Fashion Photography © 2008 Jerome du Bois.
Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.
--Marian Wright Edelman, founder, Children's Defense Fund, quoted in Liberal Fascism, p.345
I define community art as a piece of work made by someone that creates an emotion in the viewer that might steer them down a path of positive behavior that will benefit the surrounding community.
--Local artist / activist Tom Stephenson, August 2006
Don't Tread On Me.
--The Rattlesnake Motto, 1775
by Jerome du Bois
When I came across a note that arts bureaucrat Joe Baker had taken a new position at Arizona State's Herberger College of the Arts as Director of Community Engagement, I'm pretty sure I did the same take as many of us outside the academic loop: What in the world is "community engagement"?
I found out what it was, and who is pushing it, and it goes far beyond Joe Baker. Briefly, community engagement is the latest mutation, migration, and expansion of the social justice dispositions, which took over education, political science, and identity studies back in the Nineties. It was century-old Progressivism, now wearing jeans and a hoodie: everyone should serve the common good (as defined by the experts), including those in educational institutions; they must do what they can to right the injustices and inequities of racism, sexism, poverty, health care, education, homophobia, the environment . . . all those Moral Equivalents of War on the Agenda.
In what follows --using ASU, President Michael M. Crow, and some people at the Herberger School of the Arts as examples-- I'll describe how the latest generation of advocates for social control resemble the liberal fascists of Jonah Goldberg's book; and how these social justice commissars are pouring old Progressive wine into new green bottles with hip holographic labels. Determined to "rewrite the habits of our hearts" (Goldberg), they stand on the wrong side of the age-old divide between those who think humans are inviolable, inalienable ends in themselves, and those who think humans are interchangeable, fungible, malleable clay, whose highest purpose is to serve "the community," the nation, the state, the Volk.
How will the willing ASU students accomplish this dream of social transformation? The experts --their teachers, the "liberatory education" advocates, graduate students who have been through the training, and the most aggressive of the local "community activists"-- these knowitalls will tell them how. Inspired by the carrots of tenure and/or cash grants for "buying-in" to the program, if not by their own socialistic agendas, the faculty will lead the students to new realizations. Yes, they will "raise awareness" and "question paradigms" and "challenge expectations" and trigger the old "critical consciousness" of the moribund Marxists. Consider this excerpt from "Creating A New American University" (pdf online)-- prepared in 2006 for President Crow by organizational consultants Fern Tiger Associates (FTA) on service learning, social embeddedness and community engagement:
If today’s college graduates are to be positive influences and constructive actors locally, nationally, and globally, they need to be more than just “educated.” They need to realize that they are members of a community –-often the privileged members–- with an obligation to participate in and contribute to civic life. Perhaps most important, they should understand and work for the common good of the community and be able to do so effectively.P.6.
Dig that little socialistic jolt of guilt: "often the privileged members." Note also the demeaning scare quotes around educated, a little nip at the hand that feeds them. A university degree is not enough? You have to show you're a bleeding heart too? Yes, that's what they want, same as what Che Guevara wanted: to create a New Person. They want you to want to serve others. It's assumed that nobody will ask why anyone should understand and work for the common good of the community. The common good is often common ground for contention. But these neo-Progressive liberal fascists have already defined it for themselves, so say goodbye to any alternative arguments.
Now we know where FTA is coming from; we know some of their operational definitions. Those consultants see human beings as components in something more important than individuals taken by themselves, just as they are. No, to them people are cogs in something vast and significant and vague --the ever-present deserving underserved-- whom the student must learn to live to serve. Michael Crow, Fern Tiger et. al. argue strenuously that a person should accept their definitions of, for example, "obligation," "positive influence," "constructive actor," "contribute," and "civic life." Unquestioningly. Happily. Obediently. It will be better for you, they say; in fact, it will make a better you. (FTA founder Fern Tiger herself was hired as a Professor of Practice [?] at ASU's College of Public Programs while this two-plus-year study was being conducted by her and her Associates, who are based in Oakland CA.)
Since his arrival at ASU in 2002, Michael Crow has been elaborating his agenda, which he calls the New American University. His buzzword extension of "community engagement" is "social embeddedness." I distinguish the two this way: community engagement is the process, social embeddedness is the result. The image he projects of the university is that of an alert, agile, and socially responsible billion-dollar giant, with extensive and continually branching connections established throughout the larger environment it inhabits, instantly sensitive to the "community's" changes and needs, and with the university deeply committed to understanding and responding to these changes and needs, even inviting the community to come on in and use the university's resources. He's not afraid to blur the distinction between public and privileged. And he's not afraid to force or bribe students and faculty to be good by doing good. ASU will be seen as a gentle, wise giant, not a bully, not a bigfooter; one of them; street people. Most importantly, he wants to communicate that the community is an equal partner in this sublime endeavor. In this way ASU becomes as indispensable and irreplaceable as the larger environment itself, wherein you couldn't imagine the one without the other.
I have a different image of this strategy, simple and old, and ironically a favorite of old-time Progressives, who used it against their capitalist enemies: the octopus. Remember that the octopus is also a chameleon. We've all seen the footage on nature channels, as the octopus glides up to the big mottled underwater rock, spreads itself out and gloms on, and then . . . its skin becomes mottled itself, down to the last tiny tendril of tentacle, as the octopus melds and becomes as one with the rock. You can't tell the one from the other. I think that's exactly what Michael Crow wants to create: an invulnerable public institution, inextricably woven into its surroundings; something akin to an essential utility, and an organization which would inevitably have the state legislature wired.
Michael Crow Engages The Community
For about two years after his inauguration, the public record doesn't show President Crow pushing his vision. But beginning in 2004 he accelerated the pace, and now it appears the vision is launched. But not quite, if you look at the numbers. For example, one percent faculty participation by late 2006?
He put out the word in 2004 --make social embeddedness an integral part of your curriculum. And he had organizational consultant Fern Tiger and her associates interviewing faculty across all four campuses, feeling them out and letting them know the possible political future at ASU. In 2005 FTA submitted a Briefing Packet to President Crow on "Embedding ASU In The Community." More interviews and analysis followed. In 2006 he hired university consultants Campus Compact to help submit an application to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, for a Community Engagement Classification (new at CFAT since 2005). In September 2006 FTA published "Creating the New American University," which made clear that Crow and his supporters were after nothing less than a total transformation of the university to make sure that social embeddedness was a number one priority:
Each unit will be responsible for supporting and advancing the work of social embeddedness, holding it in the highest regard. It will be the responsibility of the President and Provost to set standards and to determine the success of the effort to transform the university as a whole. Faculty members who undertake work related to the goals and vision of social embeddedness should be honored with appropriate awards and public recognition. P.44, emphasis mine.
In December of 2006 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching awarded ASU its Community Engagement Classification. (And the Arizona Republic newspaper recognized Michael M. Crow as Arizonan of the Year.)
So far (by February 2008) just a few colleges in the university have responded to the call to revise the curriculum; sadly but neatly for my purposes, the new dean of the Herberger College of the Arts, Kwang-Wu Kim, the two honchos at the ASU Art Museum, Heather Lineberry and John Spiak, and former Heard Museum curator Joe Baker, all jumped on the bandwagon wholeheartedly, and so offer textbook examples of how to sycophantically implement the vision and please the boss. Dean Kim has already obtained pre-planning approval for a 30-hour Masters Program in Community Arts & Cultural Development (as a Community Facilitator, Integrative Arts Specialist, or Community Teaching Artist). He even elided the elitist "Fine" from the school's name, renaming it the Herberger College of the Arts. Then he sent out the word. And his faculty and supporters responded, as we'll see below. For now, one example. Here is a description of "learning outcomes" already up and running in the Theater & Film Department, which I obtained from ASU's application to CFAT :
One example of a departmental learning outcome for students' curricular engagement is the School of Theatre and Film's assessment plan learning outcome of "Being a Positive Community Member." This learning outcome requires students to collaborate successfully with others in production experiences, exhibit community awareness and engagement, and advocate for theatre as a socially necessary art form.
Within each individual theatre class there also are course- and section-specific criteria developed by instructors. For example, in THP 482 Theatre for Social Change, a general studies "cultural diversity awareness in the United States" course, students are expected to examine social, political, institutional, individual, and cultural oppressions of various communities through dialogue and course content exploring racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. (my emphasis)
I know, it sounds like a lot of fun, but this is what the hippies used to dread as regrooving.
The trouble for Crow's vision is that Kim's is one of the few colleges on all ASU's campuses to commit to that vision at such a high pitch. According to FTA's research at 15 universities, a majority (or "critical mass") of faculty is crucial for the success of even a partial implementation of community engagement.
According to their own Carnegie Application for Community Engagement, ASU at large doesn't yet formally measure any parameters of CE itself. A headnote to a short list of stats explains:
ASU has a definition and process for service learning courses, but not for broader distributed community-based learning courses. The numbers reported below are representative of service learning courses only, and do not include community-based learning courses within specific disciplines.
Here are the number questions, with their answers following:
How many formal for credit courses (Service Learning, Community Based Learning, etc.) were offered in the most recent academic year?  What percentage of total courses? 17 / 1%
How many departments were represented by those courses? 11
How many faculty taught service learning or community based learning courses in the most recent academic year? 4%
What percentage of total faculty? 1%
[I know, those last two are confusing, but that's verbatim from the Application. The general picture is clear enough.]
How many students participated in service learning or community based learning courses in the most recent academic year? 575
What percent of total number of students? 1%
That's pretty anemic on the part of the faculty and department heads, and I have an idea why, but first let's note that the Carnegie Foundation awarded ASU its CE Classification anyway. It seems like an anxious move to me.
There are actually dozens of examples in the Application of what could be called community outreach (not measured in the stats above), but most of it is fairly traditional and what you would expect: summer camps, education students helping all over the school districts (to keep the Feds off the districts' backs, my wife says, and a coping mechanism against the teacher turnover epidemic), and social work majors assisting case workers. These are people already predisposed to service, students and faculty who don't need to be "transformed." They're already progressively-wired. Some of the exceptions to the usual are embarrassing--
[Capstone] Department of Visual Communication, College of Design -- As part of a senior year project, Design and Visual Communication students initiated an art project with children from the Garfield Elementary School. In the program, the students were asked to make paintings that expressed their happiness. The paintings were then used by university students to design a fabric quilt.
--and some sound useful--
Students in the Polytechnic campus' Engineering Program have been working with the Hopi Tribe in Northern Arizona to develop wind power on tribal lands. With the goal of providing both energy and economic sustainability to the tribe, a team of engineering students met with the Tribal Energy Council to assess the possibility of installing wind turbines and then installed a 50m tower to collect wind data. The students are also working with the Hopi high school to plan wind activities that will educate students about the uses and benefits of wind energy.
-- but almost without exception they depend on the same dynamic, and it isn't altruism. Even the students, the grunts at the bottom of the ladder, get both the experience and the class credit they paid for, if nothing else. According to the tone and thrust of "Creating A New American University," that falls far short of the authors' goal, and Michael Crow's vision, of total social transformation. As FTA admitted in its earlier 2005 Briefing Packet, their research showed universities still depending on traditional, dependable, self-interested motivators:
For numerous reasons, addition of a community engagement criterion to the promotion and tenure checklist has been an elusive goal at most, if not all, universities. Yet all agree this is key to cultural change. A tenure requirement should be accompanied by ongoing efforts to educate the faculty about recognizing and responding to the true needs of the community. There is a significant difference between research that addresses a real and pressing need and research that simply quantifies or elaborates on a local problem without incorporating inquiry into potential solutions.
The second-choice alternative to status is . . . money. All of the schools and centers with viable, ongoing engagement programs have shown their commitment through an investment of resources -– staffing, cash grants to faculty for course syllabus revision or community-based research, stipends for graduate students, funds to a school or department that applies for support for community partnership projects, reduction or elimination of overhead typically applied to grant funds, facilitated faculty roundtables, or funds to develop proposals for community-based research. Some universities have created recognition programs that include permanent salary step increases as rewards. Programs can be structured to provide incentives for faculty and community groups to develop relationships and plan joint projects prior to application for funds. They can also add academic cachet by designating successful faculty proposers as “fellows” or “scholars” and more important by “buying out” the faculty member’s teaching responsibilities to engage in significant community-related work.
Making a New Person is hard work; people are stubborn. Will the commissars at ASU be up to the task?
Here's where we approach the jump --yes, there's plenty more-- so let me explain where I'm going from here. First I'm going to argue that Michael Crow's September 2007 sudden greenlighting of the Sunburst Scholarship grants to illegals ($3 million worth) gives the lie to his farsighted prehensile outreach and vaunted social sensitivity; second, that his sudden redlighting of those same grants exposes his shortsighted crassness and explains the faculty's reluctance to get behind his programs: you can't trust him. (As for student loyalty, wait until you read his definition of "tuition.") Third, I present some extended definitions: "fascism," "community," "community engagement" and its variations, and "civil society." This may seem belated, and the reader is free to skip that section, but I want to be clear about what I'm writing about, and so far, for the sakes of pace and readability, I've been vague. (Well, you point to where "community" is.) Plus, the definitions are a handy introduction to the final section, where I delve in some detail into the community engagement projects of artists and curators associated with the Herberger College of the Arts.
Also, as a coda at the very end, I've put together a selective, annotated timeline of Crow's tenure so far, with other relevant events and occasions included.
The Sunburst Bubbleburst
If you read Michael Crow's inaugural address or FTA's "Creating The New American University," they continually emphasize that universities fail in their community engagement by not considering the community's needs first. And ASU is determined not to fail; ASU is committed to a mutual transformation of itself and the community, and for that ASU needs and will demonstrate sensitivity and empathy.
But in September of 2007 Michael Crow, his Provost Betty Capaldi (one year into her new post), and the rest of his inner circle went against the will of seven out of ten voters of Arizona (Proposition 300) and spent $3 million of private donor funds to give dozens of illegals $12,000 tuition grants. These were the Sunburst Scholarships. This borderline bending of the law was not a popular move --except with the illegal "community" and its activist supporters-- but the university administrators did it anyway. Social policy by New Class arrogance and financial fiat. That doesn't seem very democratically embedded or responsive to "the community." It seems both high-handed and heavy-handed.
Then, in January the Employer Sanction Law went into effect. The next month an email went out to the grantee illegals that the money was gone, the sun had set, they were on their own, here's a list of private donors, good luck amigos. Sudden and rude. Now another "community" was mad at Crow et. al. Does this seem to reflect strategic thinking to you? Looks like privileged people used to getting their way, and doing it their way, and the community --any community-- can take the hindmost.
Imagine you are a legal Arizona citizen and part-time ASU student who gave up trying to get financial aid because you knew you couldn't qualify. But there goes somebody who shouldn't even be here with twelve grand in his pocket. How do you feel about that?
Imagine you are a dean or department head at ASU. You have a wish list, of course, but your budget is already strained, so you don't ask for the ten or twenty or hundred thousand dollars you could use for materials or upgrades or staffing. Then you see someone who shouldn't even be here . . .
Imagine you are an assistant professor thinking about the tenure track. President Crow and his crew want you to somehow rejigger your whole schedule and shoehorn in classes (or whole sections of existing classes) about community schmoozing. It could help you with tenure. They even offer you a thousand-dollar cash grant. And then you see someone . . .
Multiply that scenario across all the units of the university.
Now, the Sunburst arc happened after ASU submitted its anemic application for CE to Carnegie, which shows the paltry faculty participation in CE so far. Could it be that the Sunburst debacle is typical of Crow et. al's imperious and erratic behavior, which the public doesn't usually get a glimpse of but the faculty know all too well? So they're not about to sign on to something that might turn out to depend on nothing more than someone's whim. That's my theory, anyway.
Michael Crow and Fern Tiger, despite their written paeans to the wisdom of the community, actually seem to have contempt for it, and feel superior to it. For one thing, they assume that the community needs the university. But that's not the same thing as the community having needs, is it? Maybe the community can get along without the university. But the consultants don't consider such objections. From FTA's 2005 Briefing Packet, page 6:
Building the capacity of communities requires sustained engagement efforts-– informed and reinforced by ongoing trust and true two-way communication between and among the university and the community. Most important, for communities and community-based organizations to mature and become capable and effective enough to be real partners with long-standing institutions like universities, they need support, training, and access to resources and information that can enable them to become more sophisticated and self-sufficient.
My immediate images: urban sophisticate frowning over poor cousin; city mouse raising eyebrows at first sight of country mouse. Also, I see the motivation differently; shoring up the social infrastructure is like building frictionless tunnels for the octopus's tentacles to move smoothly through. At the head of each tunnel a couple of smiley faces: "We're from ASU; we're here to help." Whether you like it or not.
Clarity is crucial. One of the dismaying facts I ran across in Goldberg's book, and my own online research, was how much liberals and progressives play fast and loose with words, facts and the truth, and how they hold words up to an Orwellian carnival mirror, because everything must serve their ideological program; they're as postmodernly pragmatic as Humpty Dumpty: "Words mean what I want them to mean, neither more nor less."
So we must be careful. And fair. To that end, here is Goldberg's definition of fascism (p.23):
. . . Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life . . . Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore identified as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.
And I agree. Here's a nutshell analog definition: Fascism is 1984. Liberal fascism is Brave New World. There's a vivid example of the Orwellian mirror in Goldberg's book about longtime Washington wonk and Clinton crony Robert Reich. When an insistent journalist (Jonathan Rauch) corners Reich with videotape truth against Reich's written lies, Reich's final fallback is "pure relativism":
I claim no higher truth than my own perceptions.
This from a Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale Law School? Yes. Why the surprise? Yale at large welcomed Jacques Derrida in 1966, and he, along with ex-Nazi Paul deMan, spawned a whole couple of generations of fools out of the Ivy League who tried to deconstruct the English language down into meaningless bits.
Back to local academia and its concerns. For example, tuition. ASU President Michael Crow --who has raised tuitions drastically since his arrival in 2002 (e.g., 71 percent between 2002-2005)-- redefines tuition on December 22, 2007, on his "blog," The President's Post:
It is also important to understand that ASU is advancing a tuition philosophy that does not categorize tuition as an expense, but as an investment that provides tangible returns to the individual and to society.
A philosophy of tuition? I'm sure all the students who are still binding the wounds of the various mordidas feel a lot better now that they're investors. And I'm sure they're real happy for "society's" tangible returns, too. Crow expands:
As a function of that, we believe in a “co-investment model” whereby the student (and/or the student’s family), and the university all make investments in the student’s education as a means of preparing him/her for future success. This means investing in the quality faculty, leading-edge programs of study, state-of-the art facilities and technology, and the kind of customized services that help to facilitate student success. We are serious about providing this kind of living and learning environment at a good value to our students and we are making meaningful progress everyday.
What he leaves out: among all the people Crow mentions who "function" in the "co-investment model," the student is the only one who's not making money, and the only one really contributing cash money to the kitty (besides, of course, the huge contributions by taxpayers). Everybody else is getting paid, no?
So I'll want to be clear about the words I'll be using, and quoting. Before we can define "community engagement," we have to define "community." For reasons which will become clear, I have chosen the definitions provided by Campus Compact (CC). First, a word about CC. From their website:
Campus Compact is a national coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents — representing some 6 million students — dedicated to promoting community service, civic engagement, and service-learning in higher education.
When Michael Crow wanted to accelerate his New American University agenda, he first hired FTA for their research, and then, when signs pointed to a possible "Community Engagement Classification" from the Carnegie Foundation, CC was hired to help develop the application, a service they had provided for others in the past. (They were established in 1985.) In fact, most of the "design imperatives" in Crow's 2002 "New American University" inaugural address, especially "social embeddedness," reflect CC's own "President's Principles," which were formalized in 1996.
The point being that CC are major players in the Community Engagement movement, pushing the agenda on lots of fronts. So their definitions of community and its derivatives (defined extensively on their website) carry weight in the academic and funding circles.
They begin blandly and vaguely:
Community can be used in a number of ways to apply to almost any group of individuals. It is used here specifically to describe a geographic group whose members engage in some face-to-face interaction.
Then they start bringing in the big names:
Robert Bellah et. al. contrast the minimal notion of community with the idea of community in a "strong" sense. People in such a community share several characteristics that bring them together and create a sense of equality and common cause among them. Amitai Etzioni further emphasizes the moral aspect of communities and the demands that they make on their members.
Etzioni is the author of The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society, so you know where his sympathies lie. He claims that
Individual community members recognize the rights they derive from the group, as well as the responsibilities they owe to the group.
No, sorry, read the Constitution. Rights don't come from other people, neither king nor expert nor Max the Grocer. They come from Nature (and/or God), but not from any human group.
CC defines "community engagement" as
a form of scholarship that cuts across teaching, research and service. It involves generating, transmitting, applying, and preserving knowledge for the direct benefit of external audiences in ways that are consistent with university and unit missions.
Again, bland. But then we read about "community service."
Community service refers to action taken to meet the needs of others and better the community as a whole. Benjamin Barber [Aristocracy of Everyone] writes that community service is an essential component of democratic citizenship. Service to the neighborhood and to the nation are not the gift of altruists but a duty of free men and women whose freedom is itself wholly dependent on the assumption of political responsibilities.
This reminds me of a passage about Nazi educators from Liberal Fascism --and before I hear anything about Godwin's Law, I should note that if Godwin's Law was a bell attached to that book, it would be ringing on every page; which makes you wonder about Godwin's Law. The passage (p.167):
Walter Schultze, the director of the National Socialist Association of University Lecturers, laid out the new official doctrine in an address to the first gathering of the organization, wherein he explained that "academic freedom" must be redefined so that students and professors alike could work together toward the larger cause. "Never has the German idea of freedom been conceived with greater life and vigor than in our day . . . Ultimately freedom is nothing else but responsible service on behalf of the basic values of our being as a Volk.
Work --for others-- makes you free. We've seen this movie before. We've seen this god fail and fall more than once.
Let's contrast "community" with "civil society," again with Jonah Goldberg's help. In the chapter titled "Brave New Village," about Hillary Clinton and her book, he writes (p.339):
In Hillary's village, the concept of civil society is grotesquely deformed. Traditionally, civil society is that free and open space occupied by what [Edmund] Burke called "little platoons"-- independent associations of citizens who pursue their own interests and ambitions free from state interference or coercion.
That is not Hillary's civil society. In a book festooned with encomiums to every imaginable social work interest group in America, Mrs. Clinton mentions "civil society" just once. In a single paragraph she dispatches the concept as basically another way of describing the village. "[C]ivil society," she writes, is just a "term social scientists use to describe the way we work together for common purposes." No, no, no. "Civil society" is the term social scientists use to describe the way various groups, individuals, and families work for their own purposes, the result of which is to make the society healthily democratic. Civil society is the rich ecosystem of independent entities --churches, businesses, volunteer and neighborhood associations, labor unions, and such-- that helps regulate life outside state control.
Let's cap off our definitions with "citizen," provided ironically by Campus Compact; at the end of its fascistic-socialistic definition of democracy, we get a statement I could easily get behind:
Michael Sandel adds particular emphasis to the notion of the citizen as one who is able to maintain his or her identity while participating in multiple groups that may both support and challenge the status quo and offer different versions of the common good.
The arts at Herberger
From ASU's Carnegie Application for Community Engagement, about Heberger College:
During the most recent academic year the college conducted 32 community-based learning courses representing the college's four departments. A total of 682 students participated in the college's community-based learning courses, accounting for 25% of the college's students.
A lot of these courses are students fanning out to elementary and middle schools and doing feelgood workshops, relieving the workload of dozens of public school teachers. Also:
The college offers more than 25 courses that integrate community engagement with curriculum. One example of these courses is CFA 494/598 "Community, Culture, and the Arts," which is taught by ASU staff and a community arts activist. This is an interdisciplinary art course that examines the theory of community-based work in the arts and humanities in conjunction with practical development of personal work through observations, interviews, grant-writing, and a statement of philosophy.
Look a little closer at that last sentence. Of those four actions designed to promote the "practical development" of the student-artist's "personal work," which one seems most relevant to system-gamers like these people? And they have wonderfully-experienced grant readers at the Herberger, like new Visiting Assistant Professor Gregory Sale, or new the CE Director, Joe Baker.
Let's imagine a relatively new student in the printmaking program at Herberger College. Call him Blake. Though personable and friendly, he's not overly social. He doesn't go to parties; he doesn't schmooze. He's here to learn printmaking techniques, all kinds. He already has several projects planned. For example, he wants to create a brand-new multiple-technique illuminated manuscript of William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. He doesn't need help with inspiration, or with much at all, really. He's certainly not "community-minded." He just wants to realize his visions on paper and vellum, and he's willing to work hard for them.
And yet, more than once during his passage through this college, he will be required to demonstrate, with words and actions and artworks, and journals and prolonged exposure to strangers, that he really cares about these strangers, or that he has somehow taken them into his heart; he must show that there's been a mutual touching of lives . . .
This could happen: as a student in Gregory Sale's class (whatever he teaches), Mr. Blake and the class will be required to attend en masse when Josh Greene brings his silly scene to the ASU Art Museum. Actually, Greene is here right now. It's part of John Spiak's "Social Studies" series. (The first one had the bicyle-repair Brazilian "artist" in residence.) Greene's whole schtick is supposed to be all about community engagement, but I don't see how staring contests and pancake breakfasts are (1) art and (2) worth more than ten seconds of a serious adult's focused attention. But just as he did with the bicycling Brazilian, Gregory Sale will drag his classes down to the Museum to get exposed to "community-engaged art." And our hypothetical Mr. Blake would be forced to go along to get along.
What if, for example, Mr. Blake gets snookered into this scene:
CFA 494/598 "Community, Culture, and the Arts," which is taught by ASU staff and a community arts activist.
This means he's going to have to sit still while some high-on-themselves activist like John Leanos or Luis Avila or Susan Copeland or Tom Stephenson rebukes and reprimands him for being insufficiently committed to community. Demanding that he get back out there and create art and commentary that will satisfy them. Demanding that he sell his soul, cheap, to the likes of them. And if Mr. Blake is not strong in his soul, they'll turn him into a pod person too.
Does that sound farfetched? Then you haven't examined the cultural history of the Eastern Bloc of the 20th Century, or Cornell 1969, or the Black Panthers, or Vietnam, or Cuba.
It is my contention that those behind community engagement in the arts want to minimize, denigrate, marginalize and ultimately pulverize the solitary, independent, even contrary artist who wants to pursue his or her own agenda without having to clutter up their lives with other people's troubles or burdens or plans. No argument consistent with classical liberal principles (the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence) can justify forcing students to engage the community. But the head people at the Herberger are riding a nationwide wave of new social bullies who want to do just that.
I'm just about done here. If you want to know what community arts directly tied to ASU looks like, you can peruse this website about an exhibition in late 2006 about this very theme. Reread Tom Stephenson's quote at the top of this piece and you'll know what kind of art you're going to be subjected to. This is art as social therapy, art as castor oil, art as guilt trip, art as punishment. But art as a Promethean quest, or as the uncanny wrestling between humanity, nature, and spirit over which is the greater mystery? That's nowhere near ASU and these astringent minds and shrunken hearts. For that kind of vaulting ambition, Mr. Blake needs to follow his namesake, down his own road, and the community be damned.
Annotated Timeline of Community Engagement at ASU
2002 -- Michael M. Crow is hired as President of ASU; delivers inaugural address called "The New American University," outlining eight "design imperatives," one of which is "social embeddedness."
2002-2003 -- Crow creates President's Medals of Excellence, including one for Social Embeddedness.
2004 -- Organizational Consultant Fern Tiger hired at ASU's College of Public Programs as Professor of Practice.
2005 -- The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching creates a Community Engagement Classification in their evaluation procedures.
2005 (December) -- Fern Tiger Associates produces a "Briefing Packet" for Michael Crow called "Embedding Arizona State University in the Community" which includes descriptions of his "design imperatives" and the phrase "New American City."
2006 --Crow hires Campus Compact to create and submit an Application for Community Engagement Classification to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
2006 (June-August) Kwang-Wu Kim assumes Deanship of the Herberger College of Fine Arts, which he promptly renames the Herberger Colllege of The Arts.
2006 (August) -- Betty Capaldi assumes post of Executive Vice-President and Provost of Arizona State University.
2006 (September) Fern Tiger Associates produces an 80-page report called "Creating A New American University" for Michael Crow, which repeats the emphasis on "New American City."
2006 (September) -- ASU Museum curators Heather Lineberry and John Spiak present an art exhibition called "New American City."
2006 (November) -- 7 out of 10 Arizona voters cast ballots to pass Proposition 300, which denies taxpayer funds to illegals.
2006 -- Carnegie awards ASU its Community Engagement Classification.
2006 (December) -- Arizona Republic newspaper recognizes Michael Crow as Arizonan of the Year.
2007 (January) -- "New American City" art exhibition closes.
2007 (April 11) --Crow bestows President's Medal of Excellence for Social Embeddedness to Lineberry and Spiak for "New American City" exhibition.
2007 (September) -- President Crow announces that ASU will hand out $3 million in private donor funds to illegal aliens --the $12,000 Sunburst Scholarships-- so they might attend ASU, thereby circumventing the legal limitations of Proposition 300.
2007 (September 12) -- Arizona Republic publishes outraged editorial by Laurie Roberts blasting their Arizonan of the Year 2006 for flouting the express will of the people of Arizona by rewarding illegal aliens with tuition money.
2007 (December 14) -- A long, fawning article about Michael Crow's "first five years" by Doug MacEachern appears on the Arizona Republic online edition's front page --then moves to a frontpage sidebar box and stays there for almost exactly two months.
2008 (January) -- John Spiak introduces his first "community engagement" exhibition, inaugurating his "Social Studies" series (under the larger conceptual umbrella Heather Lineberry calls "Global Initiatives") with a Brazilian artist who sets up a bike-repair and -customizing space in the ASU Art Museum for about a month. Very interactive.
2008 (January) -- Employer Sanction Law goes into effect, penalizing Arizona employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
2008 (February) -- ASU announces that the funds for the Sunburst Scholarships are exhausted and the scholarships are no more. The illegals who have benefited from this largesse are urged to find private funding. Phoenix New Times publishes an angry article, sympathetic to the illegals.
2008 (February 15) -- The same day the article about the exhaustion of the Sunburst Scholarships appears in the Arizona Republic online's front page, the sidebar about Michael Crow disappears.
2008 (January) -- John Spiak introduces the second in his "Social Studies" exhibitions, with Josh Greene doing all kinds of things in the Museum, from setting up a telemarketing office to HORSE basketball to a pancake breakfast. In the press release, Spiak writes, "Through this community engagement, one of the most important ASU commitments, the results of these interactions will take the work and the artist beyond the Museum’s traditional exhibition structure."
2008 (January 16) -- For the first time in over three years, overcoming what must have been agonizing resistance, John Spiak, in the interests of "community engagement," sends an email to The Tears Of Things, adding us to the 7,000-member "E-nnouncement Distribution List." Together again!
by Jerome du Bois
Almost three years ago we published a little piece called Coda Illegal, in which we wondered whether Downtown Art Doyenne Beatrice Moore was using illegal labor on the roof of her Weird Garden. We posted a photo with it. That digital document caused an immediate brouhaha and lingering charges of racism. We've explained our position more than once. We are not racists. In fact, my own conclusion from years of serious research and reading is that we are all Africans. I've said it, written it, made art about it, because I believe it. There is only one human race; all this ethnic maumauing is just people scrambling for handles of power, such as the notion of "permanence of race." Crazy. In a hundred years, we'll all be beige. Still, every once in awhile some commenter comes around waving that picture and then immediately using words we never did and never would use and attributing them to us. Old tactic --it's called race-gaming-- and I'm going to tear it up and lay it to rest right here before I'm done.
But first, I note that Beatrice Moore could have settled the issue of the guys on the roof years ago. She is sure to know about it by now, our email is always open, and she's had plenty of time to clear up the whole thing. She hasn't. My take? It's in her interest to keep the thing hanging out there in limbo, so people can still have some kind of handle to call us racist. And maybe she's angry because we queered some deal for her. My pure speculation only.
Second, we have often wondered, in print, why racism only seems to point in one direction, and why there's only one group --white folks-- who are forbidden to criticize anyone on racial grounds, yet white people remain the primary target for minority group criticism. Criticism? Hell, it's downright demonization. And nobody calls them on it. Seems unfair to the fairskinned, and to them only. Let's study on that.
For example, why does the black woman "artist" Kara Walker get rewarded for depicting, with sadistic joy, white people commiting the worst crimes imaginable? Why does black male artist William Pope.L get away with calling an art exhibition "Art After White People"? Can you imagine an "Art After Mexican People" show? When Hector Ruiz crudely carves what amounts to white lawn jockeys, nobody calls him racist. When black woman painter Beverly McIver makes fun of white people on canvas, she gets more than a pass, she gets a career. Then there's Haunani Trask. As I wrote in "Rebarbarization In The Academy" two years ago:
When a high-school student turns in a detailed written description of murdering a classmate, he (sometimes, not always) goes to counseling. But when University of Hawai'i Professor Haunani Trask wrote a book of poetry called "Racist White Woman" --which detailed "her fantasy of punching, knifing, mutilating and ultimately murdering a white colleague she despised"-- it was published.
I also remember, even earlier, Catherine's "Just 'Fro Stories," about the SMoCA HairStories exhibition and catalogue. Catherine pointed out
the anti-American hatred of poet Pamela Sneed --who ignores both the Holocaust and 9/11-- and hair expert Pamela Ferrell, who said this:
"It's so interesting to hear the conversation and people talk about the Taliban controlling people in terms of their hair and not being able to cut it. And it's interesting how Americans act so concerned about people being oppressed when we know America is the world leader in oppression and discrimination . . ."[my emphasis]
We couldn't get hold of Sneed or Ferrell, but we did email one of the authors of the catalogue, ASU Professor Neil Lester, a black man, and asked him if he agreed with their political views. He responded with another old tactic --asking if we were under psychiatric care-- and dodged and ignored everything else. Smug bastard, and typical of the insulated tenured.
While we're in academia, I'll bring up one of the many infuriating eye-openers in Jonah Goldberg's goldmine of a book, Liberal Fascism. I refer to Whiteness Studies, which is sometimes subsumed under Critical Race Theory. Here is Goldberg in a passage (p.368) whose first sentence is raising hackles across the blogosphere:
The white male [sic] is the Jew of liberal fascism. The "key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race," writes whiteness studies scholar and historian Noel Ignatiev. Whiteness studies is a cutting-edge academic discipline sweeping American higher education. Some thirty universities have WS departments, but many more schools teach the essentials of whiteness studies in other courses. The executive director of the Center for the Study of White American Culture [at Harvard] explains, "There is no crime that whiteness has not committed against people of color . . . We must blame whiteness for the continuing patterns today . . . which damage and prevent the humanity of those of us within it."
(This is not a new idea, by the way --Susan Sontag, 1967: "The white race is the cancer of human history."-- but WS is the newest fleur de mal in a poisonous academic bouquet. One encouraging sign: Race Traitor, Ignatiev's online bizzaroland, hasn't published anything new in over two years.)
To pick just one of the myriad outrages of this obscene notion: "whiteness" is not a conscious being that can "commit" crimes. It is not some giant amorphous infectious ghost which roams the land looking for people of color to throw down on. This is common anthropomorphism and bogeyman projection. In fact, there is no such thing as whiteness. But there is flesh, isn't there? the pale living flesh, full of nerves that can feel pain, which some people of color seem to hate so much. Sick bastards. And this so-called academic discipline polishes up reverse racism with a phony shine of legitimacy, keeping up the good fight of keeping whitey feeling guilty. To hell with that.
Another example of contemporary race gaming which blew my mind. It was something my wife, Catherine King, picked up on as we watched the Black Theater Troupe perform Tony Kushner's Caroline, or Change. While we were discussing this piece here, she told me how she had been mulling over what we had seen onstage in the John Paul Theater back in late December. Her earlier piece posted here praised the actors, the staging, and the presentation of the Black Theater Troupe. This is separate. This is about Kushner's concept, and his disingenuous sleight of hand.
A little background. The play is about a very bitter and unlikeable female black laundry worker in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in late 1963. She works in the basement of a white household --father mourning wife's death even while remarried to dead wife's best friend; the new stepmother trying to keep it all together; and the ten-year-old son, disastrously trying to remake Caroline into his dead mother. ("Caroline is God! Caroline for President!") Caroline herself has no friends except the washer, dryer, and the radio, and she lives in a seething anger about her abusive ex-husband. Throughout the play, everyone gives Caroline plenty of room to complain and offend them and even quit and take off for five days and have people begging her to come back. They indulge her insulting behavior when she takes advantage of a misunderstanding about money. Once, in an aside, the stepmother says, "Jesus, lady, would it kill you to smile once in a while?" And even after she comes back and grudgingly "changes," maybe a nickel's worth, it all rings counterfeit, because nobody would put up with that kind of behavior, especially in 1963 in Lake Charles, LA. They would politely and formally dismiss her and hire her friend Dotty, for example; someone with life, spunk, personality, a future, for Pete's sake!
Tony Kushner has tried to retroactively smuggle postmillennial political correctness back to 1963, with a huge dose of white guilt intact, but it rings false. It feels like race gaming. Again, why does everyone --even the Moon-- give Caroline a pass? This is a house still grieving, remember, a house of scars still tender with death's dark bruises. The ghost of a dead mother hovers throughout. Yet Kushner foregrounds Caroline's resentment and selfish anger. The stepmother is the bravest one, stepping onto thin ice all through the play, testing the future, trying bravely to mend the household, but Kushner has the son fixate on Caroline, who, as far as I can remember, never gives him a word of consolation or comfort about losing the principal person in his life. Nor about the newly-murdered JFK. Yet this is Kushner's title character. It's as if white guilt has no bottom, but no, Tony, we're not buying it. (Thank you, Catherine.)
Finally, back to Coda Illegal and pictures and words. Words like, for example, nativist, which the slimer Stephen Lemons at New Times is now using as a slur for patriot. I'm sure he's a little too --what? dare I say double-digit I.Q.?-- to invent the term, but I haven't researched it. Maybe the Ask A Mexican guy, or the new Brown columnist, came up with it. Whatever it's provenance, it's just another liberal weasel word. It reminds me of Woodrow Wilson's use of another word which sounds innocuous but in context . . .
That was the word. Think about it. But there was another . . .
Brown! That was the word.
When we posted that roof photo, we said nothing about the ethnic profiles of the men on the roof. We just said they looked illegal. The commenters that came flaming back had nothing to go on except that photo and our words. Now, from the photo, you cannot tell anything about the ethnic profiles of the people up there: tall or short, dark or light, young or old, male or female. Simply no way. They're as bundled up from the sun and toxic chemicals as extras on a desert planet in a Star Wars movie. They look more like bug-robots than people. Yet, and here's the key, the commenters projected words like "little brown people" onto us in their rantings and accusations. We said nothing about that in our posting; we said, "illegal." Everything else comes from them, not us.
Nobody comes around this blog and accuses us of racism.