Friday, October 4, 2019

Red Clay Dance Company: Words to Live By: Artivism

The leadership of Red Clay Dance Company explores themes and topics inspired by various words that resonate among its artists, students, administrators, and supporters. We will offer some examples in a series of stories during the next few months and ask for your responses to them as well.
This month, we begin with ARTIVISM:

·      The use of art to raise critical consciousness, build community, and motivate individuals to promote social change
·      A catalyst to engage community members in actionable change around social inequities, allowing those people to develop agency to interrupt and alter oppressive systemic patterns or individual behaviors 
What does artivism mean to Red Clay Dance Company?
Vershawn Sanders-Ward, Founder and Artistic Director
I was starting work on a solo, Say Her Name, in 2014. I was trying to find language to talk about my work but also come up with a term for individuals who do this kind of work—art and social justice. I discovered a quote about artivism by writer, poet, and educator M.K. Asante. He wrote about understanding that once you see and know inequity, you are responsible to act, and art is a way to address those issues. So I thought: How do I do it inside my art so it inspires other folks to question it? Sometimes having a visceral experience can be more impactful than reading an article or seeing it on the news—seeing it in the body, which is where we all live.
An artivist is like an anthropologist. I see my work as activism through art and a way to ground the company members so they understand that its power might be different than artistic expression from their past. I need every dancer working with Red Clay to commit to the idea that being a performing artivist is a different way to use your artistic gift.

Making an Artivist is a program we developed using the tools of an artivist in our approach to a new work:
- research (outside materials and inside body) 
- investigation
- refinement
We did a performance at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and received questions about why we chose our themes and how we came up with our movement. We decided to create a process to reveal the artivist inside of each of them, taking the tools, practices, and activities from our rehearsal process into other programming.

Chaniece Holmes, Artistic 
Artivism is an opportunity to be 
creative in solution making and 
advocating, a beautiful blend of 
using your art form of choice to 
address issues within your 
community. I see it manifested 
the strongest in the after-school 
programs I teach and in the Red 
Clay Dance Youth Ensemble.
Sara Ziglar, Artistic Associate:
Artivism is the active use of 
art to build and strengthen 
communities; it invites us to 
consider and create spaces 
that work for everybody. 
Artivism challenges the 
witness to become a 
participant in community 
development. It is the 
work of change that 
creatively bridges the gap 
between possibility and reality. 
I see artivism in my work 
with Red Clay Dance every 
time a participant accesses 
the power of their identity 
and voice. I see it when 
dialogue is sparked with 
an audience member about 
the content of 
one of our performances/
activations. When a person 
engaged with our work has 
an awakening about the 
power they possess to 
create change, and they 
pursue community spaces 
and initiatives that match 
their passion—that’s 
artivism in motion.


Tina Ward, adult 
Academy student, 
grandparent of two 
I go into CPS and private 
schools and teach art, 
musical theatre, or dance. 
Urban schools are 
seriously lacking or 
have limited means to 
expose their children 
to “the arts.” Most children 
I’ve come in contact with 
haven’t ever been to any 
type of live theatre 
production, cooking 
course, singing lessons, 
etc. Some of these same 
children are going to be 
our future artists—painters, 
dancers, architects, chefs. 
The earlier they are 
exposed, the better 
chance they have to 
embrace and believe in 
their calling. 
I look at my job as an 
avenue to expose the 
children to some type of 
art form and hopefully 
help them cultivate that 
desire to use their gifts. 
How does that affect 
social change? Usually 
the first thing cut from 
 school budgets is any 
type of art, whether 
culinary, dance, music 
etc., because it’s 
viewed as “less 
important” than 
S.T.E.M., but 
actually art programs 
help children with 
science and technology, 
especially those who 
struggle in these areas. 
As a teacher/tutor, I 
aim to use art to inspire 
children in every area 
of academics, including 
social and political 
issues. Red Clay does 
the same thing through 
dance. They take 
hard issues like racism, 
colorism, slavery, and 
profiling and bring them 
to the heart of their 
dances, then leave it to 
audiences to open 
up dialogues about 
controversial topics 
within the community. 
They teach teens in the 
youth ensemble to find 
their voices in dance 
that will affect change 
in themselves and their 
communities. Artivism 
is using dance for 
more than movement, 
but also to tell stories, 
pass on traditions, 
and tackle myriad 
difficult social topics, 
as well as to encourage.

We’d like to know what 
ARTIVISM means to 
you! Please email 
and share your thoughts 
with us.

Top and bottom photos:
Red Clay Dance and Keiga 
Dance Company perform 
at the 2018 Imagining 
America National 
Gathering. The company 
facilitated a Making 
the Artivist (MTA) 
workshop at the 
conference earlier in the 
day and presented an 
excerpt of movement 
reated using the MTA 
curriculum framework.
Middle three photos:
Sara Ziglar and Chaniece 
Holmes facilitated an 
Artivist Challenge from 
the Making the Artivist 
curriculum for a group 
of directors and 
program managers for 
Boys and Girls Club of 
America during a visit 
to Red Clay Dance’s 
studios this past 
summer. The purpose of 
the visit, sponsored by 
the Wallace Foundation, 
was to learn and 
experience high impact 
arts programming as 
the Boys and Girls 
Club’s Youth Arts 
Initiative elevate 
and expand their arts 
Photographer: RCDC 
staff member Sana 

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