impacts of government and community-driven efforts and programs.”
Michael ROHD has articulated these careful distinctions in creative practice:
STUDIO PRACTICE: Artists make their own work and engage with publics as audience.
SOCIAL PRACTICE: Artists work with publics on an artist-led vision in ways that may include research, process, and/or content with an intention of social impact outside traditional audience experience.
CIVIC PRACTICE: Artists co-design project with publics; the spoken intention is to serve a public partner’s self-defined needs. From Jacqueline E. Lawton’s Summary of the 2015 Conference of the Theatre Communications Group.
Every day or so, I ride on Rutledge Avenue and see the “Charleston Strong” mural featuring about 1,550 doves flying into the sky (my own counting). It is a memorial to the victims of the Emmanuel 9 church shooting and was organized by Tiffany Silverman, director of the fine arts department at The Citadel. “No single person could have created this memorial, which gives me great hope that Charleston Strong will continue to mean much more than a hashtag,” she said.
Every time I see the mural I think of the Massacre. I also think that each dove represents the anger of one person.
It also reminds me of the first workshop Jean-Marie and I ran in Atlanta for a project with Refugee Family Services: “MyJourneyYours”. Our common language that day was pounding, hammering to carve words and expose memories in stone. The work, the action was the result of an understood necessity and moved twelve women from being violently angry to temporarily breathing together.
Yet each time I pass by the “Charleston Strong” Mural I wonder how the criteria of Artistic Excellence and Artistic Merit used by the National Endowment for the Arts and many Foundations and programs apply to the mural. This is not a new question for me. It is part of my training and my engagement in Art In/With Community. A couple of months ago, just before a Public Art meeting in Charleston, I was thinking again of controversies about memorials. I thought that this mural/artwork was the perfect example of one that could be given a chance to expand its role of memorial on every anniversary of the massacre. Each year, a new coat of art expression would be added to it, bringing a new attention to a contemporary, racist and violent act, that left nine people dead and so many psychologically injured. The wall would really become a living memorial, a slow motion film, an addition of many steps (planned and unplanned) in a process not meant to produce a perfect piece but meant to carry the attention gathered by its content and explore Artistic Excellence.