The play "Life of Pi" opened this winter at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You may know the…
A Brief But Spectacular take on bridging communities with art
Judy Woodruff: Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Shawn Dunwoody is a local artist and activist. Early in his career, he found traditional success in galleries and universities, but now he focuses on his own neighborhood, hoping to ignite conversations through art and to create tangible changes within the community.
Tonight, Shawn shares his Brief But Spectacular take on bridging communities with art.
Shawn Dunwoody, Artist and Activist: Activism informs art, and art affects activism. They go hand in hand.
When you take that brush to the wall or to the canvas, or you're molding that clay, you're creating some sort of movement. You're looking for some sort of change. And I realize that art can actually be a fuel to kick that change off in a major way.
Growing up in Rochester, New York, I spent a lot of time alone, because mom's got to work two jobs. And I started to spend a lot of time in drawing and coloring and comic books. And I wanted to be a superhero and help shape the world. And I saw that there were ways to actually do this with art and bringing people together.
I began showing in galleries and at universities and colleges, and I was lecturing and talking about what some of the issues are that I'm dealing with here, being a Black man here in America. And I felt it was great. I'm like, oh, yes, look at this. People are paying attention to me and it's going to be great. And I got a chance to hang my artwork.
But I had a moment where I was addressing an audience, and the audience looked nothing like me. And I said, do they really care what I'm talking about? And once I leave this room, will they actually try to create some change in my neighborhood?
And I said, I need to be back in my neighborhood. I want to be what I wanted to see when I was 15-years-old. My partner and I, Suzanne Mayer, we started Hinge Neighbors. And what that was really about was about, there's a highway that runs in the middle of our city. There are two totally different social economic groups on either side. And so we wanted to be able to work together to amplify the voices of those people.
First off, we created an art project, so they could actually beautify their neighborhood together. When I'm working on a community-based project or political project, whatever that may be, I want to infuse some sort of creativity in there.
We're all making things happen together, and we're listening to music, all while we're learning about the mission that we have to accomplish in the neighborhood, all while gathering names of folks who might not otherwise come out to see or do anything if I said I want to find out how you feel about your community or your neighborhood. No.
But if they see something that draws their eye, makes them think about themselves differently in the environment, makes them feel a bit happy and connected and say, hey, I actually did this in my neighborhood, now they have actually committed themselves physically to a project, and, mentally, they're committed to moving and shaping this community.
So, that's how I use art as sort of this -- it's this sort of hook way. I kind of hook them in there and say, hey, come on. This is cool. Come in. Join me. You will like this. And what I have seen is that people will really talk to each other and engage in conversation.
And when we listen, when we try to understand, when we reach out and we ask and we give and we ask and we give, we will find out there are amazing things that can be accomplished together when we connect.
My name is Shawn Dunwoody, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on bridging communities with art.
Judy Woodruff: And it's pretty uplifting.
And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.