In just two short years, Alternate ROOTS will turn 40. In the build-up to this milestone, we are launching A Call to Action – a three-year initiative that will deeply investigate our work as artists and cultural organizers. During each year of this initiative we will explore a core element of arts activism: Aesthetics in 2014, Transformation in 2015, and Emergence/Organizing in 2016. These themes will be activated in a variety of ways – in our Community Artists Partnership Program (C/APP), during ROOTS Week, and through the rich tapestry of arts activism our members create in their communities across the country.
When Keryl McCord, Alternate ROOTS Managing Director, first introduced A Call to Action at this past ROOTS Week, she took us back, grounding our current moment and future plans in ROOTS’ early days:
“Once upon a time a group of artists gathered in the woods, in the mountains, in Tennessee. Because there was a sense of isolation. It was 1976 … there weren’t a lot of people doing this work, so they came together to break the isolation.”
In the years since, a lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t. “Thirty-seven years later, there are more of us,” Keryl acknowledged, “because many of us still work in isolation – because the work that we do is not ‘popular’ art, it’s not ‘high’ art.” The isolation we still feel is not only a product of our geography or our chosen field; it is also deeply embedded in the oppressive structures we oppose. In the words of Stephanie Guilloud of Project South: “Isolation is a tactic,” one that can keep us from gathering our fullest power. But, Stephanie continues: “If isolation is a tactic, then collectivity is a threat.”
A Call to Action, like Alternate ROOTS itself, resists the divisive nature of isolation by harnessing the power of our collectivity. Over the next three-years, our membership will engage in in-depth explorations of Aesthetics, Transformation, and Emergence/Organizing. C/APP will be at the forefront of this initiative, with each year’s theme serving as a through line by which we as a community can reflect on the C/APP projects during ROOTS Week and throughout the year. Through this process, Keryl reminds us, we are doing the good work of “taking what could be theory and moving to practice, moving from principles to action, moving from belief to organizing.” By buoying our art and cultural organizing with deep, reflective dialogue, by mobilizing our dialogue into action, we collectively strengthen our power to create change in the world.
When we first heard the Call to Action at ROOTS Week this August, we were less than a month removed from George Zimmerman’s acquittal. Keryl invoked that injustice when she spoke to us: “After the Trayvon Martin verdict, A Call to Actionis a more powerful metaphor and theme than ever … this is a time for action … this is a time to build a movement. And this is a time to make our presence felt.”
Now, nearing the year’s end, as we celebrate the liberatory life of Nelson Mandela, A Call to Action remains ever powerful. This is a time for action. This is a time to build a movement. This is a time to make our presence felt.
Nicole Gurgel is Alternate ROOTS’ Content Developer, as well as a performance-maker, educator and activist based in Austin, Texas. In addition to her work with ROOTS, she is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Drama at Austin Community College.