8th Annual Racial Justice Conference Inspires and Connects Communities of Performers

Photo of CUNY SPS MAAT faculty Dr. Williams speaking at public poetry event

The MA in Applied Theatre (MAAT) program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) hosted its 8th annual Racial Justice Conference in Spring 2023 with two inspiring pop-up events that sought to build dialogue and connection across different theatre communities.

On March 30 the MAAT Racial Justice Conference launched its first pop-up, a virtual town hall titled “More than 'Do No Harm': The Politics and Ethics of Social Practice Arts. A Gathering of Artists/Creatives, Educators, Activists, and Human Services Workers.

In a reflection of the conference’s emphasis on collaboration, the town hall was co-sponsored by the Studio in Social Practice in the Pratt Institute Department of Fine Arts, the BFA in Socially Engaged Arts Program at Goddard College, and the Social Practice MFA Program at Portland State University, in addition to the CUNY SPS MAAT program.

Moderated by MAAT faculty member and conference organizer Dr. H. "Herukhuti" Sharif Williams, the town hall invited students, faculty, and alum of arts, education, and human services programs to reflect upon the values that inform their understanding of the field of social practice. In various conversations, the attendees also discussed the impact those values have on the outcomes of social practice projects for communities and their fields of study.

“We used the town hall to create space for people to share stories of their personal experiences learning about, teaching, and/or implementing applied theatre,” said Dr. Williams. “And we reflected critically on those experiences in the context of settler-colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and cisheteropatriarchy.”

The second and final pop-up event of the conference was held on June 19, in honor of the Juneteenth holiday, at the community hub and bookstore Nicholas Brooklyn. Entitled “Call and Response: Two Poets Having a Very Black Conversation Through Spoken Word,” the event featured Dr. Williams and fellow poet Rajnii Eddins sharing their work and the experiences that inspired them in the tradition of the griot.

In a unique and powerful performance, an excerpt of which can be viewed here (and pictured above), the two poets read interchangeably from their respective writings. “For that event, we drew upon the Black oral traditions of call and response and spoken word to create an intertextual conversation between the work of Rajini Eddins and myself,” Dr. Williams explained.

He also reflected on the significance of hosting the performance on Juneteenth. “Since turning Juneteenth into a federal holiday, there has been a lot of corporate sanitizing, mainstream co-optation, and whitewashing of a holiday that really should be a national day of atonement and reparation to address the devastating effect that slavery in the United States had and continues to have on descendants of Africans enslaved here,” Dr. Williams noted. “So, as a program with a focus on helping people ask important and critical questions about the politics and ethics of art, we chose to take a grassroots, community-oriented approach to Juneteenth.”

Held annually, the MAAT Racial Justice Conference seeks to bring practitioners of applied theatre and arts-based organizing practice to build and cultivate racial equity and plurality and resist, challenge, or disrupt whiteness and white supremacy.

About the Master of Arts in Applied Theatre

The MA in Applied Theatre degree program, the first program of its kind in the United States, uses theatre as a medium for education, community development, and the pursuit of social justice. The goal of the program is to educate scholar practitioners to become future leaders in the field of applied theatre. Applied Theatre involves the use of theatre and drama in a wide variety of nontraditional contexts and venues, such as in teaching, the justice system, health care, the political arena, community development, museums, and social service agencies.

About the CUNY School of Professional Studies

As New York's leading online school since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor's and master's degree options at the City University of New York, and serves as the University's first undergraduate all-transfer college. With 26 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor's degree, progress from an associate's degree, earn a master's degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School's renowned and affordable online programs ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.

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