Revolution begins at school
For some reason, SN&R has a soft spot for impresarios of grassroots-level arts and media. Take UC Davis graduate student Danielle Fodor, who recently coordinated a series of Arts & Revolution workshops through the university’s Experimental College. That seemed like reason enough for an interview. So far, Fodor’s workshops, taught by herself and various local artists, have limned the finer points of zines, spoken-word performances, stenciling and, last weekend, “Billboard Liberation 101.” A full array is still to come this month: giant-puppet making, silk-screening, stilt-walking and stickering. For more information, visit http://asucd.ucdavis.edu/experimentalcollege.
What made you decide to do this?
The personal answer is that for a while I didn’t think that art was useful. When I was 17, I started out studying art and anthropology. The view of art at UC Davis—at that point—was very much art for beauty’s sake. I found that really alienating and stupid [laughs]. But when I came back here to grad school, I was concerned with social-issue stuff. How we create our values with the images that we use and the stories that we tell. So, that took me back at square one. I thought, “Well, why didn’t I get these skills the first time around?” It’s a way for students to take education into their own hands. And coordination allows me to both share my skills and learn from other people.
How’s the response?
People were champing at the bit. They were like, “Yeah! I would be stoked to do that!” There’s a fair number of UC students, but there’s also staff people and city folks—and a lot of them have signed up for three or four workshops. Clearly, they can feel the urgency. I think so many of us feel so disempowered to do anything about these big issues that are affecting our lives. But the arts are one way to do something. We have these protests, we have these letter-writing campaigns, but unless there’s joy, people don’t stay engaged. What I saw in the recent immigrants'-rights protests is how much arts are part of that. There were all these beautiful posters and music and dancing. There’s a heritage of joy being part of democratic and political engagement.
Interesting that it took an external culture to remind you of that.
We tend to view art in America as high art, as things that are inaccessible to most people. A lot of street art—not only is it discouraged or not valued; it’s a crime. We don’t have a discourse around it in the mainstream—it’s been so disenfranchised that it’s made criminal. What I’ve seen in my brief trips to Mexico, for example, is a much more active performance and street presence. I’ve also seen a lot more true democracy: a group of people marching down to City Hall and calling out one of the managers and saying, “You’re corrupt, and we want to talk about it.” That memory of participatory democracy is maybe stronger in a Latin community. It’s something that I admire.
So, is it, uh, tense, when a publicly funded university becomes a training camp for culture jammers?
Ah. Well, it’s associated with the school, but it’s not. The Experimental College is student-run. It’s one of the few places that you can actually do that kind of thing, because they’re completely financially independent from the university. Still, one challenge, especially with the Patriot Act, is just getting people to speak up. All the billboard liberators I talked to refused to teach it. So I had to do that one myself.
What’s not in the course list that should be next time?
Spray-can art would be a great thing to have, but it’s tricky because some of these skills are less than legal. Mostly, it’s just about making it happen at all. We do want to repeat this. We want to bring in different people with different skills. And I really think it’s important to use local artists. What’s cool about the mix is that it gives people with different talents and abilities different ways of interacting.
Ideally, who are Arts & Revolution workshops for?
It’s for people who might not see that the arts are relevant to them. I really think of these things as a way for the counterculture to express itself. You can take the media back into your own hands. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be political. We’ve made a point that these skills can be used by anyone, no matter what your political position. The idea is to amplify your voice. I mean, one person came in to make a zine about crafts! I’m guessing that in the giant-puppet workshop, we’ll probably get a few kids. For the stilt-walking workshop, I know one guy’s a juggler who wants to add it to his repertoire. It’s for people who are asking, “How can my community work be improved or extended?” With this sort of artwork, since there’s not money to be made, it’s about community and friendships and support that keeps people going.