For me, art is a form of activism.
I’m of the camp that believes that all art is political- it’s all just a matter of how political you want to make it. And ever since the beginning, The Anthropologists has been a pro-social theater company. Heck the first play we did (before we were even a theater company) was about how Christopher Columbus was not the hero we think he was! And this was back in 2007 when there was no conversation about Indigenous People’s Day! The Anthropologists’ work has been exactly the kind of work I’ve wanted to do. Of course, devised, political, experimental theater can be very challenging work, but we've formed a community and created plays that have been extremely meaningful to me.
(from L to R) Developmental showing of This Sinking Island - 2017); as Edna in The Lecture (part of The Anthropologists Save The World! - 2017); as Christopher Columbus in Another Place - 2011)
The climate change related plays we’ve conceived are some of those very dear to my heart. As many of you know, I’ve been an environmentalist for quite a while and the attempts at communicating my frustration and concern were (are!) gratifying and cathartic and memorable. I’ll certainly never forget the month we all took on an environmental challenge while creating Another Place. I attempted to eat only food with biodegradable packaging. On a budget. That was.... healthy. Needless to say, that was not always achievable! But perhaps the act of trying was most important.
About two years ago, I took my environmentalism a step further. I had just read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and it was devastating. I had to do something more. So I started volunteering with the Sierra Club, going to marches and rallies, passing out ‘Ban Fracking!’ flyers out in front of the 157th Street station. It was thrilling and I felt so much better because I was doing something active.
And I learned a few things.
FIRST: Art and activism aren’t always easy to distinguish.
Marches and rallies themselves seem to be a form of theater: it’s a public act, done for other people to witness and there are even lines to say (if you choose to say them)!
SECOND: Art and activism go hand in hand; each informs the other.
For me, activism is rejuvenating- to be with other people who believe the same things I do and are acting on it, is borderline spiritual. I learn so much from my fellow activists and am inspired to learn more- I even took a class last month on climate change. Art is where I take all that emotion and all the things I've learned and express them, where I frame my thoughts and feelings in ways I hope are inspiring or thought-provoking. That expression, in turn, inspires me to do more, to learn more so I can be more informed in my art!
THIRD: There is a real necessity for each.
We must have activism to put our feet down on the side of what's right and to move the needle of change a little in the direction that's most productive for a better world. Activism can seem tedious at times- pushing for offshore wind in New York can feel like a small thing, but they are concrete goals and solid wins. I'm learning more and more that these small changes are the things that change the whole.
FOURTH: Art is also necessary.
The arts effect culture in a deep way, more than news and data ever can. They change people's perspective and understanding of situations at the core. We need artists to fight against climate change more than ever now. We can clearly see that it doesn't matter how many facts we get from the scientists or from journalists, people respond to what they feel and facts don't carry feelings.
So if you have any inclination to create climate art or go to a rally or volunteer or any of that, please DO IT! Did you know that if 10% of the population rises up a movement has legs? DO IT!! And you might create some change!
Jean (center) with longtime collaborator Jennifer Griffee (left) and
Artistic Director Melissa Moschitto (right) at The People's Climate March (2014)
Jean Goto is a Founding Member of The Anthropologists and has been a collaborator on: The Columbus Project, Give Us Bread, Falling and Excess (part of For The Love Of...), Another Place, No Man's Land, The Lecture, The Blackout and The Robot.