Activism has only grown in importance since the 2016 election cycle and art activism has done the same. This year’s University of Utah David P. Gardner Graduate Lecture aims to highlight that collaboration, titled “A Conversation with Artist Activists.” The lecture involves three respected artist-activists in a panel discussion led by KUER RadioWest’s, Doug Fabrizio. Those artists are dancer, choreographer and artistic director Bill T. Jones; playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance-artist, director and producer Taylor Mac; and theater director and performance artist Niegel Smith.
“These artists exemplify the ways in which the arts manifest and reflect social change,” said Raymond Tymas-Jones, Associate Vice President for the Arts and Dean of the College of Fine Arts. Looking at their artist profiles, this becomes clear.
Jones, for example, has used combinations of movement and mixed media to highlight racism and AIDS in particular. A heavily awarded artist, Jones has also written and co-written a few books, one with his late partner, Arnie Zane, as well as co-founded the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.
Performer of 24-hour concert “A 24 Decade History of Popular Music,” Mac, whose preferred gender pronoun is ‘judy,’ has a vast repertoire of work in art and community organizing. Judy will be performing at the U’s Kingsbury Hall on Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. to kick off MLK week for the U campus.
Smith’s similarly vast body of work specifically investigates the intersections of national and cultural identities, as well as the issues that arise there. He is currently working as the Artistic Director of New York City’s theater, The Flea, in addition to other positions and projects.
Gathering all of these artists together to create such a respected panel took time. Associate Dean for Art & Creative Engagement and Executive Director of multi-disciplinary presenter UtahPresents, Brooke Horejsi, explained that it all started with Mac’s concert performance. While working on that project, interest grew to involve Mac in the lecture.
“Through further conversation, it came to light that Niegel Smith has been working with Taylor on this project and others for many years,
and that his voice during this lecture would be a great addition,” Horejsi said. Jones’ name came up then, having supported Mac’s work and collaborated with Smith in the past.
“The stars aligned to put together this really amazing trio of artists engaging in such interesting work, often together or in support of one another,” Horejsi said. Fabrizio’s skill at hosting engaging conversation ensured his addition to the newly formed group.
Such an event may not happen again. “Opportunities like these — especially free ones — are special,” said College of Fine Arts Associate Director of Communications & Marketing, Marina Gomberg. And it’s relevant. “So much of the work of [CFA] students and faculty is culminating at the crossroads of art and activism, so for the chance to hear how these world-renowned artists are doing their work in this same vein is a remarkable opportunity,” she said.
“A Conversation with Artist Activists” will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Kingsbury Hall. While free to all, tickets are required and available here: http://utahpresents.org/events/taylor-mac-bill-t-jones/.