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REAL TALK Sparks Dialogue About Art And Community Activism

In an attempt to rekindle the artistic innovation and community activism of Gallery 32, one of the few Los Angeles art organizations that exhibited the work of emerging African American artists during the 1960s and 1970s, the Laband Art Gallery and “Truth About The Fact,” an international journal of literary nonfiction, hosted “REAL TALK: the Arts, the Academy and the Community.” The evening of art, discourse, music and poetry was held Feb. 26 on the Loyola Marymount University campus.

“Reach out and ask someone to tell you their story. We need to listen, and try to encourage intercultural dialogue,” said Michael Datcher, moderator of the event and English instructor at LMU.

A panel discussion of academics, artists and community organizers explored how and where these stakeholders intersect from a political, racial and creative perspective. Holli Levitsky, associate professor of English and chair of LMU’s Jewish Studies program, began the conversation with a brief history of how the Nazis manipulated the arts to further their beliefs against the Jews.

“It’s important to explore how propaganda insinuated itself into [the German] government and ultimately [abetted] the killing of 11.5 million people,” Levitsky said. “The Nazis began to dehumanize the Jews by transmitting negative images through art, music, theatre, movies, television and the media.”

The panel then discussed the role art plays in community organizing and activism. Dana Rose, member of Hollygrove: EMQ Families First Service Agency, explained how she uses art to help her clients better understand themselves and the world around them.

“Art is a universal language that can allow people to develop better coping and anger management skills,” Rose said. “People can change the negative images in their mind into something different to strengthen themselves and the community around them.”

Panel members also answered questions from the audience, including why the arts should be saved especially in this severe economic downturn.

“You can’t take art away because art is life. Everyone has beauty inside [of them] to share. When people feel good about themselves they won’t stop expressing that beauty,” said Roderick Sykes, co-founder of St. Elmo Village, a neighborhood-based arts center in Mid-Wilshire. “We are all connected. There is no disconnect.”

Edgar Arceneaux, director of the Watts House Project; Terry Lenigan, assistant professor of art and director of ARTsmart, and Damon Willick, assistant professor of art and art history also joined the panel.

The event included a poetry reading by Wanda Coleman, a jazz performance by Jason Powell and a performance by the band, Half Empty.