New Urban Arts, Foreword for Art Inquiry Guide

So, I wrote this as the introduction to New Urban Arts' summer program's curricular guide. I admit, I've been listening to the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, so the relationship is probably obvious. I've been reflecting on ways to be deeper in community these days, and New Urban Arts is a place that fosters radical imagination and I'm pleased to consider one of my homes. Enjoy!


Foreword

I can’t write this foreword about Summer 2016 without acknowledging how the world has changed. We’re beginning to emerge from the rubble of an election won on the coattails of white nationalism, xenophobia, and fear mongering. A bit like an oracle who sees into the future, our theme for Art Inquiry was dislocation. This theme stemmed as a metaphor for how New Urban Arts was temporarily dislocated from our home at 705 Westminster Street for summer, but the theme of dislocation speaks into our present and future world. Issues close to the heart of New Urban Arts such as racial justice, gender equality, queer and trans* visibility are under attack.

When our reality is broken, we need to look to something bigger and grander as a way to re-imagine the world around us. I believe that’s the role of speculative fiction and fantasy. As our own real-world Voldemort has come into power, it seems useful to draw inspiration from a hero who began his life dislocated from his home in the wizarding world: Harry Potter. At the start of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort and the Death Eaters are gaining power, and future of the wizarding world seems uncertain. At Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Sorting Hat sang a song that warned of the perils of factions and encouraged cross-network organizing and movement building. It sang,

I sort you into Houses
Because that is what I'm for,
But this year I'll go further,
Listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you
Still I worry that it's wrong,
Though I must fulfill my duty
And must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether sorting
May not bring the end I fear.
Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
The warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger
From external, deadly foes
And we must unite inside her
Or we'll crumble from within
I have told you, I have warned you....
Let the Sorting now begin.

New Urban Arts is Providence’s own (after)school of magic and wonder, and programs like Art Inquiry unleash the imagination. While Director of Programs Emily Ustach is our own in-house Sorting Hat and creates respective Houses under the Magical School of Summer Programs, our values of equity and justice transferred across Art Inquiry and into the Untitlement Project and The Steel Yard program. This year’s Art Inquiry program in particular took a deep dive into New Urban Arts’ philosophy and values through curiosity and inquisitiveness with a group of students mostly new to our space, much like how First Years at Hogwarts come through the Sorting Hat to join their respective communities.

Even though NUA was dislocated, Art Inquiry always had a home. The Providence Public Library and its rad teen librarian and special collections host opened its doors to us in the top floor Annex.  In that space students embraced their new home and built a whimsical cardboard fort, drew collective maps, participated in a library scavenger hunt, and joyfully, yet soundlessly, held a silent library parade. The Library Annex became our own Room of Requirement.

While exploring abstract concepts of dislocation, the fearless visionaries Kah and Vuthy also reflected with the students about real, tangible implications of dislocation in the world. They held space for people who have been dislocated: in Syria, in Palestine, children in Central America, and closer to home the fear of deportation for DACA children and Dreamers who’ve made the United States their home. The long term effects of slavery in the United States—an entire people stolen from their homeland and dislocated—has been a piece of the organizing happening around the Movement for Black Lives and #BlackLivesMatter. Afrofuturism was offered as a remedy for what ails us, because the world as we know it is broken and it takes radical imagination to believe that another world is possible.

Now that our magical summer is over, the parting advice I leave you with is: we must love in the face of adversity. We must continue to care and protect each other while maintaining our joy and creativity. Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” New Urban Arts is a special and magical place and light for us is fearless art making as resistance and community building. With our lights fully ablaze, we saw that even though we were dislocated, we were ever always at home.

-       Dr. Alexandrina Agloro

2016 Summer Scholar-in-Residence