Artwork above by POC Ensemble member Jenn Smith.
by Talya Kingston, Associate Artistic Director
In this election year, what do you want to express through your art?
This is just one of a series of huge questions our Teaching Artists’ posed to WAM’s ensemble members when we began The Suffrage Project in May. We worked with curators at Berkshire Museum’s She Shapes History exhibit to come up with a packet of primary source materials – photographs, letters, slogans, speeches, political cartoons, etc. – to inspire reflections on the history and current state of citizenship in America, especially for women and people of color.
Here are some of the other big questions we posed for internal reflection:
- Do you remember the first time you voted (for anything)?
- How would you describe your political voice?
- How have your identities impacted your relationship to your voice and change making, to
- politics and power?
- Have you been able to vote for a candidate that looked like you or was from the same background?
- Have your allegiances ever been split?
- When and where have you felt most able to influence change? When and where have you felt least able to?
- What empowers you most politically?
- What does political change mean to you and how has that manifested in your life?
But this wasn’t an interview or a form to fill out. These questions were creative prompts. After spending some time reflecting on these questions each ensemble member created an original piece of art in response, and all formats or creative expressions were welcomed.
“It is invigorating and restorative that during a pivotal election year, we can explore artistically ways to take back ownership of a narrative that has been watered down and has inflicted harm to so many communities. To offer space for our community to find their own affirmations during this year is an invaluable resource to our activist community.”– Lia Russell-Self, WAM Associate Producing Director & Teaching Artist for WAM’s new People of Color Ensemble
As the pieces came in, WAM Teaching Artists worked with individual ensemble members to record and present their pieces.
“As I rehearsed with Flo, I was taken aback by her bravery. She was passionate about the importance of the message in her material and she asked to come to The Foundry to shoot her song. Her partner accompanied her. He had worked on her suffragist costume and after her first run through he said “Flo, that brought tears to my eyes”– Amy Brentano, WAM Teaching Artist for the Elder Ensemble
The Suffrage Project art pieces will be showcased in an online gallery on the WAM website through July and August. The pieces include: visual art, songs, monologues, poetry, dramatic scenes, dance and photography. Some are reflections on or recreations of history, some let us into individual feelings of powerlessness or calls to action in this election year. The thing they all have in common is that they speak from the heart.
These pieces were created in social isolation all over the region, but taken together they are a powerful testament to the importance of continued community engagement in the arts.