Smile Politely

Five things in arts this month: June 2020

This list will seem different than those in previous months. But this moment requires change; as it requires listening. This is not a list of opportunities for easy entertainment. This is a list of important voices from within and without Champaign-Urbana. These artists lay bare the pain that racism has wrought, as well as the powerful art it has inspired. These are their stories to tell. Now more than ever, they require listening. This is a list of works likely to start difficult, yet important conversations. In this space and others like it, we talk a lot about the power of art to heal, to unite, and to create understanding and empathy. So take a break from the news and listen to the artists. 

Halfway to Dawn

Image: Photo from Halfway to Dawn, performed by David Rousséve/REALITY. Photo from KCPA Facebook.

Image: Photo from Halfway to Dawn, performed by David Rousséve/REALITY. Photo from KCPA Facebook. 

I watched and reviewed this powerful performance in what seems like a lifetime ago. During their September 2019 visit to Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, choreographer David Rousséve and his nine-performer dance/theatre company REALITY conjured up a multi-dimensional dance portrait of composer Billy Strayhorn. And while I’m tempted to share my favorite moments once again, this isn’t about me. This is about listening and watching. 

KCPA recently shared a link to a trailer for this performance on their social media. I encourage you to watch it. And when you’re done, you can learn more about David Rousséve/REALITY here and about Billy Strayhorn here

Multiple works by playright/performer/activist Anna Deveare Smith

Image: Black and white close-up photo of Anna Deveare Smith. Photo from KCPA Facebook.

Image: Black and white close-up photo of Anna Deavere Smith. Photo from KCPA Facebook.

Deavere Smith famously creates “living portraits of both legendary and everyday people who illustrate and illuminate her topics.” Creating a new form, often referred to as documentary theatre, Deavere Smith does not seek to “give voice” to her subjects but rather to celebrate those very voices. I was lucky enough to watch her perform excerpts from her works Notes from the Field (part of her social justice initiative called “The Anna Deavere Smith Pipeline Project” and Twilight: Los Angeles (a one-woman play exploring the 1991 Rodney King beating and the aftermath of 1992 verdict). I’ve been thinking about Deavere Smith a lot this week. As much for her performances as for the wisdom she shared with our community on the second night of her February 2020 visit to Krannert. You can read my take aways from those two nights here. But, more importantly, watch Notes from the Field here


Image: Photo of Philadanco dancers. Photo from Facebook.

Image: Photo of Philadanco dancers. Photo from Facebook.

During the pandemic Krannert Center has been curating a selection of performing arts content meant to meet the moment. While they cannot begin to fill the empty space that shuttering live performance leaves, they do expand our horizons. In a recent post, they shared this piece from choreographer Milton Meyers for Philadanco. The work is a response to the COVID-19 crisis’ impact on people of color.  As Anna Deavere Smith reminded us in her recent visit, it is the artists we look to to help us make sense of the world, to help us experience that world through the eyes, and the pain, of others. Watch it here

Krannert Art Museum 

Image: Barbara Jones-Hogu, America, from Student Independent 8, 1968, Serigraph. Image from KAM Facebook.

Image: Barbara Jones-Hogu, America, from Student Independent 8, 1968, Serigraph. Image from KAM Facebook.

We find ourselves in a moment where we are separated from the art spaces that we would normally turn to for healing, and understanding. But that does not mean that we are completely separated from powerful art that speaks to the moment. Krannert Art Museum director Jon L. Seyd spoke to this need on social media.

“We profoundly regret that Krannert Art Museum cannot be open right now to folks in person to serve as a laboratory to explore ideas, a sanctuary for solace and reflection, and a civic center for exploring difficult ideas with dignity and respect. We will do our best to use our digital platforms to do this work.

As one small step, over the next week, we will explore works of art that confront the racist systems of oppression at work in this moment as well as reflect on works that will propel us forward, with hope.”

So if you don’t already, follow KAM on Facebook and Instagram to follow along on this journey.


Image: February 2020 cover of Luminous magazine. Image from Facebook.

Image: February 2020 cover of Luminous magazine. Image from Facebook.

I recently discovered Luminous on the Buy Black Chambana website and was inspired by its mission and content. A “quarterly publication empowering and uplifting the community through positive representation of the black community. ” Luminous is committed to “shifting the perspective, widening the lens, and telling the truths that are often untold.”  I look forward to reading the February 2020 issue and reporting back here. 

Follow Luminous on Facebook.  Learn more about the magazine and get a copy here

Arts Editor

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