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Life In A Jar And Other Stories From The Art-As-Activism Frontier

January 24, 2008

I've been thinking a lot lately about art as a vehicle for activism. Whenever I come across a bit of news about how works of art are helping raise awareness about political or social issues, I feel vindicated somehow, like I'm gathering evidence to support some kind of legal case.

I get particularly excited when the news centers on the performing arts. An article in the Christian Science Monitor just caught my attention in this regard. It concerns a play created as a history project in 1999 by a bunch of Kansas schoolgirls. The play concerns Irena Sendler (pictured left), an unsung Polish hero who helped rescue 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust more than 60 years ago. The play, which the authors entitled Life in a Jar for the milk-jars that Sendler used to hide information about the children she saved so that they might more easily be reunited with their families when the killing stopped, has been about 230 times across the US, Canada, and Poland to date.

To research their project, the young Kansas women visited Sendler three times in Warsaw, met diplomats and survivors, and saw Auschwitz and Treblinka. They were dubbed the "Rescuers of the Rescuer" because, before their attention, Sendler was not well known in Poland. Last year, Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She lost to the team of Al Gore and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And here's another piece, this time from The New Statesman, about how a bunch of visual artists are making an impact in the Middle East. Onwards and upwards with the arts!

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