Category: Blog Post

HPG Announces 2021 Critical Issues Project Awards

Humanities for the Public Good is proud to announce eight new Critical Issues Project Fund award winners. Chosen from a competitive pool of applications, these projects represent powerful collaborations between UNC scholars and nearby communities.  

This year’s projects share a focus on the theme of “Belonging, ” engaging with the ways people, ideas, and/or spaces welcome or exclude. Their embrace of social justice and art feel particularly relevant to this historic moment. We look forward to watching their growth and impact over the coming year.

Learn more about the projects:

  • Dialogue and Transformation: Bringing Philosophy to Juvenile Justice Centers in North Carolina – Led by Director of Outreach in the Philosophy Department, Michael Vazquez, this project will integrate philosophy and university resources in Juvenile Justice education programs. The first pilot program will be a weekly philosophy discussion group centering on Plato’s Republic for students housed at Cabarrus Youth Development Center in Concord, NC.
  • Remembering the Dead, Honoring the Living: The Barbee Cemetery Remembrance Project – An oral history and community remembrance project from the Southern Oral History Program and the Chapel-Hill Carrboro NAACP centered around the unrecognized Barbee Cemetery in the Meadowmont neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
  • Warren County 1921 Project – A public reenactment and engagement project around the 1921 trial of the Norlina 16, a group of Black men imprisoned after battling an armed white mob that was intent on terrorizing Norlina’s Black community in Warren County. This program is a project of American Studies professor Glenn Hinson, Warren County’s 1921 Project, that county’s SPARK (Seeking Peace and Reconciling Kinship) racial justice coalition, the Warren County NAACP, the Warren County African American History Collective, and UNC’s Institute for African American Research.
  • Race and the Regency – A special six-month web series produced by the Jane Austen Summer Program featuring Q&As, lectures by scholars, and engaged practices with the Jane Austen fandom to explore the role of race in the novels and the author’s legacy.
  • Southern Cultures’ The Abolitionist South – An expansion on the themes and resources of the Southern Cultures Journal’s upcoming Abolitionist South Fall 2020 Issue (special guest edited by Garrett Felber and Dionne Bailey). This project will include an extended print-run of issues for incarcerated individuals, a series of public programs and a one credit course for grad students themed on modern abolition movements.
  • Process Series Storytelling Festival – Recognizing the power and potential of storytelling in its many forms at this pivotal moment in American culture and politics, the Process Series in partnership with UNC’s Department of American Studies will present a Storytelling Festival February 17-21 2021. Featuring performances and workshops features thirteen Native American, African American, Asian American, Latinx and European American Storytellers.
  • A Good Boy  A music theater piece in progress with music by AJ Layague and Marc Callahan (Assistant Professor of Music) with texts by Lynden Harris (Hidden Voices)—all in collaboration with stage director Kathy Hunter Williams (Dept. of Drama). The libretto draws on Harris’s interviews with the mothers, sisters, and children of men living on Death Row–men with whom the creative team has formed relationships over the years. 
  • Pickin’ for Progress – A documentary and community project focused on immigrant laborers on North Carolina farms, their struggle, the union organizers fighting against their exploitation, and the inspiring folk music that has long been the soul of the movement. This is a project of Chair of Music Professor David Garcia, musician Joe Troop, filmmaker Rode Diaz (Iximche Media), organizer Emily Rhyne (Witness for Peace),  Institute for the Study of the Americas Associate Director Hannah Gill, and producers and documentarians Anthony Simpkins and Tim Duggan of GemsOnVHS.

Read about all the projects that have received Critical Issues support thus far. 

HPG Fellows Feature: “Outgunned” by John Bechtold

The following essay was written by John Bechtold, a doctoral student in American Studies and HPG Humanities Professional Pathway Fellow (Summer 2020) during a course on public writing taught by Kelly Alexander. Endeavors , the UNC Research online magazine, did a feature on John last year, which you can read here

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The line worried me. It was long and snaked around the walled perimeter of the Governor’s office in Baqubah, Iraq. People were gathered in the line to ask for help, some wanted money, some wanted a job, others wanted to ask the Governor to intervene in land disputes. It was 2004, a time of possibility in Iraq when lives could be reclaimed and property could be restored, yet before the relentless violence that would enflame sectarianism and birth the Islamic state.

The line worried me because it was both an easy target for a suicide bomber or else a convenient place to hide a suicide bomber. Both possibilities would produce the same result: more dead bodies. It was my job to protect the Governor’s office, and I didn’t want one of those dead bodies to be someone I knew. And for this reason, I began sending soldiers outside of the compound every morning to shoo people away before the line could form. One morning I was called to the front gate because an old man needed help.

I’m not sure what I expected when I arrived at the gate. But when I did arrive, I found an old man with a frost-white beard cradling a small boy in his arms. Two gauze patches were taped over the boy’s eyes. I learned through an interpreter that this boy, the man’s grandson, was hit in the face with dirt and debris scattered by an explosion. As the old man explained, the boy was playing by the roadside near his home when an IED exploded. It had been four days since his world went dark, and the old man wanted ten dollars for taxi fare to see an eye surgeon in Baghdad. We offered to replace the bandages covering the boy’s damaged eyes. His cheeks were flecked with dried blood, and when our medic tried to pull the bandages off, the gauze stuck to his face. We couldn’t help him without hurting him. So, we sent them away with cab fare.

That was more than fifteen years ago, and I never found out what happened to that boy. I can only imagine how one day playing by the roadside, interrupted by a bang, blast, and flying debris, shaped his life in Iraq since then. What I do know is that his life and others like it – and there are many, many more like it, both past and present, that span the continuum of America’s wars from the Philippines in 1900 to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – are not visible in the way war is remembered in America on Veterans Day. Public memory is centered on our own soldiers. In other words, the boy is competing with me in this commemorative frame, and he doesn’t have a chance.

The boy competes with me as I sneak up to my children after time away for a surprise homecoming with the cameras rolling for a television audience. The boy competes with me in shows like SEAL Team as I heroically defend America from its fictional foes in Asia yet remain misunderstood at home. He competes with me as my image is paraded across television screens to sell everything from Jeeps to American football. He competes with me as my virtual body is guided over the pixelated terrain of battles past by teenagers playing online military simulation games like Squad. He competes with me in films like American Sniper, where somewhere in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq my sniper self in the form of Bradley Cooper is forced to navigate the rehashed shoot-or-don’t-shoot quandary to protect an American patrol. In that film, the boy appears with a grenade. He steps into the street to attack the patrol and in so doing into the public domain as an agent of violence. He’s literally in the crosshairs now, and he’s outgunned. I’m the hero in this configuration – the one who kills the boy to preserve American lives.

And when the conversation shifts to my sacrifice on Veterans Day, trauma enters the conversation as a sacrificial wound. This move pushes the boy out of the story all together. To compete with me, he must compete with my wounds, the trauma of killing, the shoot-or-don’t-shoot injury, however real or imagined. The cultural representation of war is a narrow space. There’s only room for one sacrificial victim, and it’s always me. As for the boy, he’s not only outgunned, he’s outmaneuvered by a community conditioned to watch the parade with star-spangled eyes from lines formed along city streets.

About the Author

John Bechtold is a retired combat veteran and recent graduate of Duke University. He has begun to cultivate a growing passion in documentary storytelling and has just completed a multi-media documentary project that tells the stories of how our wounded veterans are reclaiming their lives after their experience in war. John is particularly interested in the lived experience of people affected by political violence. When he isn’t taking pictures on a street somewhere in the world, John can be found at home cooking tasty food or trying to stand on his head in yoga class (it’s not working).

www.johnbechtold.me

HPG VIPs: An Interview w/ Molly Worthen

Public writing teeters paradoxically in the modern academic imagination. On one hand, in a scramble for relevance and departmental survival, scholars in the humanities are urged to make their ideas legible and digestible to interests outside the narrow circumference of their own field. On the other hand, public writing is frowned on or undervalued by some tenure committees, which may view non-refereed production as an unserious distraction from the “real,” if also insular work of the traditional academic. Though she actively practices both, Dr. Molly Worthen doesn’t think that one of these forms of writing is any more valuable than the other, and pointed out to me in a recent conversation that we risk forgetting what makes both modes differently potent when we romanticize one to the exclusion of the other.

A contributing opinion writer for the New York Times as well as the author of a slew of respected academic publications focusing on contemporary American religious and intellectual history, Dr. Worthen is an example of a scholar who actively lives in and toggles between both worlds. That said, it should be noted for aspiring public writers that Worthen’s dual citizenship has been long in the making. In college, Worthen became interested in journalism simultaneous to the development of a set of intellectual and existential interests in the history of religion and theology. Raised in a secular, agnostic family, Worthen realized around the same time as she started writing as a columnist for her campus newspaper and interning at metro daily news outlets that “for a lot of human beings over the course of our species history, religion has been this incredibly important framework.” “It was so alien to me in many ways,” she observed, “but also compelling: who doesn’t want a set of answers to the big metaphysical questions?” With this in mind, during the summer following her sophomore year, Worthen used a research grant to spend several weeks in rural Alberta, where she lived alongside an isolated, schismatic community of Russian Orthodox old-believers. This experience was her first exposure to the practice of field work, which has continued to inform both her public and academic writing, as well as to intimately suture these two modes together. The experience was additionally formative in that it was for Worthen her “first experience in the exercise of trying to get as close to inhabiting the perspective of someone who is very different than yourself.” “This took place in the context of religion,” she continued, “but the endeavor to inhabit other perspectives is what I see as being central to the humanities as well as to good journalism. It’s what I find so energizing about doing a great interview with an interesting person who comes at the world differently than I do.”

Given this early yet powerful confluence of her interest in religion with her interest in journalism, I asked Worthen why she felt it was important to write about religion for the public, specifically in a specialist capacity. Here’s how the rest of our conversation unfolded:

MW: “In surveying the writing on religion in the early 2000s, I thought that a lot of it kind of caricatured conservative Christians, and didn’t really take their theology seriously, tending to treat it as pious varnish for base motives of various kinds. I constantly question this, and try to take people’s self-proclaimed ideas very seriously. I thought there was more room for nuance and history. Since 2016, I think every piece I’ve written on religion could be summed up under the same headline: ‘Hey, New York Liberals: There are some evangelicals over here who don’t like Donald Trump and who are more complicated than you think! They’re interesting, and you should get to know them!’

In many ways public writing is the same intellectual exercise as teaching an undergraduate survey course, in that you have to simplify a complex phenomenon in a short space for a general audience, all in a way that hopefully engages them. But I also feel that journalism makes me a better historian, especially a better historian of religion, because I can talk to people who are living members of a community I’ve studied remotely in order to test out some of my ideas and my application of their own in-house vocabulary. In the graduate and undergraduate classes that I teach, I’m also able to draw on field experiences as a journalist. So, when I lecture on Mormons to undergrads, I can talk about my reporting trip to a big Mormon pageant in upstate New York. Or I can talk about gender politics in the Christian right. Or I can talk about some profiles I’ve written about women bible teachers. I think this makes the history come alive for students in a way that it might not otherwise.”

KR: “It strikes me that your field of study, or the themes that you’ve chosen to make your life’s work, lend themselves really well to engaging with a public audience. So, because you’re thinking about the contemporary intersection of American religion and politics, your object of study is immediately accessible to field work; you can go and integrate yourself in a given community, then import your insights into scholarship and public writing. I’m curious if you have any advice for academics or scholars whose work doesn’t engage the contemporary. Do you see the task of public writing as being perhaps more difficult for this group? If not, what are some ways that people in this position can rethink their relationship to the contemporary moment?”

MW: “I should preface my answer to your question by saying that I do worry about some of the extreme attitudes toward public writing in academia. We’ve talked about the fact that there is a lot of suspicion of and disdain for it. But on the other hand I worry about the tendency to lionize it, to treat it as a pinnacle. I hate the thought that somehow people who do public writing have the right to look down upon those who write for the guild or a specialist audience. We’re all in academia because we believe that this space preserves something essential to civilization. And it’s not journalism. It’s work that doesn’t have the immediate cash-value pay-off for the uninformed reader. I think that’s something we lose sight of when we talk about getting better at communicating to a public. Writing for the public, of course, is important; it’s just not the only thing.

I absolutely believe I have an easier time making these kinds of connections. I structured my approach to my studies in order to facilitate it. But I have friends who are scholars of first-century New Testament history, or other fields that are even more remote, who manage to do a fair amount of this kind of public work. I think a lot of it is attitudinal. Whatever you study, you’re drawn to it because it unfolds before you problems and themes that are really central to what’s important in human life. This is as true if you study third-century Persia as if you study the twenty-first century United States. That’s not to say that every area of study produces the same number of brainstorm firecrackers, but I think the key thing is to start cultivating a habit of mind where you begin to think in terms of broad themes, perhaps keeping a list of connections between things you read in the news or encounter in daily life, and the themes you encountered in the eighteenth-century novel you read the other day for your work. I absolutely think that there are opportunities for scholars in any field who want to do this kind of writing. It’s just a matter of getting your mindset right.”

KR: “Some of the discourse surrounding the notion of public writing among academics can feel–to me at least–a little top-down or paternalistic, where the specialist is viewed as distilling or disseminating a wealth of knowledge to the unwashed masses. But I wonder if there’s anything to be said for reversing this model. It sounds like you do it constantly: when you don your on your public writing hat, it sounds like you’re thinking a lot about what you can learn from the public, rather than vice versa.”

MW: “This is why I do reported pieces. I don’t do op-eds where I’m trying to download information. In fact, my editor has described something of the tone you’ve just summarized: the expert on the mountaintop casting a gaze across the landscape really turns him off. It’s hard to pull that off unless you’re an eighty-five year-old McArthur winner or whatever. I’m teaching a course right now called Public Writing for Scholars. One of my goals is to get students to think beyond the conventional op-ed and learn some basic reporting skills so that they can experiment with diverse relationships to their subjects and write using a range of different genres. These types of articles are really more fun to read and write, and provide an expert with more means of transmitting an argument in a way that is more likely to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ in a didactic fashion.”

KR: “I noticed this in your most recent piece for the New York Times, “What would Jesus do about Inequality?” I was struck right off the bat by how much it read like reportage.”

MW: “I’m really a magazine writer. I wrote for TIME magazine in grad school. Though I don’t have as much time anymore to do long reporting trips necessary to produce this kind of work, I have an editor in the Sunday Review who is himself a refugee from the magazine form, and he lets me do more magazine-y pieces. Often the feedback I get from his colleagues is, “this is great, this is really interesting, but we need the argument to be stronger– this is the op-ed page!” It took me a long time to get used to revealing what I think or revealing my politics, since you can’t do this kind of writing and conceal your views on things. It still gives me the willies, frankly, and I would rather be doing magazine pieces where I can hide behind the stories and characters a little more.”

Spring semester 2020 marked the rollout of Dr. Worthen’s inaugural Public Writing for Scholars course at UNC. Worthen believes that talking about the process of pitching an article to an editor and getting it into print “elucidates very interesting conversations and questions about why we’re doing this, like ‘What’s the point? What is the state of dialogue in the public square? Is there even such a thing as dialogue anymore? When you write for any publication, whether it’s on the right or the left of the political spectrum in today’s America, are you always preaching to the choir? Are you ever actually stirring the public debate in a productive way? How do we gauge the impact of our scholarship? Is it about the number of readers? Is it about being able to measure quantifiable change in someone’s life?’” These are key questions not just for students of scholarly and public writing, but for lifelong practitioners as well. In some ways, the awkward relationship between academic and public writing helps intensify productive anxieties over questions of accessibility and public dialogue that may not otherwise occupy a writer’s mind. If nothing else, the tense bridge-work negotiated by “public writing” empathetically sensitizes humanists to the shared themes and questions deeply at play in their research, regardless of how remote that work might initially seem to be from the commonplaces of the everyday.

HPG VIPs: An Interview w/ Sara Wood

As early as 1954, Walt Disney used the portmanteau “edutainment” to refer to media productions intended to educate and entertain — so the concept is, by now, an old one. But it has perhaps gained special traction in recent years with the rise of the podcast. Maybe we just like to learn, or maybe we’ve become hyper-productive achievement-subjects with no chill — either way, we welcome the advent of the academic podcast as its own subgenre. The easy-to-access, DIY qualities of the podcast make it especially well-suited for public humanists interested in engaging nontraditional audiences. For that reason, we’ve drawn up a list of resources for anyone in the Triangle Area interested in transposing their research to suit this evolving media format. To accompany this resource, we asked Sara Wood, project manager for UNC-CH’s Southern Oral History Program and veteran broadcaster/podcaster, a few questions about her public-facing work with the SOHP and the future of the podcast as a tool for public humanists.

 

 

Talk a little bit about your professional background in radio and podcasting. How did this background bring you to your current position as an oral historian and project manager for the SOHP?

Print journalism is where I got started, but I decided to take a turn into documentary radio and public radio production in 2004. This American Life was hitting its stride and sending so many young folks into public radio. I’d read articles at the time calling it the “new golden age of radio.” StoryCorps was just getting started in Brooklyn and was soon sending mobile units across the country to record stories. There was little whispers about podcasting, but at that time no one really understood what it was or what its potential could become. Through the years I found that my strength was conducting interviews, with sitting with people to listen. When it came time to produce a story and edit something together I always felt lost—it’s one of the hardest things to do to create an audio story that makes sense to the outside world—it seems to me harder than film or print. I lucked out while I was in graduate school for creative writing: while everyone around me in nonfiction wanted to write their memoir, I was more interested in the lives of other people. I ended up getting a paid internship for two weeks that first summer with the Southern Foodways Alliance in Mississippi. I learned it might be possible for me to have a job where I get to drive across the American South recording oral histories from people who normally don’t get interviewed. I spent almost six years with SFA, and then decided it was important to be in a position to guide oral history projects and help teach people that this method is possible not just for research, and not just for the humanities, but for all walks of life.

Is it important for an archive like SOHP to engage or interact with public audiences? If so, what kind of work is being done at SOHP right now to get more people thinking about oral history?

Absolutely. I come to this role not as an academic or a formal historian. I don’t have a PhD. During my time in public radio (and even print journalism), one of the most important questions is “who cares?” I believe the SOHP’s oral history archive was created and is growing because it belongs to the public. It’s a way for us to remove the unspoken spaces between each other, to learn how to listen, to identify with someone’s life even though it isn’t your own. I think this archive is the most valuable asset and tool on this campus. It’s not only a way to viscerally connect the past to our present, but to continue to learn from each other, to figure out what empathy really means to each of us.

Press Record podcast started before my time at SOHP, but it was really at first geared for the public, to learn how to engage with oral history from the vantage point of researchers. It became clear over time that the podcast was more geared toward people who are in the field, or historians who are curious about the method itself. It became more of a “behind the scenes” format. In more recent years, we’ve tried the audio competition Sonic South to get the public more engaged in the archive by having to dig into the stories to create something new and meaningful, to give new life to the archive. Currently in our major research project Stories to Save Lives, we’re collecting oral histories with North Carolinians from rural parts of the state to find out how they feel about and how they engage with the healthcare system. We’ve crossed over disciplines in this project, working with folks from the medical school, the school of public health, even the nursing school. We hope that these stories help change policies that prevent people from engaging with their own healthcare. But we also hope these stories could serve as a learning tool for medical students, providers, doctors, and other folks in the healthcare system.

As a genre, what sets the podcast apart as a way for scholars and academics in the humanities to potentially communicate to broader audiences? What are the pros and cons of the medium?

Podcasting is a level playing field. You don’t need a recording studio, you don’t even need to have cash on hand. If you can record yourself and get yourself to the internet, you can have a podcast. I think of it as public radio on demand. Depending on how long you take to create an episode of a podcast, it can be done fairly quickly, so scholars and academics who are used to publishing books or speaking engagements don’t have to worry about timing. They’re also not beholden to peer review group for permission. It’s a utilitarian format for everyone, not just scholars. It’s just as easy to engage with a podcast as it is to create one, so there is no or little cost for people to access it, which is important when it comes to folks in the humanities getting across to broader audiences. These are all in themselves pros—they’re accessible. However, some of the downsides is that there is a great sea of podcasts out there, so it can be hard to distinguish one from the other. I also think (with all due respect to scholars) sometimes there isn’t as much thought put into broader audiences might engage with or find interesting. Sometimes folks just believe their research is in itself interesting, and everyone will want to know about it. It can be hard to shape those ideas and stories into something that broader audiences might connect with. I think from what I’ve heard, there are many podcasts who should have had a close friend from outside their field listen and give them honest feedback. The downside? Sometimes not everyone cares about what you care about, and it’s really on you to make them care; the general and broader audiences don’t owe you anything. It’s up to you to pull them in from the first minute. One other little con is that people overestimate the attention spans for a listening public. There’s really no need to make an hour-long episode unless you’re Serial.

What kind of advice would you give to a scholar in the humanities interested in starting a podcast to share their research or otherwise interact with a broader public?

Get people from outside your field on your team. Have a small editorial team that helps you tackle the information you want to create in the podcast. Think narratively, think about the best of writing—you need a good beginning, middle, end. You need scenes. You need to not just have the entire podcast be a conversation between two academics. Get out into the world and paint some scenes with ambient sound and audio. Listen to everything you can put into your ears. Get inspired. Listen for other podcasts that might have already tackled subjects that you plan to. Think about what sets you apart, how your podcast will be different. Like I mentioned before, there is a great ocean of podcasts. Think about how your podcast won’t get lost in it. Or reckon with the fact that it will, and think about the very specific people you’re aiming for as your audience. You can start with “everyone” but when you’re done crafting your proposal, that answer should not be the same. Oh, and one more thing: just because you came up with the podcast doesn’t mean you also need to be the host. Podcast narrators and hosts should be likable and good storytellers. Think about that as you’re building your podcast.

To the extent that podcasting is a useful tool for providing an outlet for public engagement with the humanities, can you give some examples of podcasts that seem to do this well?

I have to be honest, I have a bit of podcast fatigue right now, so I haven’t been actively listening to up and coming podcasts. But I will say that some of my favorite that deal with scholarship and the humanities is the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley’s podcast, The Berkeley Remix. I think they do a stellar job of getting their archive into the public’s ears by also doing a lot of good work in creating stories in which to weave those oral histories. I think Sidedoor from the Smithsonian is terrific. And one of my all-time favorite podcasts is 99 Percent Invisible. This particular podcast has a way of making subject matter that’s way out there interesting to all kinds of people. It also has a wonderful origin story that most podcasts wish they could claim in terms of fundraising and building a podcast from the ground up.

HPG VIPs: An Interview w/ Hillary Rubesin

It can be easy to take for granted that so much human communication occurs alongside of or beyond the verbal realm. In fact, the premium we put on words can sometimes obscure important inarticulate dimensions of our lived reality and our relationships. For instance, it can be challenging for some to verbalize feelings about traumatic experiences in their personal or shared collective histories. This can, in turn, makes it difficult for people or groups to adapt themselves to their present conditions in healthy ways. Hillary Rubesin, Executive Director for the Art Therapy Institute of North Carolina (ATI), believes that, when a therapeutic approach is needed to help a person re-adjust, it can be useful to locate alternative outlets for people to express what might not otherwise easily emerge in traditional psychotherapeutic settings. Expressive arts can often serve this purpose. To that end, ATI works with over 30 different schools across local districts, with hospitals and community centers, centers for domestic violence, nursing homes, homeless shelters, alternative schools, and a variety of resettlement agencies both to help individuals and even communities to heal through creative expression.

I had a chance to meet Hillary at the YouthWorx building in Carrboro, where we talked a little bit about her journey to become an Expressive Arts Therapist. Visibly passionate about her work, Hillary is a testament to the fact that the most serendipitous results can flower from a compost of circumstance and difficulty. As a senior in college and a budding artist, Hillary enrolled in a painting class whose professor unkindly informed her that she would never make it as a studio artist, that she didn’t understand light or color. Understandably daunted, Hillary opted to take a service learning class instead, and for her coursework researched successful youth-based programs in New England to use as models for better helping at-risk kids. This fieldwork brought her to Raw Art Works, a youth arts organization rooted in art therapy and located in Lynn, Massachusetts. Immediately impressed by the creative, generous, and caring kid-centered atmosphere, where art was being used for healing and connecting purposes, Hillary thought to herself, “This is the kind of place I want to work for the rest of my life!”—and soon after enrolled in two graduate programs in Art Therapy. Pursuing her degrees, she found herself in good company, surrounded by other people who “spoke her language” and who shared her vision for the healing power of the arts. These days, Hillary keeps up a busy schedule as both executive director and clinician for the Arts Therapy Institute, focusing on outreach across the state, while still maintaining close ties to clients.

 

Say a little about your background in the humanities, especially with regard to your training in art and expressive therapies. How do you use this background on a day-to-day basis?

I have always been involved in the arts in some way. As a child, I sang in various choirs, took guitar and piano lessons, wrote poetry, painted and drew, and acted in various theater programs. As a teenager, I used songwriting and other forms of creative writing to express my emotions, and this background eventually led me to a career as an Expressive Arts Therapist. I have both my Masters and my Doctorate in Expressive Therapies and currently use various arts forms in my daily work at the Art Therapy Institute, where I act as the Executive Director and also as a clinician. Beyond my clinical work at ATI, I use my training in Expressive Therapies to conduct ethical, culturally-congruent, arts-based research, to engage community members in collective art-making, and also to educate others about the field through presentations, supervision, and community-based workshops.

Your biographical information on the Art Therapy Institute website notes that you believe “all art forms hold great potential for healing on both individual and community levels.” Can you offer a couple of anecdotes or concrete examples that have, in your experience, led you to this belief? How does community healing compare with individual healing?

Yes, I believe that the arts are a powerful force for both individual and collective healing. At ATI, we provide clinical therapy both to individuals and within groups. Beyond our official clinical programs, we also lead and collaborate on various community-based arts projects. This allows us to spread the expressive arts as widely as possible, and make them accessible to as many people in our community as possible. Every month, for example, we host community-based workshops and community-based art shows. Sometimes these art shows highlight the work of our clients. This could be seen as controversial, because in the Expressive Therapies, the artwork created during sessions is held in the same confidential light as progress notes or the verbal words shared within sessions. I believe, though, that there is potential for added healing (both on the individual level and the community level) when we share our stories. Because of this, we sometimes ask our clients if they want to share their artwork in community-based shows (and we receive formal, written consent from them to do so). Every year, for example, we have an art show highlighting the amazing visual art and stories created by our clients of refugee and immigrant backgrounds. During these art shows, clients and community members alike mingle and share their experiences with one another. We ask show attendees to make their own artwork and hang it up, in order to remove the separation between client and non-client, or between refugee/immigrant and other community members. We have given out surveys during these shows, and the responses overwhelmingly show that community members learned something important about both the exhibiting artists as well as themselves. I believe that when we make connections through art (a universal language), it can help with various larger community-based issues, like decreasing anti-newcomer sentiment, or de-stigmatizing mental illness.

What is it about art / artistic expression that promotes healing?

I could talk about this for a long time. Some of the reasons I believe that artistic expression can promote healing are that:  1) art-making (in all forms) allows us to externalize internal thoughts and emotions, then re-work them into something healthier, and then re-integrate them in a new way; 2) Art-making is something that we can do alone or in community; 3) Trauma—which many of us experience in our lifetime in some way—lives in visual imagery in our brain and also within our bodies, so processing trauma verbally (alone) doesn’t often work. The arts allow us to process trauma in the same way that it is stored; 4) The expressive arts are universal, and used in most, if not all cultures. This allows us to communicate with one another and engage in healing across cultures and continents, when words are not necessarily possible (or needed); 5) As mentioned before, the arts help de-stigmatize mental health issues, and they are appropriate for numerous settings, including public spaces…They often make it easier for people to approach the idea of healing and mental health; 6) The expressive arts are very strengths-based and choice-based! They help us choose whether we want to get messy and let loose, or be in more control of a situation; 7) The arts are tangible. You can see and hold a piece of art, or hear a piece of music, or watch a dance. This art form can become a transitional object, or a tangible reminder of healing and growth; 8) Art-making can evoke pride and joy. It allows us to surprise ourselves when we get stuck, see new possibilities, and problem-solve, alone, and/or in community-based settings!; and 9) In healing and post-traumatic growth, taking action is important (again, to feel like we are not stuck). The arts are inherently active. When you paint or write or dance or drum, etc., you are moving in some way—I think this in integral to healing work.

What is one thing you wish that more people understood about art therapy and/or expressive arts?

We spend a lot of time trying to justify this approach or make this field more palatable for allied professionals. I think there is often fear about trying something “new” within therapy or professional/academic settings. What’s interesting to me is that the arts have been around for all time, and many of the leading psychotherapists, like Freud and Jung, knew that artistic expression was integral to expressing emotions, understanding our psyches, and engaging in healing work. I wish that the field was more well-known, and that people knew that art therapists and other expressive therapists (including music therapists, dance therapists, drama therapists, and intermodal expressive arts therapists, like myself) need to have at least Masters-level mental health training to engage in this work. I wish people would be more open to different types of therapies, and that we could all work together more fully and respectfully as professionals to help one another heal. In our current world…Well, as we all know, there’s a lot of healing—both on an individual and community-level—to be done!

HPG VIPs: An Interview w/ Sasha Bakaric

In 2018, FRANK Gallery moved from its original location on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill to a suite in the University Place Mall, just up the road. As FRANK Board Chair Sasha Bakaric points out, many people were initially “skeptical about showing fine art in such a commercial space, right between a gym and a fast food place.” But, as it turns out, the change in venue has been overwhelmingly positive. One of the biggest differences, according to Bakaric and other artists who work and volunteer at the gallery, is that in its current mall location, FRANK no longer has any doors—its brightly lit, highly curated interior is thrown open for all to ogle on their way to Planet Fitness, or as they amble past with a chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A. Integrated into a more trafficked, more accessible environment, FRANK Gallery is even better able to fulfill one of the central aspects of its mandate: to serve as an anchor for public arts in the Chapel Hill community. 

Bakaric, a ceramics artist who grew up in Croatia, told me in a conversation at the gallery that FRANK is a unique venture: unlike most artists’ collectives, the organization was formed in 2010 with a strong public-facing mission. Some co-ops are more impersonal, granting their artists a few feet of wall-space in exchange for the usual fee—a practice that can result in an insular, jumbled assortment in a disconnected gallery. At FRANK, by contrast, artists who participate in the co-op not only volunteer their time to help facilitate some of the organization’s many community events, but also regularly rotate out of the line-up, in order to facilitate a more cohesive, thoughtfully planned exhibition space.

FRANK gallery benefits two publics. The first is a local community, made up of Orange County residents. The second, importantly, is a strong community of county and regional artists. Serving both, this welcoming gallery makes fine art accessible to all while fostering a vibrant local arts scene. 

 

For people who are not familiar with FRANK Gallery, can you talk about its role within the community? Can you describe some of FRANK’s community-oriented efforts? What is your specific role in these efforts?

FRANK was established as an artists’ collective almost ten years ago on Franklin Street with a mission to enrich downtown Chapel Hill through the arts. Since that time, we have moved to University Place and changed our mission to better reflect the reality of what we are doing. Our mission now: FRANK is a contemporary fine arts gallery, featuring work by local artists and enriching our community through exhibitions, events, and arts education. Sadly, there are very few exhibiting spaces in our community. Our visitors, both local as well as from out-of-town, very much appreciate that we show the work of artists from Orange County and surrounding areas. In addition to exhibiting work of our members and guest artists, we serve the community through various events like artists’ talks, salons, and educational workshops. We recently started “Coffee and donuts with FRANK” every first Saturday of the month, from 10-11 am. Our estimate is that about 13,000 people visited the gallery in 2018, both to see work exhibited in the gallery and to attend various events.

A very important segment of our activities is community outreach. One very long term project that we are very proud of is our work with Karen students. Orange County is home to a rather large Karen (Burmese) refugee community. FRANK’s Karen Youth Art group has been active since 2013. Several FRANK artists meet every Sunday morning teaching the young students different art techniques, taking them on educational field trips. In 2016 students wrote, illustrated and published a children’s book telling a story of their farming traditions. 

FRANK has been given access to an additional space in the mall which we turned into a community gallery where we host guest professional artists groups and other arts-related exhibitions. In 2018-19 the exhibits in the Outreach Program/Gallery included Durham Academy’s “Heroes Book”; FRANK in FOCUS – CLICK! Photography Festival, in collaboration with Duke Center for Documentary Studies; Nancy Smith’s “Women Speak”; the Chapel Hill PTA Reflections Show; the Karen Youth Art Group Show and the Orange County Artists Guild (OCAG) Studio Tour Showcase Exhibit, their Holiday Show and their Spring Show. 

FRANK is an artists’ collective. We currently have 22 member artists who are in charge of curating and hanging shows, inviting guest artists, organizing and hosting events and numerous other tasks of running a non-profit organization. FRANK has an active Board that consists of community business people and experts in various areas. I have been involved as a FRANK member artist since we first opened in 2010. In addition to my engagement as a member artist, I am currently the chair of the Board which means I am involved in almost every aspect of the gallery.

 

Why is it important to have artists represented in a community of non-artists? How do the arts contribute to the “public good”? More specifically, how do the visiting artists or artists on display in FRANK enrich our local public? 

Art is a crucial segment of human existence and experience. Artists are fully aware of this, but it is harder to prove and persuade the broader public why and how important it is for everyone to have access to the arts. Art broadens our views of the world and teaches us compassion and understanding. It is especially important to bring arts to a population that doesn’t have access to it through their families or communities. When FRANK moved to the University Place Mall, many were skeptical about showing fine art in such a commercial space, right between a gym and a fast food place. It turns out that we are now in a perfect location where people who would never go to a gallery are walking in, engaging in conversations about art or listening to an artist talk about their work. FRANK also exhibits work of high-end craft. In today’s highly automated, industrial world, hand-made, unique objects are getting more attention and recognition. 

 

What is one thing you wish that more people understood about helping direct, organize, and curate a gallery?

There is a general misconception that artists are not organized or incapable of running a business. I have worked in finance and management and it is my experience that most artists are extremely hard-working, more organized, and easier to work with than many in corporate environments. I wish there was more appreciation and recognition for the arts in general. It’s a legitimate business that brings tax dollars to our community and is of value to the broader public. 

 

In your own artistic practice, you are inspired by images of microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. These are “communicable” organisms; they pass from person to person. Your artist’s statement says you dwell on these forms because you are interested in “questioning our relationship with the world inside us,” but have you also considered the social, interpersonal, or communicable dimensions of microorganic life? Do questions of human interrelation and communication enter into your artistic practice?

My relationship with the microscopic world is not something that I intentionally created. It started with a casual comment that the images that I was putting on my pieces looked like amebae. That prompted me to start looking into that world of microscopic organisms and cell structures. I was fascinated by the beauty of the images but also intrigued by dual emotions that most of us have when we see an image of a deadly but beautiful virus. When my mother was diagnosed with the same type of cancer that took my father, putting cells on my work got an extra meaning. In a way, I was trying to find peace with a cruel and beautiful nature that took both my parents. I am not necessarily thinking about conscious human interrelation that leads to the spread of viruses or bacteria. I am more interested in the interrelation of humans and the world that we don’t see, that we are not even aware of, or maybe in all the bacteria and viruses that live in and on us. We carry and support this often visually beautiful and sometimes deadly life. 

 

To learn more about FRANK gallery and its public events, including artists’ talks, workshops, and educational series, visit https://www.frankisart.com/. Bakaric’s art can be found online at https://www.sashaceramics.com

 

HPG VIPs: An Interview w/ Raphael Ginsberg

Now Associate Director of UNC-CH’s Correctional Education Program at the Friday Center, Raphael Ginsberg’s decision to start teaching in local prisons as a graduate student stems from an example set by his parents, who were both public defenders. In a conversation with me over coffee, Raphael recounted how at a young age he learned that his father once had a good time teaching in a prison during law school—an idea apparently impressive enough to Raphael that it continued to “jangle around” in his head as a possibility for making a positive impact. Though his mother died when he was just a kid, Raphael speculates that seeing recorded footage of her arguing on behalf of a defendant in a trial on local TV also instilled in him a service-minded sense of the importance of advocating for prisoners, who need as much help getting an education as they need legal assistance. Jokingly referring to himself as a “true believer” (a derogatory term sometimes used by prosecutors to refer to people who blindly believe in a defendant’s cause), Raphael holds firmly that advocacy is crucial part of making the criminal justice system more equitable. 

Raphael is a committed community organizer. For him, the most rewarding and important part of teaching in prisons is that the classroom becomes a space where special and much-needed bonds can form between students. Community, Raphael pointed out to me, is actively annihilated in the prison system. Everything is transient. A prisoner’s human relationships—all of them—are temporary, even as they are, at the same time, all too intimately associated with fear and hostility. In contrast, the classroom becomes a “little world” in which wisdom and learning are shared between both teacher and students.

How did you become involved with UNC’s Correctional Education Program? You have a PhD in Communication Studies from UNC. Can you describe the evolving relationship between your academic work and your current role as Associate Director for Corrections?

Halfway through my PhD work I contacted the North Carolina Department of Public Safety asking about teaching in prison. I had no specific idea of what that teaching would look like and thought it would be something I would set up on my own, but I got an email back saying “UNC-CH has a prison education program. Go talk to Brick Oettinger at The Friday Center.” It was a great stroke of luck that I ended up at one of the few schools that had such a program. 

Until recently there was no relationship between my work with Correctional Education and my academic work. The articles I’ve written and my dissertation had nothing to do with prison education, and I didn’t bring any of that work into the prison classroom. In the last few years I began to think and write about prison pedagogy, including a chapter in the book Critical Perspectives on Teaching in Prison, a chapter in which some of the ways I’ve framed things in my academic work were incorporated into writing about prison teaching.

That chapter involved my experience as a teacher in prison, but my work as Associate Director has nothing to do with any academic work. But, surely, the humanities, which I completely took for granted in my education, have been very important in me understanding the world and developing rewarding ways to engage with it. People in prison do not have access to any humanities education in prison, and may never have had such access. Of course people in prison are missing out on all of the joy and power it can bring, and the rest of us are missing out on what they themselves can become and create with the humanities.  

As I understand it, the Correctional Education Program offers its students all kinds of university-accredited coursework, from a variety of disciplines. That said, coming from a background in Communication Studies, how have you been able to use training in the humanities to facilitate the program?

I have ensured that the humanities is a key component of our curriculum. We bring in a cycle of four courses, one of which is an Arts and Humanities course, including Music History, Art History, and English Literature. These prove to be the key courses in our curriculum, where textual analytical skills are developed, writing approaches are refined, and students experience the joy of the communal experience of creative expression. 

What is one thing you wish that more people understood about correctional education?

First, I wish people knew that teaching in prison is safe and not scary. Second, I wish people could appreciate the diversity of students in a prison classroom, diversity of every possible type, geographic, racial, political, age, and so on. Accordingly, in the prison classroom there is a diversity in linguistic styles, investments in the importance and purpose of education, and areas of expertise. Finally, I wish people could appreciate the joy in being a part of the development of a learning community, especially in a context where community of any kind is rare and forever-fraught. Yes, students earn credits and gain skills, but more than anything else it is the experience of being and learning with others that shapes the culture of each class.   

Are there other public humanists whom you admire? In what ways do they inspire you, or influence how you practice the humanities? 

The editors of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons work closely with writers in prison on scholarly work; editors use their research and writing skills to improve the quality of the scholarship in a series of editorial revisions. The writers’ ideas and analysis remain central but are improved through the application of scholarly practices with which the writers are otherwise unfamiliar.

 

Raphael informs me that he and his team and the Friday Center are always looking for passionate teachers to join their team. Professors and graduate students who are interested in teaching in a North Carolina correctional facility should contact Raphael Ginsberg at trapido@email.unc.edu.