FESTIVE EVOLUTION: ART AND ACTIVISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY
In which artists tell the stories that most need to be told and inspire audiences, large or small, to bring about necessary social and political change.
Taking on the criminal justice system in Nashville, TN, with the Metro Public Defender's Office.
FESTIVE EVOLUTION: Art and Change-Making in the 21st Century
The main hub of Sara's work, Festive Evolution celebrates the artist's ability to tell the stories that most need to be told, give voice to the voiceless and inspire audiences, large or small, to participate actively in bringing about necessary social and political change.
For years, in Nashville, TN, women artists gathered once a month to discuss ways in which the artist effects social change. More specifically, they shared with each other their own change-making work, often in its embryonic stage. Much of this work was eventually produced in and around the Nashville community.
GIRL POWER is more than just a book. Ultimately, it's a unique program in which (all kids who identify as) adolescent girls (11 - 14) are encouraged to embark on a series of service projects that give them a taste of their very real power to effect social change.
The GIRL POWER program takes seriously the importance of educating young women about the issues that cause suffering for children around the world, while giving them the tools with which to ease that suffering in small (and possibly not so small) but important ways. To make the program fun as well as rewarding, kids who participate in the program earn a sterling silver charm for each completed section resulting, finally, in a beautiful charm bracelet.
...in which intrepid artists and change-makers embark on a series of REALITY TOURS to the front lines of the world-wide women’s movement.
EVEolution hopes someday to use the power of art to shine a spotlight on women around the world who are actively engaged in preventing conflict, building peace, advancing gender equality and empowering women; Women, in other words, who are realizing the goals set forth by the by the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
ARTEMIS: WOMEN, ART AND CHANGE-MAKING
A Book, A Bracelet, and a Chance to Make a Difference
by Sara Sharpe and Jade Chastain (a work in progress!)
ARTFULLY DOCUMENTING THE GLOBAL WOMEN'S MOVEMENT
Festive Evolution also houses FAIRVIEW: An American Conversation
An interview with Sara Sharpe (excerpted)
Be Real Magazine:
BR: Festive Evolution is the new incarnation of a 501c3 formerly known as Festive Revolution with an 'R'. Can you explain the difference? And why the name change?
SS: Well, I like to say we evolved. The fundamental principle of Festive Evolution is that artists are among the greatest agents of change in the world. Festive Evolution, ultimately, is about art that moves the people and changes the world; But Festive Revolution had a different focus.
BR: How so?
SS: I started Festive Revolution after 9/11, in response to our country’s insistence on immediately beating the drums of war following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Festive Revolution was very political, and we existed to support the anti-war movement, which was vibrant, but which was the victim of a sort of media blackout. Karl Rove was telling us that there was no real anti-war movement, and that no serious politician would show his or her face at an anti-war rally. But even as the words were coming out of his mouth, there were huge demonstrations all over the world. On February 15, 2003, for instance, ten million people took to the streets, in cities all across the globe, to demonstrate against the war in Iraq. But you would have never known it in this country, because the national and international demonstrations weren’t making the news. So there was no real discussion about whether or not we were going to war. It was just presented as the inevitable response, and if you questioned that, you were un-American. The only anti-war movement that was getting any attention was the celebrity one, for obvious reasons. But those brave souls – Steve Earle, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, etc., were getting crucified in public. It was an ugly time. In any case, that was what we had to work with, so Festive Revolution, at the time, was intentionally celebrity-centric, in addition to being artist-centric. We sought to support those celebrities and artists who were speaking out, and to train them so that they could speak out more effectively. Sean Penn was on our board, and we had an impressive celebrity advisory board which was helpful in drawing attention to the cause. But I was an inexperienced organizer at the time. I ran into some roadblocks that I hadn’t foreseen – this well known artist didn’t want to be associated with that well known artist because she was too hostile; or these grassroots artists didn’t want to be associated with those celebrities because they didn’t know their talking points or because they were still doing Gap ads … it was complicated. And then we ran out of time. Once the war started, the huge outpouring of support faded quickly. Everyone was exhausted and discouraged. It was a disappointment, but I learned a lot.
BR: And the name change?
SS: As for the name change, I invited Pete Seeger to a Fest Rev event, and I got a lovely, hand written declination from him, along with his Musical Autobiography and a PS that said, “See page 162-163.” There I found his song, “If A Revolution Comes To My Country” which is about the perils of revolution. I was a Quaker Pacifist, but he had no way of knowing that! So the name was misleading. On some level, it repelled Pete Seeger, while attracting inordinate numbers of RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) members! I was interested in a peaceful, festive Revolution; not a bloody one. And, ultimately, I’m more interested in Evolution than in Revolution. Hence the name change.
BR: And so does Festive Evolution still focus on artists and celebrities who are outspoken politically?
SS: No. Festive Evolution focuses now on art and artists. That was a specific campaign for a specific time. I still recognize that the celebrity factor can be hugely helpful in drawing attention to important issues. It’s one of the most effective tools activist organizations have at their disposal. If you host a rally about child poverty, you might be lucky to get 30 people there. But if Marianne Williamson hosts that same rally, you might get 300 people to show up. And if Taylor Swift is singing at the rally, you might draw 3,000. And the more people who hear your message the better. So the celebrities are invaluable, and many nationally and internationally recognized artists are wonderfully generous with their time. They’re willing to show up, knowing that they will bring out people who wouldn’t otherwise come. But once you get people there, you’d better deliver more than a potential brush with some famous person or other. Celebrity doesn’t move the people and change the world, only art can do that, by telling the stories that most need to be told – with words, songs, pictures, etc. It all comes back to stories, artfully told. That’s the focus of Festive Evolution now.
BR: Why stories?
SS: Because storytelling is in our DNA. Stories teach us, persuade us, define us, move us to action. They link us to our past and to our future and, most of all, they link us to each other; because stories are personal but they’re also, always, universal...
In 2016, as Communication Coordinator for the Nashville Public Defender's Office, Sara Sharpe conceived of, designed, and implemented a multi-pronged campaign designed to educate the Nashville Community about the injustices plaguing our criminal justice system, and to bring about needed reform in Nashville and beyond. The aggressive campaign included a Speaking Tour, Listening Tour, Court Watch program, and Participatory Defense group. The campaign, replete with a new Nashville Defenders logo and re-branding effort, was predicated on the idea that any re-branding effort must be earned. To that end, the office instituted an internal communication effort in addition to the external one. That effort included bi-monthly Office Culture meetings, ongoing implicit bias training, the implementation of a Client Advisory Board (that we might receive guidance and feedback from our client community) and renewed focus on client-centered representation.
DEFEND NASHVILLE: A multi-pronged Community Empowerment Initiative
For organizations and congregations interested in learning more about the criminal justice issues plaguing our nation and city, what the Public Defender office does, and what the Defend Nashville campaign entailed.
The Listening Tour relied on the wisdom of individuals who had experience with the criminal justice system and wanted to share their experiences, concerns, or ideas with the Public Defender office. Defend Nashville recognized that meaningful reform will never happen until we recognize that those who have suffered the most know best what needs to change.
Replete with a role play exercise, Court Watch enabled community members to sit in on actual court proceedings and see our criminal justice system in action.
Founded by Raj Jayadev, Participatory Defense is a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and their communities to impact the outcome of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system. Participatory Defense is a valuable opportunity to come together with other people impacted by the criminal justice system in order to share knowledge and resources, and to learn to navigate the system. It is also a reminder that family and community involvement can dramatically change the outcome of the case of a loved one.
A note from DAWN DEANER, Metro Public Defender:
Dear Nashville Community Partner,
Over the past year, Americans from all walks of life have started talking about the injustices that plague our criminal justice system. Stories about police, prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers abusing their power or ignoring their responsibilities have become a regular feature on the evening news. Meanwhile, we have raised our national consciousness about the failures and harsh consequences of our “war on drugs” and misguided “tough-on-crime” policies. Mass incarceration has become an embarrassing (and extremely expensive) American phenomenon that arguably has not made us any safer. None of which speaks to another embarrassing reality – that we have convicted and imprisoned thousands of people in this country only to discover years later that they were innocent.
Nashville is not immune from these problems. Every day, the staff at the Public Defender’s Office bears witness to a criminal justice system that dehumanizes our clients and values efficiency over fairness, wealth over poverty. While we strive to represent every client as if they were a member of our family, we sometimes fail — not for lack of trying, and certainly not for lack of skill, ability or desire. When we fail, it is most often due to the impossible volume of work we face, and our inability to do everything necessary in the time we have to defend every client as the law requires. The consequences to our clients, their families, and our community can be devastating.
In today’s Nashville, I believe anyone who understood this reality would find it unacceptable. The trouble is very few people beyond our client community know about it.
Through Defend Nashville, we want to send a message to the larger Nashville community that the Public Defender’s Office stands with our clients and their families in the fight for equal justice for everyone.
To change that, the Public Defender’s Office is launching a new initiative called Defend Nashville. Through Defend Nashville, we seek to share our experiences witnessing injustice with the rest of Nashville, and lean more about what those experiencing injustice see as the biggest problems. We hope these conversations will help unite our Office, our client community, and other Nashvillians into a grassroots movement powerful enough to bring meaningful criminal justice reform to our courthouse.
Will you join us in our Defend Nashville campaign? However you choose to connect to this powerful movement – whether through our Speaking Tour, Listening Tour, Court Watch Program, or Participatory Defense (read about campaign initiatives below)—we need and welcome you. Together, we can shift the balance of power in the courtroom and beyond.
Dawn Deaner, Metro Public Defender, 2011-2018