Recently I exhibited HERliograph at Blessed Unrest, a three-day festival that brought together activists, performing artists, writers, educators, visual artists, poets and other change makers who work at the intersection of art and social justice. The event was held at the CounterPulse Theater, which has been supporting community-based arts since the early 90’s in San Francisco. Over the course of three days, twenty-five artists across different mediums gave over a dozen performances, workshops and panel discussions reflecting upon art’s transformational power.
After Blessed Unrest, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Polina Smith, the producer of the event and a heroine, for a few questions:
What was your goal in producing Blessed Unrest?
PS: I’ve had the privilege to meet a lot of incredible artists working at the intersection of arts and social justice. I’ve long had a dream to connect these amazing people who share this essence in their work. In other parts of the world arts for social justice is well-established. Developmental arts or community arts, as it is called in Europe for example, is recognized as its own field, different than say the ballet or other arts-based nonprofits. Not so in the US. I'm passionate about bringing forth this recognition for art and social justice. And for people to recognize the arts as a powerful agent of necessary social change.
What were your favorite moments of Blessed Unrest?
PS: Blessed Unrest’s role in initiating the new CounterPulse Theater space. After being at the forefront of arts for social justice for over twenty years, CounterPulse lost its lease and was forced to move out of its former home. Thanks to a charitable act and after months of renovation, CounterPulse moved into its new home at 80 Turk Street, right in the middle of the thriving arts community it has long served. I’m thrilled to produce my arts and social justice event that is CounterPulse’s opening act. This impact became tangible to me when a group of Tenderloin residents came in to enjoy our performance on the second evening. At one point performers and audience members alike came together in a spontaneous choir, creating song and dance accompanied by drumming. In that moment, I felt grateful, thinking especially of who usually has access to art spaces and who doesn’t. I felt the power of art to open minds and hearts and to break barriers. Through incredible artistry, it is possible that we reach a higher plane. Then never again are we the same. And I found myself thinking if this is what I devote my life to, it is a life worth living.
PS: I came away from the weekend having an even deeper appreciation for how art functions as an agent for transformation and cleansing. Art has served as such agent for much of human history, like when our ancestors danced to bring on the rain, sang to welcome a newborn, or wailed to release grief of loss. Art has the power to hold space for stories that are denied elsewhere, stories that are never heard by the legal system or recognized in media. I’m exhilarated by this experience of reclaiming art for higher purposes. As Elbert Hubbard has said, “Art is not a thing. It is a way.” May the world we dream be danced, sung, and painted into being.
In this spirit, I’m energized to continue following my dreams just as producing Blessed Unrest has come to fruition for me after dreaming about it for so long. What’s already in the works includes producing a clown cabaret that celebrates art, dance and activism. Swipe Right, an epic singles event with experts speaking on sex and dating. And Holistic Health Saloon, a natural and health wellness fair.
Rock on, Dreamcatcher!