Like many others, I’ve been watching the growing Occupy Wall Street movement around the country over the past few weeks with a mix of wonder, excitement, unease and a host of other feelings and continue to wrestle with a post that can bring the arts into the conversation.
Like the movement itself, my thoughts still seem unclear and unfocused but I’m buoyed by the restless energy around those that feel ignored and disenfranchised. Who in the arts has not felt this way at one time or another?
Theater (yes, I’m back to the American spelling as of today) has long been linked with protest, from the Greeks to the Berliner Ensemble to the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts Jr. points out in a recent post, “Occupy Wall Street feels like the right thing at the right time, like the harbinger of a new Zeitgeist — though not everyone is convinced. Some observers dismiss the protests as “street theater,” an easy charge, given the loopy eccentrics who have been attracted to the movement like iron shavings to electromagnets. On the other hand, much of the anti-war
movement, the women’s movement, and the civil rights movement was also street
theater and those seem to have turned out fairly well.”
Theater has also long been successful at addressing nuance and the complicated often conflicting sides of an argument, the elusive “gray area” that the mainstream media often seems to have such difficulty communicating. I’m reminded of John Patrick Shanley’s discussions around “Doubt” and what caused him to write the play;
“It was a time of great certitude; it was a quieter time, and yet it was on the cusp of great change. There was a big sound coming from over the hill, and that sound was the ’60s; it came crashing in shortly after that. … At the time I wrote the play, again, it was a time of great certitude– it was the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, and I didn’t feel certain, I
felt doubtful. … I (thought) I wanted to write something… that shows what is lost and what is gained when the world changes”
Currently the big questions to me seem to be; What is our response? What kind of art can be made from this? What can we in the arts community do to support this growing movement? Lastly, what lessons can we take from OWS when advocating for ourselves?
My thoughts around this are still continuing to gel, so I throw this out to you. Is there room in the Occupy Wall Street movement for the arts? What does it look like? What are your demands?