Transform Fest: Curator Statement
May 9–20, 2018
Festival schedule and tickets »
A pre-dawn tweeter most likely can’t sleep, and a man who can’t sleep, can’t dream.
You’ll forgive me if I glance over history to presidents past… I am newly awakened to the significance of two presidential acts. The first is a speech, offered by JFK in May of 1961 in which he announced the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Kennedy reminds us that the future is made of stumbles, hubris, and innovators who are humble enough to pursue it. He asks us apply un-invented systems of science WHILE inside the swirl of social tumult. He asks us to dream, together, in public.
In 1965, Kennedy’s caustic and controversial successor, Lyndon B. Johnson instituted the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA was ratified into lawful existence via Congressional Act, a portion of which reads:
“The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States… Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located, masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.”
I work at YBCA in San Francisco, an arts center in service of free thinkers and earnest leaders. About 15 months ago, an immigrant architect named Teddy Cruz addressed us at the YBCA100 Summit. At the time of his talk, we were 5 days away from the 2016 Presidential election, and I remember that the air outside tasted like stale hope. Inside our Forum though, I found myself electrified and sharply determined in response to one of Teddy’s questions to us that day. He centered us in the thought that public space is where beliefs are physicalized and constructed. He observed with us that we are stuck in a civic pattern where top-down resources rarely interfaced with bottom-up agency. And then he pleadingly asked us …“Where is our public imagination?”
I can’t rightly say if any of the artists in this Spring’s Transform Festival are unequivocally answering that question with their art, but I CAN say that art almost ALWAYS answers that question best. Even as Kennedy invoked a collaborative path to the impossible, he presided over an era of nuclear brinksmanship. Even as Johnson endowed the arts with federal resources, he amplified the country’s military scale in Viet Nam. Artists are the leaders among us, generally more driven by mission than market, whose job is to codify inspired thought for public consumption. Their ideas intersect with our political world, but they design experiences that ask us to imagine ourselves conjoined in the politics and physics of a creative moment. Imagine ourselves at the synaptic second of inspiration, or at the specific frequency of a Black woman rocking, or as collectively vulnerable, but still a collective.
The Transform Festival was not dreamt into the air by a sitting president, but by a soaring question… “Where is our public imagination?” How might we envision Kennedy’s moonshot speech if his aim was not space, but education, or public health, or equity. If Kennedy’s “moon” was actually immigration, what would be the role of art in getting us there?
It is indeed #sad that our elected officials aren’t asking us these questions. What kind of person proposes military parades and the abolition of the federal art economy in the same week? How does the public respond to a kind of weaponized neurosis in executive form? At this festival, through the lens of provocative artists, let’s imagine that the beautiful city is not a bubble. As we take our seats, we remember that views don’t make a revolution, bodies do. As the lights dim to signal a creatively pitched reality, we might find our minds racing in the dark, like a night under the shadow of a new moon.
Take a quick look at each day’s programs below. For the full schedule, see the TRANSFORM Fest page.
WED, MAY 9
THU, MAY 10
FRI, MAY 11
SAT, MAY 12
WED, MAY 16
Roger Guenveur Smith
7:30PM — YBCA Forum
Post-Show Talk: Roger Guenveur Smith and Sean San Jose
THU, MAY 17
FRI, MAY 18
SAT, MAY 19