Posts tagged ‘Elizabeth Johnson’

Recent NY Times article recognizes social practice art – something we know a thing or two about!

Last week in The New York Times, Randy Kennedy, arts writer, took a look at something the ASU Art Museum has been thinking about for many years: socially engaged practice.

In an article entitled “Outside the Citadel, Social Practice Art Is Intended to Nurture,” Kennedy examines the history and current exploration of social practice, whose “practitioners freely blur the lines among object making, performance, political activism, community organizing, environmentalism and investigative journalism, creating a deeply participatory art that often flourishes outside the gallery and museum system.”

“Leading museums have largely ignored it,” Kennedy writes, “But many smaller art institutions see it as a new frontier for a movement whose roots stretch back to the 1960s but has picked up fervor through Occupy Wall Street and the rise of social activism among young artists.” He highlighted museums such as the Hammer Museum, the Walker Art Center, and the Queens Museum of Art, all of which are working to extend their reach in the socially engaged practice sphere.

ASU Art Museum has been focused on socially engaged practice for more than 5 years, with the launch of our Social Studies initiative in 2007, which provides opportunities for artists working in various media to interact creatively and collaboratively with students, other artists, and faculty and community members. The social interaction of the museum-as-artist’s-studio setting encourages participants to explore new avenues of creativity and ultimately enhance their understanding of their world and each other.

The museum has hosted several social practice artists to date as part of the Social Studies initiative, including Jarbas Lopes, Anila Rubiku, Jillian MacDonald, Gregory Sale, Jennifer Nelson and Julianne Swartz, among others.  In 2012, the museum launched a new social practice speaker series as part of the Socially Engaged Practice Initiative at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and welcomed artist and dancer Elizabeth Johnson as the new Coordinator for Socially Engaged Practice for the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Johnson is building a socially engaged practice certificate/focus at HIDA, and is housed at the ASU Art Museum  because of the museum’s work in this area.

Finger Dance between mothers and daughters

Above: Elizabeth Johnson, second from left, takes part in the “Mother-Daughter Distance Dance” at the ASU Art Museum on April 2, 2011, as part of Gregory Sale’s exhibition It’s not just black and white.

If you’re curious about the history of the museum’s dedication to socially-engaged practice, take a look back at some of our blog posts showcasing the art and artists we’ve had the pleasure of working with:

For Kennedy’s full New York Times piece, visit:

–Juno Schaser, PR Intern

March 28, 2013 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

Passion in motion: Elizabeth Johnson and Socially Engaged Practice at the ASU Art Museum

Above: Elizabeth Johnson, second from left, takes part in the “Mother-Daughter Distance Dance” at the ASU Art Museum on April 2, 2011, as part of Gregory Sale’s exhibition It’s not just black and white.

Art is active. And for those like Elizabeth Johnson, it can move them in more ways than one.

As the Coordinator for Socially Engaged Practice at the museum, Johnson uses dance in order to organize collaborations, promote dialogue, and investigate pressing issues of our time.

Part of how she does this by harnessing people’s natural movement and putting shapes around questions that people then answer physically.

It’s not as abstract as you might think.

“We move to communicate all the time,” Johnson says. “We improvise every moment we have a conversation. We have an idea, we have a vision and we act on that vision or we don’t act on that vision. I just offer ways for people to show that. It’s a very fluid process.”

Before accepting this position, Johnson had never worked for a museum before. Having received her BFA in Dance from Connecticut College, Johnson traveled around the world organizing community engagement events and projects, as she says, in everyone’s community except her own.

Johnson explains working at the ASU Art Museum has made her rethink what a museum is — especially this museum: “I’ve never been a person who felt like I could concentrate with something still on the wall, as beautiful as it might be. Now that I’m in a museum, I’ve realized that a museum is a place that can hold ideas and is a place for the public, not just the people who know about art.”

Johnson’s work uses unique activities to connect with the community and have people think about artmaking and relationships formed through art. She bases her work on the idea that intangible social interactions can constitute the core of an artwork.

“That’s why I’m here,” she says.

When it comes to Socially Engaged Practice, Johnson explains she’s not just a planner but also a practitioner of the process: “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into collaborative events. I tend to set up things, but I also get involved with them. I facilitate and coordinate but I also practice and do. I get myself involved in a lot of interesting things.”

Through dance, Johnson creates meaningful cross-disciplinary collaborations and builds sustainable partnerships.

“What art can do is hold complexity,” she says. “And I kind of believe that when you bring your body into this, it brings out this human experience that we all have and gives us the capacity to have compassion in a way that’s different than if we just read a newspaper.”

Johnson is currently pursuing an MFA in Dance from ASU with her thesis focusing on exploring women and crime, a subject she became interested in after collaborating with Gregory Sale for It’s not just black and white in 2011.

“It really had me think what it’s like for me to be in Arizona and for me to be in a community that was my own.”

Above: Elizabeth Johnson, left, and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief MaryEllen Sheppard talk with girls who participated in the “Mother-Daughter Distance Dance.”

Johnson considers curriculum integration the biggest and most important aspect of her job — how to create a program that trains the artists of the 21st century that gives them skills to not only hones their craft but apply it in multiple contexts.

Johnson currently instructs Socially Engaged Practice: Engagement and Community, but she is also in the process of designing a new program and curricula for a certificate in Socially Engaged Practice at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“I have a real passion for this kind of work and what happens when young people see how big art can be and how many possibilities there are,” Johnson says. “The actual engagement of young people is really interesting to me. And I thrive on it, which is why I’m in a university.”

Next semester she and the director of the ASU Art Museum Gordon Knox will teach the new class Socially Engaged Art, which will examine the role of the artist in society from an anthropological perspective. Knox and Johnson also plan to use the course to push students to think about how to use art to moderate conversations and assess the complexities of a given social situation.

Johnson explains she has learned more about socially engaged practice uses dance in a way to share, not perform.  “You combine your experience with somebody else’s and you see ‘Oh, it’s a more complicated picture,’” she says. “More interesting, more broad. [Working here] has definitely expanded what I know.”

Johnson’s intern Lindsay Henika, a senior studying Art Administration, has found her time at the museum to be an opportunity to learn about special event planning and media marketing. “It’s been so great to see how the museum works from the front row,” she says.

Johnson has her hand in many different projects, but her next upcoming event is At Home in the Desert: Youth Engagement and Place. The project partners the faculty and staff in ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts with community-based organizations, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan PhoenixThe Boys and Girls and Club of the East Valley, Girl ScoutsArizona Cactus-Pine Council, and South Mountain High School.

Johnson has been working with the Girl Scouts by studying the desert and making dances about what they find. The public event will take place on Dec. 1 at the Diane and Bruce Halle Skyspace Garden on the Tempe campus at 4:30 p.m.

To learn more about what the Socially Engaged Practice community is up to, check out its blog and Facebook.

Mary Richardson

November 27, 2012 at 7:17 pm 1 comment

New Socially Engaged Practice Speaker Series!

The Socially Engaged Practice Initiative at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts introduces a monthly speaker series showcasing exemplary practice by nationally recognized visiting artists and members of our ASU and regional community.

Socially Engaged Practice is an evolving area of art and design that uses participation, reciprocal relationships and collaborations in community contexts to promote civic dialogue and investigate pressing issues of our time.

The events are supported by the ASU Art Museum, The School of Dance, The School of Theatre and Film, the School of Art and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Individual events are also supported by various other partners.

The first event in the series takes place tomorrow, Tuesday, at the ASU Art Museum, at 6 p.m., when the Socially Engaged Practice Initiative, ASU Gammage, and the ASU Art Museum invite you to listen, discuss and even try out a participatory performance event called City Council Meeting. Artists Aaron Landsman and Mallory Catlett will be on hand to explain the process and thinking behind their work, the way the piece interacts with the Tempe community and the ways you can be a part of the February 16th performance at ASU Gammage. (More about City Council Meeting below.)

And mark your calendars for Oct. 9 from 6-8 p.m., when Arizona State University contributes to the Town Hall Nation project with an unscripted, participatory Evening of Community Engagement & Civil Dialogue.The event, which will take place at the ASU Art Museum, is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by the Herberger Institute’s Socially Engaged Practice Initiative and co-sponsored by the ASU Art Museum and the schools of Theatre and Film and Public Affairs, and the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

More about City Council Meeting:

The Project

City Council Meeting is a participatory performance of empathy and democracy and power, created by New York artists Aaron Landsman, Mallory Catlett and Jim Findlay, in collaboration with local artists Elizabeth Johnson and Gregory Sale. The piece is co-commissioned and presented by ASU Gammage. Our hope is that Tempe council members and their staff will be able to join other community members in our process over the next several months, and participate in our performances in February.

City Council Meeting is being developed in four cities – Houston, Tempe, New York and San Francisco. In each, the goal of the piece is to get a diverse range of people – from elected representatives, to their constituents, to those that often get left out of the conversation – into the room so that they can speak together. We want to give everyone the chance to understand how others see themselves and each other, and see what we can learn in the process. We also want to make a beautiful piece of art.

Over the last year Landsman and Catlett have done informal research and interviews with a broad range of Tempe residents, from elected officials to homeless young adults, from the Chamber of Commerce to college students.

How It Works

The performance is divided into three parts: an orientation video, similar to what you’d see before doing jury duty; a reading of transcripts from government meetings in several U.S. cities; and a final section created locally in each place where it’s presented, through collaborations with local artists, non-artists, elected officials and other populations.

When viewers arrive at the theater, they have a choice as to whether and how to participate: be a Councilor and read the meeting; be a Speaker and say a piece of testimony; be a Supporter, and you don’t have to say anything, but you’ll get a set of instructions (stand up at certain points, text message to a specified phone number, etc); or be a Bystander, and simply watch the performance as you would a normal play. Once that’s done, the “meeting” starts. Together with our local group of performers (whom we call “staffers”), everyone in the room enacts the transcripts we’ve assembled from our research in over 10 cities. You’ll read council members in Bismarck, students in San Antonio, activists in Oakland and engineers in Houston, among others.

For each city’s ending section, we attempt to bring together parties on various sides of an issue we see played out in local council meetings. Often these issues seem mundane on the surface but underlying them are more profound questions: What makes us civilized? How do we perform ourselves? What can we do for each other? How can we know each other better?

City Council Meeting in Tempe is commissioned by ASU Gammage. The project has been made possible with funding by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Theater Pilot, The MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital, the Puffin Foundation and Jerome Foundation. City Council Meeting is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project.


September 17, 2012 at 11:17 pm Leave a comment

Family So-Much-Fun Day!

Family Fun Day. Photo by Stephen Gittins.

“Okay, I’ll dance to one more song, but then I HAVE to get in line to get my face painted,” said one adorable young girl who was dancing in the gallery with the Zumbatomics participatory activity, led by Melinda Mills-Walkey.

“I want to be KISS,” said one young man as he approached the face painter. His mother explained that he was very interested in becoming a rock star and that she had no idea how he had even found out about KISS, but she saw nothing wrong with it.

Another child suddenly halted working on the art project in front of her when she saw her favorite PBS character, Super Why, and only returned to the table after having her photograph taken with him.

I observed each of these moments at the ASU Art Museum’s Family Fun Day on July 9th, 2011. With hands-on art-making activities, interactive performances and readings and illustration demonstrations by Chris Gall and Alex Rex, everyone at the museum on Saturday had a great day.

This is my fifth year organizing the Family Fun Day with the help of our Windgate Intern, who also curates an exhibition based on a theme, pulling works broadly from our collection.  It’s so rewarding to see the hours put into planning the crafts, contacting performers and working with our fabulous community partners result in such an entertaining day for families. My favorite part of Family Fun Day is that the entire event is free, allowing families to have fun without worrying about how much it costs. This year, more than 1,200 people stopped by to enjoy the four-hour event, and that’s not including visitors to the Ceramics Research Center across the street.

Now we’re putting the supplies away from Saturday’s activities, and starting to prep for next month’s 1st Saturdays for Families (Saturday, Aug. 6 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), which explores the exhibition By myself and with my friends through an interactive dance led by choreographer Elizabeth Johnson, a special visit from the Arizona Animal Welfare League (and animal friends), and a fun animal-making art craft.

And I also will start planning next year’s Family Fun Day — after I finish recovering from this year’s event.

 –Andrea Feller, Curator of Education

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Photos in the slideshow are by Stephen Gittins and Stu Mitnick.

July 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Reconnecting – It’s not just black and white

April is drawing to a close, and it has been an extremely busy month for projects associated with Gregory Sale’s Social Studies project It’s not just black and white.

The month began with the third public tour of Tent City Jail, another informative, eye-opening and direct experience opportunity for all involved.

On April 9, the Museum was fortunate to host a portion of the School of Social Transformation, Justice & Social Inquiry’s 1st Annual ASU Human Rights Film Festival. The afternoon, organized by the School of Social Transformation in collaboration with the Tempe Chapter of Amnesty International and ASU Art Museum, was based on the theme of Prisoner’s Rights and Militarization of Justice, screening the films Cointelpro 101 and The Response. The screening was followed by a lively discussion on the topics, led by Alan Eladio Gómez, Ph.D. Borderlands Scholar and Assistant Professor in the School of Justice and Social Inquiry at ASU.

The organization Reentry and Preparedness, Inc. (REAP) hosted a meeting on April 12 for its board of directors and advisory board. Reentry and Preparedness, Inc. (REAP) is dedicated to providing green job training, transition training, and mentorship for the families of the reintegrators from prisons and jails. The event was organized by Carol Manetta, Executive Director of REAP, as part of It’s not just black and white Open Bookings.

The Civil Dialogue Project on April 13 focused on creating a safe space for divergent viewpoints. Using the technique of civil dialogue, ASU faculty from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication facilitated a dialogue focused on two hot topics: incarceration and prisons. This project was an opportunity for students and the public to dialogue safely about issues that could be polarizing, in an effort to promote understanding. The event was facilitated by Clark Olson, Instructional Professional, and Jennifer Linde, Lecturer, at the Hugh Downs School of Communications.

Through arrangements made by the artist, working in direct relationship with the administrations of Adobe Mountain and Black Canyon high schools of the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, fifteen male and female students joined us at the Museum on April 18th for their first of three full-day visits.  The students, along with their teachers, administration and ASU students, received a tour of the Museum and were provided a brief introduction to It’s not just black and white by the artist. We all walked to the School of Art, where we joined Stephen Gittins’ photo class and were given a tour of the studios and darkrooms. We took a walk through campus to the Memorial Union, where we enjoyed a lunch and conversation together. Upon arriving back at the museum, the art supplies were ready for the students to add their artistic expressions to the public wall within the gallery space. ASU Graduate Teaching Assistant Ashley Hare, of the ASU School of Theatre and Film, then led the students through a series of performance and improvisational workshops. Finally, the students walked over to the back of the Nelson Fine Arts Center theatre spaces and worked with graduate students through a puppetry workshop, creating their own puppets out of the masses of supplies made available to them.

A program the evening of April 19th combined two diverse groups in conversation.  The first group was criminal justice students of Professor Cathryn Mayer from Brookline College who arranged guest speaker Deputy Director Charles Flanagan from the Arizona Department of Corrections.  The second group were students from ASU professor Dr. Alesha Durfee’s Women and Social Change class who organized a panel including Maricopa County Chief Probation Officer Barbara Broderick of the Adult Probation Department, Sue Ellen Allen of Gina’s Team, Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch and Donna Hamm of Middle Ground Prison Reform.  The entire group of sixty-five individual in attendance received a wide range of views and perspectives before engaging in respectful question and answer dialogue for an extremely successful event.

This past Saturday, April 23, as an Open Booking, The United Teams for Restorative Justice took over the space, providing a panel presentation of five organizations and their constituencies who engage with the criminal justice system, helping individuals heal and move forward in life. The five organizations in attendance and being recognized for their tireless efforts included Moma’s House, for its dedication to helping abused women escape the abuse and start a new life; Arizona Peace Alliance, for having a Department of Peace added as a cabinet level position in the government and for legislation aimed at teaching peaceful solutions; Gina’s Team, for its work to ensure inmates basic life needs are met; Reentry and Preparedness, Inc.,  for its dedication to support and renew those who have been incarcerated and deliver them gently back into society; and finally Phoenix Nonviolence Truth Force, for its trainings in peaceful solutions to everyday problems.  According to United Teams for Restorative Justice, it is is an organization dedicated to helping any party having contact with any criminal justice agency. They help not only the defendants and the victims but their families as well.  The event was organized by the United Teams David DeLozier.

This morning, April 26, the Maricopa County Adult Probation Executive Management Team (EMT) held their monthly meeting in the gallery. The EMT consists of a Chief Probation Officer, three Deputy Chief PO’s and eleven Division Directors. The Maricopa Adult Probation has about 1,100 employees and is responsible for supervising a monthly average of 58,264 probationers. The EMT meets monthly to focus on the strategic plan, managing for results and departmental goals in order to ensure that the departmental mission is realized. The meeting was organized by Therese Wagner as part of the Open Bookings.

And tonight we host the event “Incarceration and the Mentally Ill: Punitive or Restorative Justice?,” a formal dialogue with approximately twenty participants discussing the care and treatment of those with mental illness as their lives intersect with the criminal justice system. The goal is to bring together individuals with diverse perspectives and experiences, from the advocates for increasing rehabilitation of mentally ill offenders to those who feel the criminal justice system in place in Arizona is working well. The event is organized and managed by Mary Lou Brnick of the non-profit organization David’s Hope, with support from the Office of Individual and Family Affairs at the Arizona Department of Behavior Health Services and the Arizona Mental Health and Criminal Justice Coalition. The public is invited to observe the dialogue and participate during Q & A.

But it has been the past few days that have provided some amazing reconnections…

Last Friday a Cub Scout group visited the space. The scout leader, an Eagle Scout in ranking, was in the space sharing insights with his scouts. He encouraged them to express themselves artistically on the public wall as he spoke to them about the topics of the overall project. As he completed his conversation with the boys and allowed them time to draw, I approached and thanked him for his thoughtfulness toward the project and for sharing that thoughtfulness with his troop. It turns out their scout leader has a connection with the Museum; he toured the location many times and had been involved with educational outreach programs as a student at McClintock High School in Tempe.  He expressed how those experiences truly influenced his life and how he is so pleased to be able to share those similar experiences with his young troop.

On Monday our students from Adobe Mountain and Black Canyon reconnected with us for their second visit. It was so wonderful to see their smiling faces once again and hear of their eagerness to get started for another day of activities. Gregory began the day with a little presentation on the history of stripes, all through small black and white drawings.  He started with an image from “a mural in Italy painted around 1340 of three young women in stripes condemned to prostitution saved by Saint Nicolas,” shifted to image of Holocaust uniforms, then images of stripes as portrayed in the media and pop culture, shared the Razzle Dazzle camouflage used on ships during World War I, then the use of stripe in architecture, in patterning and finally examples of stripes used by contemporary artists. He talked about these historic stripes’ association with the current use of stripes in our community and within the exhibition, having the students consider their use and meaning more deeply.

Gregory then challenged the students to reconsider the stripes on the wall of his space. If they had the opportunity, how would they make adjustments to his vision? Each student was then invited to select an ASU student collaborator and express their vision through a painting workshop orchestrated on the floor of the gallery space. The results were fantastic, and each team had the opportunity to share their insight, creating a great dialogue with each other and the space of the Museum.

A walk across campus for lunch together at ASU’s Secret Garden provided the opportunity for a communal meal and insight from Heather Landes, Associate Dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and The Arts. Heather provided the students deeper knowledge of the opportunities available to them in the Arts and Design through ASU.   She talked about the application process and invited them all to join us as students at ASU upon the completion of their high school education.

After lunch our dynamo colleague, Elizabeth Johnson, Coordinator, Public Practice in the School of Dance, got the students moving. She worked with them collectively to get their bodies moving, first in basic movements then gradually building up to more choreographed series. The students broke off into groups and choreographed their own dances in relationship to the conversations of the day, then performed them for the other groups. We sat together and talked about the dances we had just observed and shared our overall impressions on the experiences. You could tell by the smiles and energy, it was extremely successful.

The students then loaded into their van and were shuttled off to the other side of campus to engage with School of Art Professor Angela Ellsworth’s intermedia performance art class. The student were greeted by the ASU students and given an overview of their studies. They talked about a current project they were developing and asked the high school students if they would assist. The project is titled “Cyborgs vs. Humans,” a parking lot tag style game that examines current culture and technologies. The rules for the activity were explained, and then everyone went to the parking lot for round one. The Cyborgs won round one in less than five minutes, then we all went back inside and debriefed. The information was gathered regarding successes and failure, differing options and possibilities. The game rules were adjusted and it was back to the parking lot for round two. Round two proved to be much more successful, a game lasting just over  10 minutes and exhausting everyone. At one point during the game, one of the high school students instructors turned to me and said, “It’s so good to see this kids get the opportunity to be kids,” and I would have to agree. It was good knowing that these students received a great day of activities and were probably going to get a great night’s sleep.

The students weren’t the only reconnection that happened on Monday. Mid-morning Erik, one of the original ALPHA program inmates who collaborated with Gregory to paint the stripes within the gallery, showed up at the Museum with his girlfriend, Lisa. Erik had been released, and it was so great to see him at the Museum in his own clothing. He toured Lisa through the space and shared the project and his experience with her, expressing the project’s intent as if he was leading a docent tour. He pointed out his contributions to the public wall as he reconnected with me, Gregory and Elizabeth Johnson, with whom he had performed a dance during his original visit. Before we knew it, Erik was down on one knee with a ring in his hand, proposing to Lisa, who immediately said YES!

Reconnecting is important, can be magical and is necessary at times in helping move forward in positive directions. I hope there are many more of these moments ahead!

-John Spiak, Curator

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Additional Blog Posts
Angela Davis, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Youth in Detention = Social Practice
Reconnecting – It’s not just black and white
Dream like you mean it: The Mother-Daughter Distance Dance
Another Active Week and the Schedule for April
Waiting for Release, Sentencing Reform & Welcoming Home
Invitation to Join Us for Volunteer Event – GINA’s Team
Inside & Outside – It’s not just black and white
More Similar Than Different + Tent City Jail Tour Opportunity
You can’t move forward until you know where you are
Olympic Gold Medalist, Gina’s Team and PVCC Students!
IT’S NOT JUST BLACK AND WHITE: Gregory Sale – Social Studies Project 6

April 27, 2011 at 12:06 am

Dream like you mean it: The Mother-Daughter Distance Dance — It’s not just black and white

As the mother of a 13-year-old girl, I am now learning, from the other side of the relationship, just how much adolescent girls both need and struggle against their mothers. The important part is keeping the vital lines of communication open, even if it’s just sitting in the car listening to the radio together as I drive her to school in the morning. I take being in the same space with my daughter for granted, the same way I took my mother’s presence for granted. But these are not givens.

Last Saturday, I witnessed the mother-daughter bond strung out over a distance that was both physical and emotional. The daughters – Chloe, a.k.a Coco (10), Alliyah (10) and Angel (20)– were here in the Museum; their mothers – Felicia, Neesha and Teresa respectively – were at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s Estrella Jail, where they are inmates.  

As part of Gregory Sale’s project “It’s not just black and white,” both mothers and daughters had been working with Teniqua Broughton, director of programs at Free Arts, and ASU’s Coordinator for Public Practice Elizabeth Johnson, as well as with Gregory, to develop dances that they would perform with and for each other via Skype, in what we were all calling “The Mother-Daughter Distance Dance.”

This idea – of mothers and daughters dancing together but apart – seems to strike a chord with everyone who hears about it. Somehow even the idea of the dance suggests the core issue that Gregory is exploring in his project: The real and too-little discussed impact of our incarceration system on all of us, as individuals and as a community.

It took a while to get the connection between the Museum and the jail working – technical difficulties were to be expected, since the point of jail is to isolate the inmates. When the connection finally succeeded and we could see the three women, standing in their baggy striped uniforms in a bare concrete jail yard, it was a relief: Although most of us watching didn’t know the women, they weren’t just anonymous inmates. They were the mothers of the three girls we’d been watching, in the gallery with us, as they waited patiently for their mothers to appear onscreen.

And the connection, when it was finally established, wasn’t perfect. It was like watching people on the moon – that same sense of delay and distance, of words and actions not synched with each other, of the unbridgeable gap between our world and theirs. Elizabeth became the interpreter on our end, and Gregory, who was at Estrella, seemed to take on the role of interpreter at the jail. Most of the small group of people in the gallery couldn’t hear exactly what the mothers were saying as they read their daughters the letters they’d written them, on subjects like change and beauty, but the daughters, huddled around the laptop that also showed their mothers’ images, drank their mothers’ words in and understood.

It was intensely clear how linked these women and their children were, regardless of whether they were able to communicate directly with each other, as if Skype was just the tool that laid bare that connection for the rest of us to grasp. We were the ones seeing the connection and the distance between the mothers and the daughters – the mothers and daughters were already well aware – and it was heartbreaking, all the more so when the screen suddenly went black and the words “Connection lost” appeared. It felt like losing something precious and knowing you might not find it again.

Once Gregory and Elizabeth managed to reestablish the connection, the mothers performed the dances they’d developed for their daughters, first individually, then together. The dances grew out of gestures the mothers had worked out in a workshop with Elizabeth that prompted them to think about the values they wanted to pass on to their daughters. Their movements were eloquent, powerful, real. They said so much with such economy, expressing in gestures the things they couldn’t say in words.

Then the daughters received gifts and notes from the mothers, and the mothers, on their end, received gifts and notes from their daughters. These notes weren’t shared in detail, which seemed appropriate. But it was clear that Angel, the oldest of the three girls, had a more difficult relationship with her mother than did the two younger girls. I learned later that unlike the younger girls, Angel had not grown up with her mother and had mixed feelings about participating initially. But in the letter she wrote to her mother, she said that she believed, for the first time in her life, that she and her mother were ready to live at peace with each other and to put the past behind them.

Finally, the mothers and daughters performed together, the same dance, the same moves, in their separate locations. They performed to an upbeat, up-tempo song with the refrain “You and me, baby, we’re stuck like glue.” Elizabeth explained later that the seed from which the dance grew was one main choreographed phrase, based on gestures that described the group’s collective definition of beauty.

When the performance had ended and the event was drawing to a close, MCSO Deputy Chief MaryEllen Sheppard, who has been instrumental in making Gregory’s project happen, addressed the three women in jail directly via the laptop. She thanked them for sharing their daughters with her and with the program, and told them what wonderful children they had. And she concluded by telling them precisely what all of us had just witnessed: “Where you are is not who you are. And we know that.”

 —Deborah Sussman

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Additional Blog Posts
Angela Davis, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Youth in Detention = Social Practice
Reconnecting – It’s not just black and white
Dream like you mean it: The Mother-Daughter Distance Dance
Another Active Week and the Schedule for April
Waiting for Release, Sentencing Reform & Welcoming Home
Invitation to Join Us for Volunteer Event – GINA’s Team
Inside & Outside – It’s not just black and white
More Similar Than Different + Tent City Jail Tour Opportunity
You can’t move forward until you know where you are
Olympic Gold Medalist, Gina’s Team and PVCC Students!
IT’S NOT JUST BLACK AND WHITE: Gregory Sale – Social Studies Project 6

April 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm 12 comments


Quickly sharing a few of the activities that took place this past week in conjunction with It’s not just black and white: Gregory Sale – Social Studies Project 6.

On March 15 there was a lively discussion on the topics of Art’s Role in Resilience Science and Other Innovations in Thinking with national figures, led by Gregory Sale, Gordon Knox, Sander van der Leeuw, Richard Toon, and Adriene Jenik (by Skype), in association with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

On Saturday, March 19, Gregory provided the second of four Tent City Jail tours led by officers of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.   Twenty community members joined the artist for, as the artist refers to it, (Re)SEARCH-based, first-hand experience.  Again, the questions were lively and the tour eye-opening.  The next tour is scheduled to take place Wednesday, April 6; you can sign up now to attend.

Tuesday evening, in collaboration with Arizona Justice Project,  Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Innocence Project Barry Scheck spoke to an intrigued audience of close to 100 people.   The insights and stories he shared were a mix of amazing, shocking and inspirational.

The coming month is jam-packed with scheduled activities associated with the project, and a few that are in the works, so we look forward to having you join us here for the engagement, dialogue and greater understanding of situations occurring in your own community.

Here is a little schedule to date.  You will note that some are open to the public while others are closed.  The closed to the public events are at the request of, and out of respect for, the participants:

4/9/11, 3:00pm-5:00pm
Films: Militarization of Justice
ASU Human Rights Film Festival features two films, Cointelpro 101 and The Response, and a panel discussion organized by ASU Professor Dr. Alan Eladio Gómez of the School of Social Transformation, Justice & Social Inquiry and Scott Henderson of the Tempe Chapter of Amnesty International.

4/13/11, 3:00pm-5:00pm
Incarceration and Prison- Hot Topics, Cool Heads
Using the technique of civil dialogue, ASU faculty from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication will facilitate a dialogue focused on topics related to incarceration. The Civil Dialogue project focuses on creating a safe space for divergent viewpoints, inviting students and the public to dialogue safely about issues which could be polarizing in an effort to promote understanding. This event will be facilitated by ASU ProfessorDr. Clark Olson and Lecturer Jennifer Linde, Hugh Downs School of Communication.

4/19/11, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Women and Social Change/Gina’s Team Discussion Panel
A planned panel discussion will likely include Sue Ellen Allen of Gina’s Team, Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch and Donna Hamm of Middle Ground Prison Reform. The panelists will share their experiences within the criminal justice system and their ideas on reforming the prison and jail system. An open discussion for those who attend the event will follow. The program is organized by students enrolled in Women and Social Change, taught by ASU Professor Dr. Alesha Durfee. Lead student organizers include Danica O’Grady and Katelyn Johnston.

4/26/11, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Incarceration and the Mentally Ill: Punitive vs. Restorative Justice
A formal dialogue with approximately 20 participants discussing the care and treatment of those with mental illness as their lives intersect with the criminal justice system. The goal is to bring together individuals with diverse perspectives and experiences, from the advocates for increasing rehabilitation of mentally ill offenders to those who feel the criminal justice system in place in Arizona is working well. The event is organized and managed by Mary Lou Brnick of the non-profit organization David’s Hope.

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC with advance registration (off-site)
4/06/11 and 4/23/11, 2:00pm-3:30pm
Tent City Jail Tours
Tour Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Tent City Jail.  Tours will be offered on Wednesday, April 6; Saturday, April 23; and Wednesday, May 4. All tours begin at 2:00 p.m.
Group size is limited to 20 adults. Tours are conducted by MCSO Jail staff.  Admission is free. Advance registration is required for Tent City tours.  For details see the project website at

4/02/11, 12:00pm-5:00pm
Mother Daughter Distance Dance
The Mother Daughter Distance Dance is a dance workshop organized by Elizabeth Johnson, Teniqua Broughton and Gregory Sale as a component of the “It’s not just black and white” exhibition at the ASU Art Museum.  The workshop engages incarcerated women who are graduates of the rehabilitative arts outreach program “Journey Home” and their daughters, through an original collaborative choreography to help repair relationships and prepare moms for the transition home and to help families who have been apart know each other for who they are NOW.  The daughters perform at the museum exhibition space for and with their incarcerated mothers, who dance at Estrella Jail. The two sites are connected virtually through a live video feed.  Both the mothers and the daughters will take a series of dance classes prior to the virtually-connected dance workshop.

4/12/11, 1:30pm-4:00pm
Adult Probation Division Meeting
(Organized by Julie Chavez)
A meeting with the Adult Probations  unit.  This divisions of supervisors  interviews people in the jails and supervises  inmates while they are allowed on leave  for work in the community and   on probation while still serving time, participating in programs such as ALPHA and additional  reentry efforts.

4/18/11,  9:00am-12:00pm
Pretrial Services/Adult Probation Meeting
(Organized by Penny Stinson)
A meeting of various directors from the Maricopa County Superior Court Pretrial Services and Adult Probation Units as well as a training session.

4/26/11, 8:15am-11:00am
Adult Prob Exec Mgmt Meeting
(Organized by Therese Wagner)
The Maricopa County Adult Probation Executive Management Team will be holding their monthly meeting in the space.

4/27/11, 2:00pm-4:00pm
Adult Probation Division Meeting
(Organized by Anna King)
Unit meeting of adult probation officers who supervise clients with a variety of offenses.

– John Spiak, Curator

It’s not just black and white is supported a grant from
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

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Additional Blog Posts
Angela Davis, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Youth in Detention = Social Practice
Reconnecting – It’s not just black and white
Dream like you mean it: The Mother-Daughter Distance Dance
Another Active Week and the Schedule for April
Waiting for Release, Sentencing Reform & Welcoming Home
Invitation to Join Us for Volunteer Event – GINA’s Team
Inside & Outside – It’s not just black and white
More Similar Than Different + Tent City Jail Tour Opportunity
You can’t move forward until you know where you are
Olympic Gold Medalist, Gina’s Team and PVCC Students!
IT’S NOT JUST BLACK AND WHITE: Gregory Sale – Social Studies Project 6

March 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm 12 comments

Inside & Outside – It’s not just black and white

Last week provided me with a lot of food for thought. It began with the second visit of MCSO ALPHA program inmates, a new group of seven, along with the return of the MCSO SRT officers who escorted the first group from ALPHA as well.

It was good to see these officers again. We had some great conversations about the project on their first visit, and we were all eager to share with them some of the activities that had taken place in the space since their prior visit three weeks before. Their insights, respect, openness and flexibility toward our process of working with the entire collaborative team made things flow so smoothly during both visits. These folks perform a tough job on a daily basis, and with that type of role I had my preconceived stereotypes of what the officers would be like and how they would, or would not, engage this project. While their backgrounds were diverse, from a veteran and ex-pro football player to a former Olympic athlete, their willingness to participate was clear during the two visits. We talked about the concepts of the overall project, a few got into the impromptu dance choreography with Elizabeth Johnson, they all helped decide the final look of the gallery (to complete or not to complete certain sections of the stripes) and helped paint, and all signed the canvas along with the artist, ALPHA group and student collaborators. I don’t envy these officers their difficult jobs, but they have my complete respect both for the role they provide our community and as quality individuals.

It was good to see the ALPHA guys again. It had been a little over a month since we first met them at Towers Jail, so getting reacquainted and hearing more of their personal backgrounds was nice. Again, the range of personalities and experience was diverse, and I found myself having the longest conversations with the ones I felt I had most in common with. One inmate from California reminded me of so many of my friends, a good family guy who was able to get things set up for his family before he had to serve his time. I could tell he was serving his time in a respectful manner and using it as a learning process to make himself an even better person once he is out. We are looking forward to re-engaging these guys with the project in the coming months as they are released. There are plans in the works for a program with the group here in the Museum, so we will let you know when it has been confirmed.

There were small things that occurred during Saturday’s visit that made me understand better the freedoms that I take for granted and what it means to be on the inside or outside. When I needed to go to the bathroom, I just went; I didn’t have to wait until two guys need to go and then be escorted. I could also could go and get a cola when I wanted one. I know these seem like extremely small actions, but ones I was afforded because I am on the outside.

Nothing makes those freedoms clearer than the end of each working day. At that point, the members of the ALPHA group get a last bathroom break, line up against a wall in the Museum and go from being playful and talkative collaborative partners to once again being inmates. They work their way up the stairs to the loading dock in a single file line, gather against another wall, are cuffed, then loaded into the caged pods of the Sheriff’s transportation van. At the end of the day, they are still on the inside.

The week continued with tour visits from junior high school to university students to the space, meeting with Gregory and talking about the concepts of the exhibition.

Tuesday night was An Inside/Outside Prison Writing Workshop, presented in partnership with the University of Arizona Poetry Center, organized by writer Ken Lamberton, poet and UA professor Erec Toso, and poet and UA Regents Professor Richard Shelton. The workshop was built upon Richard Shelton’s 30 years as a prison volunteer with the Arizona State Prison Complex, with participants sharing their experiences as present or former convicts and prison workers. The public participants included a wide range of individuals, from ASU faculty, staff and students to local writers and artists.

Wednesday was the first scheduled public tour of MCSO Tent City Jail. The tour provided firsthand experience within the complex and offered information regarding how the jail is operated. We had a great group join us for the tour, including members of our advisory board, Arizona Supreme Court employees, healthcare workers, a docent from the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, an art professor from Paradise Valley Community College, ASU graduate and undergraduate students, and members of the State Press. The tour was an opportunity for lots of questions, to which the guard was more than happy to respond. It also provided an opportunity to see for one’s self a small sampling of the conditions, systems and structures currently in place as part of our corrections and justice system of Maricopa County. There are three more tours scheduled, so please visit the website and sign up if you are interested.

More programs in conjunction with It’s not just black and white are being scheduled as I post this, so we should have some big announcement about visiting speakers in the coming days. Please continue to view our blog and the It’s not just black and white website for all the updates and schedules, and don’t forget to visit the Museum and see the current state of the installation and talk with the artist when he is present.

We hope that this project will continue to provide you with further views and insights into what it means to be inside and outside.

– John Spiak, Curator

It’s not just black and white is supported a grant from
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

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Additional Blog Posts
Angela Davis, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Youth in Detention = Social Practice
Reconnecting – It’s not just black and white
Dream like you mean it: The Mother-Daughter Distance Dance
Another Active Week and the Schedule for April
Waiting for Release, Sentencing Reform & Welcoming Home
Invitation to Join Us for Volunteer Event – GINA’s Team
Inside & Outside – It’s not just black and white
More Similar Than Different + Tent City Jail Tour Opportunity
You can’t move forward until you know where you are
Olympic Gold Medalist, Gina’s Team and PVCC Students!
IT’S NOT JUST BLACK AND WHITE: Gregory Sale – Social Studies Project 6

March 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm 11 comments

June 2023

ASU Ceramics Research Center Library