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Putting the Arts to Work for You

Posted Nov 17 2013 8:48am
I come up the elevator from the parking deck at the High Museum of Art and I land in this courtyard. It has been transformed into a mini-replica of the Tuileries Garden in Paris (although not a soul is out there as I seem to always catch the "quiet moments" at this popular museum). I walk through a glass building housing Parisian sculptures, the sun streaming in, and I go up to another part of the exhibit where there is a room with a gorgeous video on screens covering three walls of a stroll through the garden in the course of one day.

The film mesmerizes me and I watch it twice, once while sitting and once while standing a bit closer so that I am even more immersed and I have to turn my entire body to see it all. It totally works. I feel like I am there and I realize I am smiling from ear to ear by the time it is done. I get to thinking about the egalitarian value of public spaces and about urban planning's significant impact on healthy living. A guard and I get to chatting. They don't usually chat at this museum, but we're "out in a park in Paris" and we're both feeling friendly.

The next exhibit leaves me with a different reaction. Go West chronicles the pioneer expansion across the United States between 1830 and 1930, particularly through the perspective of art's role in communicating the evolving notion of that movement. It is bone-chilling to see what has happened to native tribes during this systematic cultural expulsion, and I feel the distance of history melt away.  It becomes raw and real and current to me, although no modern-day pictures are shown. My daughter volunteered on an Indian reservation in northern Montana this past summer and saw the poverty, addiction, and loss of cultural heritage for herself, and I think of that with a heavy heart as the reality of what has transpired in this country hits me harder than ever before. And so what happens next just feels wrong to me.

The exhibit dumps me out in the gift shop where I can buy "pieces of the Frontier for my friends and family!" Then, out in the main lobby, I can take my picture behind a cardboard cut-out of either Annie Oakley or Bill Cody!  

No and no.  (Although, in all fairness, I know the sale of gift shop merchandise helps fund the museum, and I do admire this museum's marketing attempts to make museum-going experiences fun.)

What I really want to do is find out more about the continual plight of Native Americans, and what's being done to help recompense for the atrocities they have endured. 

What I really want to do is go to Ted's Montana Grill and order a bison burger (even though I'm a vegetarian) because Ted Turner (my old boss, who turns 75 this week), who is actually the largest bison rancher in the world, is saving the bison ( see here ) by raising them for meat after they were almost driven to extinction when the migratory Plains Indians were forced onto reservations. 

These feelings remind me how art in all its forms can inspire thought, research, and often action on my part. Through art, I get to connect the dots in history, delve into topics about which I may know little or nothing, and find yet another entry point into helping change our world for the better. More and more organizations of all types (non-profit, corporate, governmental, etc.) are noticing this power of the arts as well, and putting it to work for them.

And that's where Bridgit comes in.

Bridgit Antoinette Evans is an award-winning artist, culture-change strategist, and campaign producer who brings human rights organizations together to radically change how people relate and respond to complex social issues, from sex trafficking to policy decisions regarding aging. 

She founded and runs Fuel, based in New York City, which works with non-profit partners to deliver measurable results through high-visibility artist partnerships, cause-related events, social marketing campaigns, creative collaborations, corporate partnerships, media opportunities, and more. 

Bridgit spoke to about 40 students following a prudction of the play Venus at the University of Pittsburgh two weeks ago, and I was there . The second she opened her mouth and that beautiful, unique voice poured forth, I felt her aura. And then I connected with her message. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bridgit this past week. That voice! So incredibly liquid and penetrating. And then she articulates so eloquently not just the responsibility but the mandate she has always felt to use the power of art for social change. 

"It's not enough to tell a beautiful story in a theater. Storytelling is the heartbeat that feeds a larger strategy," she told me the day before I saw the musical Parade, which is one of the five best plays I've ever seen, at a local theater.

Parade is about the murder of a Jewish factory supervisor falsely accused of killing a 13-year-old girl one hundred years ago just 15 miles or so from where I live right now. Having just spoken with Bridgit, I felt hungry for more after seeing the play--more information about antisemitism and child labor laws and social justice in the legal system. I felt compassion, yet again, for changing ways of life and how history really is not a closed book from yesterday but a living, breathing thread that connects the past with today indefinitely. And how art doesn't exist in a vacuum. My gosh, if that's what two hours in a theater can do, what on earth is possible?

With an undergraduate degree from Stanford, an MFA from Columbia, and intensive training at the National Theater Institute (and throw in being raised by a woman active in the Civil Rights Movement in the southern United States), Bridgit believes the powerful combination of artists and change theory holds extraordinary potential for a society already proving its preference for storytelling, especially through social media. You can see some of Fuel's major global campaigns here .

Storytelling is one of the oldest and most revered skill sets in the history of humanity, from cave drawings to TedX talks. At this time of crisis and need in our changing world combined with unprecedented communications clutter, storytelling is increasingly taking, well, center stage. Artists are in increasing demand as natural and valued communicators, especially when combined with a targeted business strategy and the power of technology. For instance, the Future of Storytelling Summit was featured in the Wall Street Journal recently, and CNN featured how a dance troupe markets creativity to cube-dwellers .

For those of us who have insisted on the importance of the arts for a sustainable future, this is, of course, no surprise. But it's always nice to see it in action.
Bridgit Antoinette Evans is an award-winning artist, culture change strategist and campaign producer who brings artists and human rights organizations together to radically change how people relate and respond to complex social issues. - See more at:
Bridgit Antoinette Evans is an award-winning artist, culture change strategist and campaign producer who brings artists and human rights organizations together to radically change how people relate and respond to complex social issues. - See more at:

eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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