One week from today, on Thursday, June 24th, Justice Arts Coalition’s 2021 National Convening: Art for a New Future is set to begin. Our team has worked incredibly hard to invite an amazing group of speakers and panelists; in the next week, we plan to share a selection of conversations with presenters to give you a taste of what you can expect from the convening. Registration is open, and you can view the full schedule and registration info here. For folks with limited means and/or who are system-impacted, reduced-price and free tickets are available.
Our first conversation is with Angela Kariotis, Curriculum Director for Walking the Beat, a community engagement program that re-imagines police and policing. Walking the Beat is an applied and devised theater project that studies the history of policing, law as a constructor of race, the policing of social movements, the way we police each other, and radical imagination to create alternative realities and cultures of care. They use a design thinking framework to build ensemble and a participatory approach to generating ideas and material. In this conference presentation, Angela will talk about Walking the Beat and lead participants through some of the techniques the program uses for generating art and scaffolding difficult discussions. Her session will be at 2:30pm EST on Thursday, June 24th. Register here.
Justice Arts Coalition: Where do you place your organization at the intersection of arts and justice? Where is your expertise, and where are you excited to go and learn?
Angela Kariotis: I believe justice means righting a wrong. We position art as a praxis toward sustainable futures for what that course correction looks like. We are all pretty sure on what we want to dismantle, but then what? Replace it with what? If we’re not clear about this we will replicate the same systems we worked to deconstruct. For me, I’m journeying into contextualizing my art practice and teaching artist work in a healing-centered engagement frame, a healing-centered education framework. Dr. Shawn Ginwright asserts the 4 characteristics of healing-centered engagement are 1. The work is political 2. Asset-based 3. Culturally responsive and centers identity 4. Cares for the caretaker. Also: I’m excited about learning new technologies; asserting technology with the potential to heal. I won’t vilify it because I don’t know how to use it! We can be anywhere.
JAC: How did you get involved in this work and why is it important to you?
AK: I’ve always been an artist and I’ve always practiced performance autobiography. There’s a symbiotic relationship between performer and audience. The audience is paramount; their experience. I learned I can guide the audience through a cathartic experience. As much as they are witnessing me; I am witnessing them too. It is a contagious energy. We are all changed from that touch. We see each other into the room. We listen each other into the room. There is tremendous power in vulnerability, in having heart. There’s nothing like it. I’ll always be that.
JAC: You say that creativity is a mindset, not necessitated by creating. How does that impact the way art and abolition inform each other?
AK: I don’t think being creative means you have to be an artist. You can be artistic without being an artist. Artistic might be about a product, an end. Creativity is about process and processes. It’s a frame, the way we look at and look through. Let me explain my framework: My pillars are creativity, abolition, and ensemble. These are encircled by radical imagination on one side and critical hope on the other. All of this is grounded in courage. Abolition is about recreating and re-co-constructing. Art gives us the means, the skills, to build. Abolition needs artists. Artists continuously put their hearts on the line. That’s what it requires. Feeling fear and doing it anyway.
JAC: Theater is a unique art form – what’s special about it? What does it bring to the table?
AK: We feel comfortable with the familiar. We cling to oppression because it is familiar. So let’s make new habits. Theater is literally rehearsal. So, in my work, we are practicing for the future. When you rehearse you are prepared. You learn to control your nervous system, your reflexes, and your impulses. You also know how to tap into yourself and call forth what you need in a moment. It’s mastery of the body, of the self. It’s stories too. Whoever makes the narrative has the power. With theater, it’s different and the same every time. You never know what each night will bring you. It is not static. It’s being battle-tested. We all need to get good at improvisation.
JAC: Lastly, what are you excited about for your upcoming session at the convening? How does it connect to any of our four values: Art as Abolition, Art for All, Solidarity and Community, and Participatory learning?
AK: I’ve never been in better company. Or in a space where I didn’t have to over-explain what I do! My work is ensemble-based and participatory. We are doing research via conversation. We are collecting data via listening. We are all experts via lived experience. I also believe in joy. We can do this work with great joy. We learn by doing together. This is a principle in Universal Design for learning and instruction; the way we build access into the learning as part of the work. You internalize the learning that you do together and from each other.
Angela’s vision of vulnerability, joy, collaboration, and creation is central to the themes of our convening and our hope for what art can do for an abolitionist future. Theater is one way of looking at each other and investing in a process that brings our full selves to the conversation. Through the design framework Angela introduces, we have the opportunity to form our abolitionist selves in concert with others, through the frame of art and creativity. Convene with Walking the Beat next Thursday at 2:30 and join us in imagining a new future. Register here.