The Future According to Art: An Interview with Beverly Naidus

Artist, teacher, and Blue Mountain Center alum Beverly Naidus has invited interested people of all backgrounds to submit images and text for an exhibition called “Imagining the Future We Want.” 10 Years + Counting recently interviewed Naidus about the project, with a particular interest in how it dovetails with raising awareness of the costs of war .

1. Please describe your project. What inspired you to tackle it?
I have invited more than 2000 people on Facebook to contribute to “Imagining the Future We Want.”  Here is the text from Facebook: “I’m inviting all my Facebook friends to come up with an image and/or text that focuses on a reconstructive vision of the future. In other words, as the old system of dominant culture is collapsing, we need to be imagining the world we want to live in, and I want everyone to spend some time developing that vision.  I will make a blog of the work and it may travel to other exhibition sites if there are folks who want to host it. You do NOT need to be a professional visual artist to participate in this exhibition. Local performers are welcome to suggest other forms for an evening or afternoon of visionary intermedia adventures.”
    When I was asked by a colleague on Facebook for more clarification regarding what system is collapsing, I elaborated in the following way:  “Our dominant culture, as we now know it, is imploding – neo-liberalism as a system has not worked for anyone except the filthy rich, and it is collapsing, as is the delicate balance of the ecosystems that determine the abundance or lack thereof of clean water, air and food. The systems that we have been using for education, creating energy, health care, solving conflict, offering equity, etc. are all in disrepair and need to be reshaped in profound ways if our species is going to survive and thrive (in balance with other species). Many options that have been imagined over the past century or so, need to be put back on the table, the wall and the web so that we can engage the imaginations of the public and develop more momentum. I hope this explanation generates some fuel for your muses.”

 2. What have you learned from this project so far?
I’ve learned that people are really interested in developing their visions for the future, and that it has given those who might be leaning in more cynical directions permission to dream big.  The deadline for submissions is August 20th, and I have already received 40 pieces, and some come from as far away as Egypt and Germany.  I am looking forward to stewarding the exhibition and developing the blog as a resource for activists and artists around the world.

3. How do you wage peace each day?
My mindfulness practice, art practice and walking in the woods are the only ways I could manage the rage and fear that sometimes creeps up in my consciousness.  When I start being mean to myself, I know that it is an easy step to imposing that meanness on others.  Watching those feelings and having compassion for them or making art about them, usually changes their chemistry and allows the conflict to unfold in a non-violent way.

4. How can people get involved in your project?
They can send their image/text that is a reconstructive vision of the world (it could be a small gesture to transform the current dominant culture, or a large one).  Images need to be 300 dpi, 8.5×11, and can be sent to POBox 13126, Burton, WA 98013. The deadline is August 20th. 

5. Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Of the curriculum I have created since 2003, most relevant to 10YAC is my course on Art in a Time of War.  I work at a non-traditional, urban campus, where many of our students are connected with the military in some way (Tacoma, Washington, is surrounded by military bases). Working with veterans, spouses and children of soldiers, and citizens who are seemingly disconnected from the war industry has been one of the most profound experiences in my work as a teacher and artist.  My work with Thich Nhat Hanh, the anti-war poet and Buddhist monk, prepared me for this work and allows me to create a safe space in which stories can be shared.
    I have been teaching various forms of socially engaged art since the late 1970’s, starting in grad school in Nova Scotia and then as a visiting artist at many colleges.  My book on this topic of teaching art for social change, Arts for Change: Teaching Outside the Frame, contains the stories of 33 other teaching artists from North America, Canada and the UK.  It is written as a collage of memoir, history, theory and fable, and it offers many resources to the uninitiated as well as those who are aware of the field.
    As for as imagining the future we want through art making, my influences have been many.  Eco-feminist literature by Marge Piercy, Starhawk, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and many others gave me a sense of possibility, as did working with Joanna Macy (whose work I first discovered in the Blue Mountain Center library in 1983).  In the early nineties, when I was a visiting artist at the Institute for Social Ecology, I first learned about “reconstructive visions for the future” and that ability to move beyond critique into the world of imagining what we want – all of these influences, as well as becoming a mother, have galvanized my practice as an artist and teacher ever since.

Beverly Naidus is an internationally recognized artist on the faculty at UW Tacoma where she teaches interdisciplinary studio courses in art for social change and healing. Conceptually-based and socially engaged, she works in many mediums, allowing the content to determine the form. Themes in her work include the ecological crisis, fear of difference, nuclear nightmares,  body image and her dreams for a reconstructed world. She is the author of Arts for Change: Teaching Outside the Frame, New Village Press, 2009 as well as two artist’s books, One Size Does Not Fit All and What Kinda Name is That. She lives on Vashon Island and in Seattle with her husband, Bob Spivey (founder of SEEDS, www.socialecologyvashon.org) and their teenage son. She is currently completing an eco-art project, Eden Reframed, that involves bio-remediation of toxic soil, an archive of farmers’ and gardeners’ stories housed in sculptural story hives and the creation of a permaculture-designed food forest. She also has been stewarding a project that deals with the legacy of nuclear energy called NUKED NOTES: The Journey of a Free Radical that will be exhibited this coming year. Her websites are beverlynaidus.net and www.artsforchange.org and her blog for her one of current projects is www.edenreframed.blogspot.com.
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