A Crisis of Purpose

My experience of day one of “Arts in Times of Crises and The Role of Artists in Weakened Democracies” at the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater began with getting wanded down and having my bag searched by security. Surprised, I asked if the conference, organized by the Thomas Mann House, had received a threat, and was told no, but it was felt this would make people in the audience feel safer. When the welcoming speech by German ambassador Andreas Michaelis made mention of an artist in Tel Aviv making work about the suffering of Israelis taken hostage on October 7 and another Ukraine-oriented work but no mention of any artist making work about Palestine, I began to understand what and whom we were meant to feel safe from.

And safe we were, at “Art in Times of Crises,” from reckoning with the Nakba unfolding in Gaza at that very moment (late November), or the censorship of artists and art workers speaking out against it, or any real engagement with the urgent politics of the day at all. The panel “Must Artists Be Activists?” answered with a resounding no; when pressed…

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