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Thursday, November 5, 2015

YBCA's Public Square Brings People Together for Art and Dialogue

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2015 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge BETHANY HINES
  • Bethany Hines

Marc Bamuthi Joseph, chief of program and pedagogy at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, has certainly spent a lot of his time onstage as a dancer, actor, and National Poetry Slam champion. But now, he’s thinking a lot about what it’s like to be in the audience and what to do with the inspiration that hits you after seeing a great performance — whether in music, dance, theater or film.

To tap into that inspiration, YBCA has been hosting Public Squares, where artists address a question — this Saturday, for example, it’s “What is the future of urban life?” – but along with those curated artists, YBCA has invites others who have attended previous shows to respond to that question.

click to enlarge Marc Bamuthi Joseph - BETHANY HINES
  • Bethany Hines
  • Marc Bamuthi Joseph

Presenting all types of disciplines is nothing new for YBCA. But a Public Square takes it further.

“The big difference in a Public Square is we’re bringing creative citizens of all types to respond to questions in our midst,” Joseph said. “We just had an election — in the aftermath we’re thinking about how are we economically and socially and architecturally building our future together?”

On November 7, along with the new exhibits, Office Space, which looks at office architecture and design; Work in Progress: Investigations of South of Market, and the music-driven theatrical show by Degenerate Art EnsemblePredator Songstress, there will also be works by other artists, invited to showcase their responses on the urban future.

Joseph says YBCA has a whole process of finding these people that involves regular meetings, going to shows together and just asking people on the staff who is doing work that’s exciting them.

click to enlarge Dancer Michelle Dorrance - MATTHEW MURPHY
  • Matthew Murphy
  • Dancer Michelle Dorrance
Some of the artists they came up with who will be at YBCA on November 7 include tap dancer and 2015 MacArthur Fellow Michelle Dorrance; filmmaker and organizer dream hampton who’s presenting a documentary Treasure: From Tragedy to Transjustice, Mapping a Detroit Story; the Bay Area’s spoken word ensemble Young Gifted and Black; and Oakland vocalist and emcee, Jennifer Johns.

But it’s not just for big names in the art world. Joseph says those presenting their work include people who make their living as gardeners, teachers and city workers.

“I think for some of our participants it’s life-changing,” Joseph said. “They have creative impulses they don’t get to exercise in their daily lives, or they don’t have a platform, certainly not like YBCA.”

Joseph says it’s transformed the staff as well, making them more understanding of a responsibility to not only to identify artists, but be activists as well. And with the displacement in both San Francisco and Oakland, that’s necessary, he says.

“We as a staff and a cultural institution can’t be neutral or passive – we do not have the luxury or privilege to be in own Shangri-La above it all,” he said. “Under the leadership of Deborah Cullinan [YBCA’s CEO] it’s not enough to present culture — we need to be a generator of culture that moves people.”

Joseph feels strongly about this need to involve the community, and he brings in the natural world to support his point.

“A beehive is not an ecosystem. One flower is not an ecosystem,” he said. “Nature teaches us the more diversity there is, the healthier we are. That’s true in the social world as well as in the natural world.”

Public Square,  Saturday, Nov. 7, noon to 10 p.m.,at Yerba Buena Center For The Arts, 701 Mission, $10 or free for members, 415-978-2700.


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Emily Wilson

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