Another World in Progress: A Progressive Think-Tank in Brazil Opens the Door to Artists

Article excerpt

As a theatre artist who is also an activist, I'm often troubled by the exclusion of artists in the planning and articulations of progressive actions or movements. When we are invited, it is typically to "make something" that furthers a cause already articulated by others, or to provide the decoration for the rallies and help "get people there." (I think we're too often content to be the decoration, but that's another conversation.) To my mind, this is the mother lode of missed opportunities. It's what artists--especially theatre artists--do, for god's sake: imagine new worlds and possibilities, draw uncommon connections and bring heretofore unassociated elements together to articulate new worlds. All of which we hope (ohpleaseletitbe goodenoughsmartenoughfinished enough) will provoke or enable people to somehow reconsider the nature of possibility. Not a small task, but one to which many artists are bound. That was the stone in my shoe that motivated the formation of the Foundry Theatre 11 years ago. I wanted to provide theatre artists with public spaces in which they could imagine things together--both new works of art and new worlds for that art to exist within.

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When I heard last fall that the World Social Forum, the biggest global assembly of progressive activists in the world, decided to open up space for artists--to invite us as full partners to the WSF annual global think-tank--it got my attention. Was there really going to be enough room for us? The answer was yes, and then some. I've just come back from this fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where the imagination, efforts and experiences of 155,000 people from 135 different countries spilled out into the public space that the WSF creates, sweeping thousands of us up into collective global imagining--a vision I can only characterize as a "future."

Operating under the ethos that "bottom line" is measured by what is good for people, not by what is good for markets or capital, the WSF provides open space for progressive thinkers, grassroots activists and community organizers from all over the world to exchange ideas, review innovations in economic, political/civic and social models, and to network widely toward more effective actions. It's a public space for big ideas or proposals to be conceived and organized. The intention is to think together on a global basis, to make room--in greater depth each year--for the search for alternatives to the dominant (and sputtering) world model.

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There's been a lot of imagining going on over the past five years under the banner of the WSF, whose maxim is "another world is possible"--polyphonic imagining, across continents, cultures, classes, languages, that has generated unprecedented possibility. And now, after four days, 2,500 workshops, roundtables, panels, parties and tens of thousands of conversations smattered across multiple, sometimes broken, languages, I am left with no doubt that this global, collaborative and collective imagining has already activated "another world in process." And not a moment too soon.

THE SPACE FOR ARTISTS WAS EVEN more generous than I expected. To begin with, there were 400 activities scheduled on 14 different stages: 13 dance performances, 85 plastic art exhibitions/installations, 150 films and videos, and 100 concerts--the opening night event featured Spain's Furia del Baus, Australia's Snuff Puppets and musicians from five continents, including a glorious set from the divine Giberto Gil, who happens to be Brazil's minister of culture (how great is that?) and, as it turns out, a much better singer than John Ashcroft. There were 41 plays and 7 theatre workshops. I saw only one of them, forgive me! It was a raucous, at times stirring, movement-theatre piece created by Brazilian director Marcio Vianna and 200 performers. Rehearsed over three days and performed al fresco over the course of four hours, Farra de Teatro (Theatre Spree) was a marvelous, loose baggy monster composed of several familiar theatrical tropes we've seen before but I was glad to see again. …