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Justice and the Arts Initiative
The Justice and the Arts Initiative (JAI) begins its inaugural year in 2007-08 as an incubator for the arts and social justice on campus and in the community. The purpose of the JAI is to create an intellectual frame of reference for examining and fostering artistic processes that are critically bound to issues of social justice.
The programs of the JAI will instigate and enliven a climate of inquiry, support practical experimentation and production, and create models for interdisciplinary projects of students, staff and faculty whose work is poised to both reflect and shape our world and address its most pressing needs.
A partner of the Center of Performing Arts, the JAI is poised to amplify and distill issues of justice brought forth in the diverse theatre, dance and music offerings of the annual CPA season, and will also engage visual and literary artists on campus, providing a much needed context for interdisciplinary exchange throughout all of the arts .
The kick-off event for the JAI will be its first annual JAI Roundtable in the Fall of 2007, an open conversation which will gather on-campus scholars and artists for lively dialogue. Later in the year, nationally and internationally recognized artists working for social justice will be hosted through the JAI Guest Artist Program.
The JAI will also provide assistance for a student and faculty Social Justice and the Arts trip, planned to El Salvador during Spring break of 2008. Students wishing to explore the broad range of issues brought forth by the intersection of social justice and the arts can enroll in the Social Justice and the Arts Seminar, which will be offered by the Theatre and Dance Department in the Spring of 2008.
Through a cross-fertilization of the efforts of artists and justice groups on campus and off, the JAI will strive to build a culture in which the arts and social justice are seen together as integral, vital dimensions of campus life. The Justice and the Arts Initiative supports the mission and goals of the university by engaging, fostering and creating a more just and humane world through the arts.
The JAI will be Co-directed by Department of Theatre and Dance faculty Kristin Kusanovich and Carolyn Silberman, with Suzanne Butler serving as Administrative Assistant.
Applying the creative process to social justice
Although the College of Arts and Sciences may have just officially formed the Justice and the Arts Initiative (JAI) in September, it reaffirms and encourages efforts that have been ingrained in the essence of SCU for years, note its co-directors, Carolyn Silberman and Kristin Kusanovich, both faculty members in the Department of Theatre and Dance.
Social justice and the arts has been going on for a long time here at Santa Clara in many ways, through many departments,” says Silberman.
By focusing their creative lenses on issues of social importance, artists can forge unique pathways toward an alternative understanding of complex problems through their plays, music, paintings, dances, or other means of expression, hopefully spurring their audiences into action. In another aspect of social justice in the arts, artists can help those in need find their own voices of self-expression by bringing the arts directly to marginalized communities.
JAI’s goal, explains Kusanovich, is “to bring artistic works of social justice to a place of higher visibility especially on the campus, so that students, faculty and staff at Santa Clara understand how important the creative process can be in the transformation of critical issues like poverty or unaccompanied immigrant children or any other issue that is of great concern.” The possibilities are endless, the directors say, limited only by the boundaries of imagination.
In mid-November, JAI hosted the premiere screening of Posada, a film about unaccompanied children knocking on America's door, by communications lecturer Mark McGregor, S.J., as well as a roundtable discussion by faculty artists. Next April’s Beatitude Mass is a joint project between the JAI, the Center of Performing Arts, and the music department. All creative labor is being donated, with all proceeds going to the homeless.
The plan is for the Initiative to continue fostering the creative process by sponsoring more roundtable discussions each year, continuing the relationship with Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), assisting with a social justice and the arts trip to El Salvador for students and faculty, and other projects yet to be determined.
Our hope is for the Initiative to be a gathering place of inspiration which will activate positive social change,” Silberman says. “This is a call to action. It isn’t enough to be aware of issues of social justice in society and to leave it there. We would like to pulse and ripple forward and bring about positive social change.(Originally published on December 3, 2007 in SCU FYI)