Synthesis of Learning

Three Lenses on MicroFest USA: Intentions, Values, and Prepositions
By Gerard Stropnicky

This is the second of two essays by Gerard Stropnicky, director, writer, actor, and co-founder of the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET) that reflect on NET’s MicroFest: USA. In this essay, Stropnicky looks at the work of socially engaged ensemble theaters featured at MicroFest: USA to examine how ensemble values and practices influence the work and its impact in the context of place-based revitalization and renewal. He looks at the work through three lenses: intention, values, and language of engagement. He discusses how clarity of social intention supports artistic choices and engagement strategies by comparing two quite different plays related to issues of incarceration—Angola 3 and Did You See Me?— performed as excerpts at MicroFest: New Orleans. Through a range of other examples from Detroit, Appalachia, and New Orleans MicroFests, Stropnicky proposes five core values that guide theater that most effectively transforms, revitalizes, and renews distressed communities—agency, authenticity, artistry, audacity, and accuracy—as well as thoughts on the complex interrelationships between them.  Finally, he reflects on the language of engagement, that is, how the prepositions by, with, in, and about which describe the work suggest the degree of social engagement had by community members and people affected by issues of place.

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MicroFest USA: A synthesis of learning about art, culture, & place
By Pam Korza

For Executive Summary click here.

This paper synthesizes key insights from MicroFest: USA—part festival, part learning exchange—orchestrated in 2012–2013 by the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET) to take a fresh look at the roles of art, culture, and artists in creating healthy vibrant communities.  MicroFest shone a light on a spectrum of cultural production, including ensemble theaters, that is traditionally under the radar in official or conventional creative placemaking strategies, but that constitutes a critical part of the cultural ecosystem.  This paper draws from the experiences and dialogues of Microfests in Detroit, Appalachia, and New Orleans and shares substantially the illuminating ideas and examples offered in a set of eight essays that NET commissioned. These essays provide perspectives from locally and nationally situated artists, activists, cultural leaders, community developers, and others who were at MicroFest with the task of exploring NET’s four core questions: 1) What does the work look like? 2) What makes the work work? 3) What are we learning about working across sectors? 4) What difference are we making, and how do we know?  The paper also surfaces implications for NET and ensemble theaters; for those in the field working at the intersection of art/culture and placemaking, social change, and civic engagement; and for funders to advance the full spectrum of arts and culture in creative placemaking and healthy, vibrant communities.

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