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Art For Democracy's Sake

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
September 12, 2007

On Monday, Sept. 17, students who wander into Holloway Commons will find a big square cardboard box with the word “suggestion” stamped in black on all four sides. Pen and paper will be nearby so people can do just that—make a suggestion—and drop it through the slit in the top of the box.

In the afternoon, passersby will be asked to help create a path of written words on the walkways leading from Williamson Hall to Thompson Hall. The “Poem Across Campus” will be created by adding a word or phrase to the one preceding it on the asphalt.

These public art projects are being done with the help of the New York-based group Illegal Art as part of the University Dialogue on Democracy. Founded in 2004, Illegal Art is a collaborative of artists who aim to inspire human connection, thought and self-reflection through interactive public art. The group was invited to UNH to help “activate democracy.”

“The Illegal Art public art project is an amazing example of how art can provide a training ground for democracy,” says David Kaye, an associate professor of theater and dance. “An art event is placed before us in a public place and demands, not to be seen for its beauty or entertainment value, but for its sociopolitical meaning. However, this meaning can only be revealed through the individual interpretation from each unique person who comes across it.”

Monday’s events coincide with Constitution Day; first-year students will receive a free pocket guide to the Constitution.

On Tuesday, the Suggestion Box project will be in the main lobby of the MUB and in the Academic Commons of Dimond Library. A brown-bag lunch--“Sit Here to Eat and Chat about Art and Democracy”-- will be held in Hollow Commons hosted by Kaye and artists from Illegal Art.

Later in the day, as part of University Day, the Suggestion Box will move outside to the lawn at T-Hall where the university picnic will be taking place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. The “To Do List” project, which involves a 16-foot by 15-foot foam board where people can post notes to a collective ‘to do’ list, will also be set up there.

Artists from Illegal Art will be at all three projects during the two-day event.

“I like their mission. Talking about their projects activates democracy,” says Michele Holt-Shannon, educational program coordinator for the Discovery Program. “It gets people thinking. If you had a to-do list for democracy, what would be on the list? Vote? Learn about the issues? Figure out what I believe?”

Kaye adds, “Because it is this intrinsic nature of art to be dissected and closely evaluated for its possible layers of meaning, art trains us, as viewers, to become more proficient at the act of interpretation. We can now apply these critical skills to many disciplines and areas of thoughts and ideas. A healthy democracy must find every way possible to cultivate these skills in its populace. Art like this is a wonderful tool to work towards that end.”

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