Coming to (Arts + Cultural) America

August 21, 2012

By Robert L. Lynch, President & CEO of Americans for the Arts

Robert Lynch of Americans for the Arts

Robert L. Lynch. Photo courtesy of Americans for the Arts

It’s August in America: vacation time for many. Visitors from every part of the world are here, and once they get through customs, check into a hotel, and find something to eat, they look to experience America through our art galleries, museums, theaters, festivals, concerts, and arts offerings in every corner of our country. Cultural tourism! Obvious, right? Well, the arts still need to do a lot of great storytelling to actually make it so clear.

The good news is 2012 has been a big year for bringing attention to the economic impact of cultural tourism.

In January, a national Task Force on Travel & Competitiveness was set up through a Presidential Executive Order that called for a national strategy to be presented within 90 days. President Obama announced the Executive Order at a visit to one of the most popular tourist sites in the world, Main Street USA in Disneyworld.

That same day in Orlando, Florida, a new slate of members of the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB) was sworn in by then-Commerce Secretary John Bryson, of which I was one. After joining, and subsequently being asked to Vice-Chair the Advocacy Subcommittee, I started thinking about how we can actively promote cultural tourism as part of a larger strategy—and where local arts organizations come in to do just that.

Among the TTAB recommendations that relate to the arts and culture were the inclusion of the arts as an objective to attracting tourists to secondary markets throughout the country, how an “authentic” experience is critical to a quality experience, and the need to include local tourism partners, such as city agencies and destination marketing organizations as partners with the federal government. But to my mind, we needed more than that: and what we at Americans for the Arts are currently working on with the subcommittee involves a larger communications plan that will help us all to tell the story of the arts in our communities in a broad and accessible way.

There are a lot of people we need to reach. In fact, the national strategy was released in late May in coordination with National Travel and Tourism Week, and it stated that last year, 62 million international tourists visited the United States and pumped a record $153 billion into local economies, helping to support the 7.6 million jobs in our travel and tourism industry. These numbers make tourism America’s number one service export. My goal through my work with TTAB is to help these people find the unique cultural sites that make America exciting and special to visit, and I believe that this will only boost our tourism to greater heights. The strategy sets a goal of drawing 100 million international visitors, which is expected to generate $250 billion annually in visitor spending, by 2021. The strategy also encourages more Americans to travel within all parts of the United States.

A month after the strategy was published, Americans for the Arts released our fourth Arts & Economic Prosperity study, which measures the impact of our national nonprofit arts and culture industry. Our study confirmed that as communities compete for a tourist’s dollar, arts and culture travelers spend more than other travelers, are more likely to stay in overnight lodging, spend $1,000 or more during their stay, and travel longer than other travelers. According to the Commerce Department, there has been steady growth in the percentage of tourists who fly to the U.S. and attend arts activities as part of their visit. So how do we capture this audience and capitalize on what is clearly already a huge driver of this pivotal industry?

The national tourism strategy includes four items that should be of interest to cultural tourism leaders, and might act as a guide to help better utilize the opportunity cultural tourism presents:

1) It recognizes that, “A significant number of international travelers seek out nature- and culture-based experiences, such as visiting historic sites (40 percent of overseas travelers), cultural sites (23 percent) and national parks (20 percent). Popular culture—including music, film, and television, and theme park experiences—is also a significant selling point.”

2) The report includes a recommendation for federal agencies to partner with, and provide grants and technical assistance to, local governments in order to attract and serve additional visitors. This would be in conjunction with Brand USA, the initiative responsible for promoting American destinations around the world. Brand USA recently launched the first global campaign with a song “Land of Dreams,” by Roseanne Cash. The connected television ads include significant profile arts and cultural activities in its narrative:

“Land of Dreams” written by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal and performed by Rosanne Cash with guest artists Los Lobos, Bebel and TREME.

3) There is a recommendation to create a national travel and tourism office at the U.S. Department of Commerce;

4) The report calls for annual summits on travel and tourism to foster communication between federal agencies and tourism leaders.

What’s next?

Last week I attended the White House Business Council Forum on Travel and Tourism. At that event I was pleased that we were able to discuss the value-added of cultural tourism and the arts industry, amidst the many other tourism issues at the table. Being at the table is key, as my fellow US TTAB member and cultural advocate, Linda Carlisle, Secretary of North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, can attest, whether at the national, state, or local levels.

It is important to remember that cultural tourism is not just for our major cities and largest national resources. It takes every state, every city, every village, every historic house or farm or theater to make up the richness and diversity of the cultural fabric of America. It is this heritage that we want to celebrate and share with the rest of the world. We are filled with every kind of cultural experience, but we need to get the word out there, and, in true American fashion, beyond our differences, we need to be telling the same story in order to be heard.

Robert L. Lynch is president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. With more than 30 years of experience in the arts industry, he is motivated by his personal mission to empower communities and leaders to advance the arts in society, and in the lives of our citizens.

Spotlight on The Boneyard Project

August 17, 2012

By Rebecca Gross

Time Flies By (2011) by How & Hosm. Spray Paint on DC3 airplane 203 x 776 x 1,142″. Photo by Jason Wawro for Eric Firestone Gallery

In and around Tucson, Arizona, hundreds of acres of desert serve as retirement communities for aircraft. The largest, located at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, is the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC)—commonly known as the Boneyard. Here, some planes are grounded until they are needed back in service, while others are dismantled and salvaged for their parts. At other, privately owned “boneyards” in the region, owners sell off plane carcasses and scrap parts to interested buyers. It was here, amid these jumbles of flight flotsam, that Eric Firestone came upon the inspiration for The Boneyard Project.

Firestone, who owns Eric Firestone Gallery in East Hampton, New York, initially asked artists to paint discarded nose cones that he had purchased, which he later installed at his gallery in a show called Nose Job. From there, the project grew from nose cones to entire planes, and the artists Faile, How & Hosm, Nunca, Retna, and Andrew Schoultz were brought to the desert to paint six unlikely canvases: three Super DC-3s, a Lockheed VC 140 Jetstar, a C45, and a C97 cockpit. The planes and nose cones were installed at Tucson’s Pima Air and Space Museum earlier this year, and Firestone is currently in discussions to display the craft at other domestic and international sites. We talked to Firestone about his inspiration for The Boneyard Project, his interest in artistic repurposing, and why not every artist requires a paintbrush.

NEA: How did you first find out about these airplane graveyards?

ERIC FIRESTONE: I’ve actually had a home in Arizona for almost 20 years, and I had dealt with both art and design since I was 21 years old. So if you’re in southern Arizona, and you know about the culture down there, you know that this is where airplanes go to retire and these graveyards were really incredible sources for industrial design, especially to be reincorporated. Unfortunately in the past decade, they’ve been highly depleted to the point now where they’re an almost completely vanished subculture in the desert because the U.S. government doesn’t contract these private parties to dismantle planes anymore. So with the prices of scrap metal rising so dramatically in the past decade, most of these planes have disappeared. So I was in a unique opportunity to figure out a way to conjugate some of the remaining elements out there and repurpose them for a whole new existence.

Naughty Angels (2012) by Faile. Acrylic on Beechcraft C45 aircraft 116 x 410 x 572″. Photo by Jason Wawro for Eric Firestone Gallery

NEA: I don’t think most people would think “brilliant canvas” if they ever saw discarded planes. How did that connection take place for you?

FIRESTONE: I had been dealing in historic graffiti and street culture the past few years, and really became a student of the history of where that movement gained so much attention, especially in New York in the 1970s and into the ‘80s. I thought about the idea that transportation has always been used as a mode—at least [since] that movement—to create work that could be seen by the masses. I also thought about the history of nose art, and how in WWII, the [troops] used these planes and personalized them with all types of caricatures. In the winter of 2010 when I was down in Miami during Art Basel, it all clicked. I realized, “Wait a second. How can I take this a level higher?” And I started thinking about the planes.

The project started in April 2011. We were able to implement the first stage of the project not knowing fully where it was going to go. We got the first group of artists out there…but as we created the project, we kept the plane park very secretive. Then we started engaging artists to paint the nose cones, which is the other part of the project. We had our first show in New York in July 2011 with a show called Nose Job.

Knowing that this [project] was happening, an opportunity arose so locally that it made too much sense: the Pima Air and Space Museum contacted me about exhibiting the planes. First they wanted to exhibit a plane, and I said why don’t we exhibit all the planes, and put the noses there? We opened that showing late January of this year, and that’s when the floodgates began to open, so to speak. We’ve had worldwide response, and I’m negotiating how to try and continue the project.

Phoenix of Metal (2011) by Nunca. Spray paint on DC3 airplane 203 x 776 x 1,142″. Photo by Jason Wawro for Eric Firestone Gallery

NEA: This project is a fantastic way of showing how art can give new life to objects and spaces. Is this something you’ve always been interested in?

FIRESTONE: I’ve always looked at architectural elements, design elements. The idea that they could be repurposed or reused is something that I’ve always had on my conscience ever since I’ve been involved in the arts. I’m not an artist in the sense that I put my name out there and create work and sell work. I’m an artist in the sense that I create ideas and concepts to try and let people visualize things differently. So I sometimes am a friend of the artists in the sense that I can come up with concepts and much bigger visions and that’s a gift in itself. I’m fortunate that I had, and I continue to have, these ideas that come up in my head constantly. I’m full of them. It’s just a point of which ones do I actually want to employ and where do I want to put my time.

When I started this project, it was more about wanting to take my idea and figure out how to implement it to the world. That I’ve accomplished. The financial side—I’m out a few bucks right now. But that’s okay. [Money] is never really anything that’s driven me. It’s much more of a rewarding feeling to know that I pulled off this magic act so to speak.

NEA: Besides financing, what were the other challenges involved with this project?

FIRESTONE: The logistics. Artists can be predictable and unpredictable. You have the element of the weather that you’re up against. The biggest thing would obviously be the movement of the planes. I was fortunate that I was able to get them moved over to the museum which is only a few miles away from where they were painted. But the next challenge is if the planes do go to Miami or they go to London, the logistics of breaking a plane down and re-assembling it for exhibition. And spatial limitations. When you’re out in the desert, the desert is a vast space with a really big sky, and great light. But what happens when you take these big industrial pieces and put them in much smaller places? So you have to be willing to just try and roll with that stuff.

Warning Shot (2011) by Retna. Ink & latex on DC3 203 x 776 x 1,142″. Photo by Jason Wawro for Eric Firestone Gallery

NEA: You mentioned Nose Job, and how that show deals directly with nose art. How do you think the project as a whole plays on the tradition of painted fighter planes during WWII?

FIRESTONE: The most immediate response to that is to understand that nose art was really meant to personalize the planes in cold, industrial designs that are repetitive in form and style. So you’re putting your name on the plane by putting a design on there. I think the connection is similar in the sense that you’re taking this one object and you’re creating a whole new being and form for it in the same spirit. Instead of doing just a small section of the plane, you’re doing the entire plane.

NEA: One of the artists in the exhibit’s promotional video said that although his grandfather didn’t always “get” his artwork, this particular project would be something his grandfather might like. Why do you think this would appeal across generations?

FIRESTONE: I think we all have some type of connection with flight; it’s something that we all have had an experience with, whether in military or non-military capacity. So I think it’s one of those subjects that really has a very easy way of conjugating itself to so many different generations and minds. It’s not a blue versus red thing; it has a universal appeal. Some people might look at the planes for the designs, some might look at them for the history of the military, some might be looking at them just for the art, some might be looking at it knowing that this project can make an impression on a whole new generation of thought-makers because it allows the imagination to realize that anything’s possible.


Art Works Podcast: Bryan Doerries

August 16, 2012

Elizabeth Marvel and Bill Camp perform in a Theater of War production

Elizabeth Marvel and Bill Camp in Theater of War. Photo by Howard Korn

This week’s podcast pulls back the curtain on Theater of War. Its artistic director and founder, Bryan Doerries, is a classicist and translator, who was convinced that the Greek tragedies still had the power to move contemporary audiences, particularly veterans and service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. When, in 2006, he read about the physical and psychological issues besetting veterans, he saw in their stories parallels to  Sophocles’ military tragedies. Mindful that Sophocles was a general as well as a playwright, Doerries and other scholars have thought that he wrote the military plays with veterans in mind as a way to help them heal during a period of almost unending war. Doerries believed passionately that these tragedies would both speak to the experiences of today’s military personnel and provide an avenue for them to share their own stories. The result of this vision is Theater of War, which has now traveled across the United States and around the world presenting readings of two works by Sophocles to service members, veterans, and their families. Philoctetes focuses on the anguish of an injured soldier abandoned by his own men, while the play Ajax tells the story of a brave and decorated ancient Greek warrior who at the end of nine years of non-stop battle with Troy, comes home, loses his mind, and ultimately kills himself.

Theater of War is a bare-bones production: The actors, while enormously accomplished and emotionally committed to the material, dress in their own clothes and sit at a table with scripts in hand. However powerful the readings, the heart of the evening is an audience-centered town hall discussion generated from the issues raised by the plays. The response of the service members and their families to these texts written 2,500 years ago has more than justified Doerries’ passionate conviction in their continuing power to illuminate and to heal. [2:30]


Excerpt from Ajax performed by Elizabeth Marvel. Used courtesy of Theater of War

Art Talk with Battery Dance Company

August 15, 2012

by Liz Auclair

Dancing to Connect teaching artists work with students in Taiwan.

Dancing to Connect teaching artists work with students in Madrid, Spain. Photo courtesy of Battery Dance Company

“Our mantra is ‘artistic excellence, social relevance.’” — Jonathan Hollander

“Completely unpredictable and uniformly fabulous”—that’s how Jonathan Hollander describes the results of Battery Dance Company‘s Dancing to Connect program. In more than 50 countries, Dancing to Connect has taught young people, most of whom have no previous dance training, how to use movement to express themselves. In just a week, Dancing to Connect teaching artists work with the students to create and perform a dance piece devised entirely from their own creativity. Recently, as part of a Mission Continues Fellowship, Roman Baca—a dancer, choreographer, and former U.S. Marine —collaborated with Battery Dance to bring Dancing to Continue to Iraq. (You can read more about Baca’s experience in our new edition of NEA Arts.)

To learn more about Dancing to Connect and Battery Dance Company’s cultural diplomacy efforts we spoke with Hollander, who founded Battery Dance Company in 1976 and leads the organization as artistic and executive director.

NEA: Can you tell me a bit about what inspired you to create Battery Dance Company?

JONATHAN HOLLANDER: Like many other sort of ambitious young people who are drawn to the art of dance, I had been dancing in a company with a variety of choreographers in New York City and I realized that my passion was for choreography. I had been in a company for three years that was a collective and I had the opportunity to “try my wings” in choreography without going through the huge undertaking of starting an institution. But that collective sort of came apart at the seams; everyone went in different directions, and I realized that I wanted to continue with pursuing my craft as a choreographer. The only way to do that—that I could see at that point—was to create a company.

One of the critical factors that determined the path was that my partner, who was my wife-to-be, and I moved into a loft in the Wall Street area. At that time, New York was in a severe recession and old buildings in areas like the financial district were sort of leftover. Nobody wanted them. Soho was already over-populated with artists and had become expensive. But we found 3,000 square feet in a building on Stone Street, the first paved street in Manhattan. It was a historic district surrounded by office towers, but this low-rise, five-story building had wooden floors and exposures on four sides. It was the perfect laboratory for a dance company to take shape. And the fact that we were in an area of banking and insurance companies and law firms where there was really very little art was, I think, a key determining factor in what Battery Dance Company eventually became.

NEA: What is unique about the work of Battery Dance Company?

HOLLANDER: Our mantra is “artistic excellence, social relevance.” Those two parts of the puzzle are equal in terms of what our mission is. We want to make the arts accessible to all. In no way do we want to compromise the quality of the arts. We feel like all people deserve great art and you don’t know where you’re going to find a wonderful audience, a great student, or a budding dancer/choreographer. You can’t assume that these people know where to go to nourish their latent talent or passion. So being in an area like the financial district where there was not a single theater challenged us to figure out how [to] get our art to the people. We began performing out of doors on corporate plazas and parks and piers and attracting really large audiences—much, much larger audiences than we would have if we were in even a name-brand, small, black box theater in New York City. So we realized we can own this process—we don’t have to have anyone tell us we can do it. And I think that’s a huge key to who we are and what we became. We’ve made our own path. We haven’t accepted definitions of what a dance company can do. So you might find Battery Dance Company in a park, you might find Battery Dance Company in a public school, you might find Battery Dance Company at a main-street marquee theater, you might find Battery Dance Company in a small village in India. The variety of what we’ve been able to do has taken us to 54 countries around the world and to untold amounts of alternative spaces in New York. That’s what makes our life interesting; that’s what refreshes us constantly.

NEA: How did the idea for Dancing to Connect come about?

HOLLANDER: We’ve worked in the New York City public schools for over three decades. In addition to creating new work and pushing ourselves as artists, it’s been very important to us to nourish these relationships with young people in schools that don’t necessarily have access to the art. This propelled us to create a whole new vehicle for arts education called Dancing to Connect.

We found that wherever we go with this program the results are completely unpredictable and uniformly fabulous. It’s a program that was developed through our learning step-by-step about what works and what doesn’t work with high schools students, in terms of dance. What we found was, the longer the program, the less effective it was. We’re not talking about a dance conservatory program, we’re talking about a program that appeals to and can work with any group of participants, whether or not they’ve had any dance training before. That’s perhaps what’s so surprising or different. Obviously, we’re not going to remake dance training and say it can be done in an instant—you drop it into water and it flowers. No, no, no. But what we’ve figured out is that the art of choreography is something that very few people actually explore. Whereas visual arts, music, even theater, these are [art] forms that—as part of many young people’s educations—they get an exposure to it, they’re given the materials to work with [that discipline]. But they’re not given the materials to work with dance and choreography. So when we make those materials available, young people just grab onto it and make it their own. And that’s what this program is about. We do not bring in pre-fabricated choreography. We bring in our love for the art form, our understanding of the craft involved in building a piece of choreography. We hand over those tools to young people and in the course of 20 or 30 hours they make their own choreography. They stun us with the results.

NEA: Can you describe what happens in the program?

HOLLANDER: We have teaching artists, who are the same people who are our dancers and choreographers. That’s the key to the Dancing to Connect profile—we find people who are multi-talented, who are world-class performers, budding, emerging choreographers with lots to say, and nurturing teachers. We know that each and every person in our group is capable of handling the challenges. [They have] the adaptability to channel their creativity and at the same time to unleash the creativity of the young people they’re working with. And when I say “young people,” that can be anybody from age 14 to young adults.

[We have] one or two teaching artists, depending on the number of participants, work with the group of participants. We do five successive days, four to five hours a day, whatever we’re able to negotiate, and during that process, our teaching artists go through a series of exercises. They give challenges and assignments and essays to the participants that lead them from the cerebral thought process into the physical realm. They create a pathway whereby the participants, who may never have been in a dance class before, are all of a sudden up off the floor, and using their body in creative ways, with shape, with movement, with dynamics, with levels, with speed, all of the different concepts of movement come into these little assignments.

[For instance,] you write your name in the air with any part of your body that you choose other than your finger. If you didn’t hear the instruction and you were watching the room, [you’d see that] all of a sudden people went from static to kinetic as they’re creating these amazing movement phrases. Then the next thing that they have to understand is, “Okay, that was fabulous, can you do it again?” How do you memorize a sequence of movements if you’ve never done that before? And then, “We’d like you two to come together and teach each other the phrase that you made up.” All of a sudden you’re the leader now and you need to teach this other person your phrase. There’s this team-building aspect, sharing, building up leadership—all kinds of side results from this dance process. At the end of it there’s a performance, oftentimes in a big theater, and some of these students have actually never been in the theater before. They’ve never been on stage. They’ve never even been in the part of the city where the theater is. There’s a whole multi-dimensional awakening that happens through this process.

NEA: Why did you decide to use Dancing to Connect as a program to reach students internationally?

HOLLANDER: It couldn’t have existed without the three decades of background of work in the schools in New York. But the very first program was in Germany, the second was in Cambodia, and the third was in New York. There’s an element of chance here. You don’t necessarily make every opportunity that you have. You have to be ready for the opportunities but you don’t know when they’re going to come about. And the program in Germany came about through a lot of different coincidences and involved a lot of different people—Germans, Americans, my dance company, another dance company that was collaborating with us, and the local community in which we found ourselves—Freiburg, Germany. It’s a very musical city and the schools in Freiburg basically invited us and gave us the opportunity to work with their students around a historical theme. There’s an intellectual component to the Dancing to Connect program [that] provokes the creative process. That theme is something that we determined in the first instance but then in every instance after that it’s been shaped and formed by the participants themselves through discussions, through sharing between the teaching artists and the participants.

One of the students that we worked with in Kenya, in Nairobi, said that Carmen, who was our teaching artist, “helped us share our secrets.” I think that was the pivotal experience in creating whatever the work was that was created there. Opening up the vulnerability of the young people, making them feel like it’s a safe environment. There’s no right and wrong. You’ve just got to experiment, the way you do if somebody puts some paper and paints in front of you and says go to it, let your mind go, don’t criticize yourself, don’t manage every single stroke of the brush, just let it go. And that’s kind of what we do.

NEA: You have collaborated with the State Department and U.S. embassies on cultural diplomacy programming. What is it about the arts, and dance in particular, that makes it such a successful tool for this kind of outreach?

HOLLANDER: So many reasons. If the audience is young people, and the State Department is very concerned about the next generation, what country in the world has young people who don’t like to dance? Now, have they ever done modern dance? Have they ever choreographed a dance? Probably not. But we don’t tell them, “You can’t move this way.” We let them move the way they move. That’s another part of the secret ingredient—we’re not telling them to imitate us. Because that you could not do in a week. Instead we say, “We think you have it within you and you just haven’t found it yet so we’re going to help you see if you can find it.” “It” being your own self-expression through movement. Language is less important.

Theater couldn’t do this because theater relies on language and words and we’re working in countries like Japan where people study English from a very early age and they can write it and read it beautifully but they can’t speak it…. The University of Freiburg did a study of our program in terms of English-language learning and they found that students were speaking much better English in the dance workshops than they were in their English classes because the motivation was so great. Which also speaks to the motivation of young people to dance.

We have been very fortunate to work with the State Department, to work with U.S. embassies around the world. I was a Fulbright lecturer in India in 1992 and an American Field Service Exchange Student in high school so the cross-cultural experience of living in different places, adapting to different cultures, and sharing with people in very different circumstances has been something natural to me, and I’ve bred that culture in Battery Dance Company. One of things that I think allowed us to be successful in working with embassies is because what we want to do is in keeping with their mission and goals. They want to reach the next generation. They want to reach populations that are unexposed to American culture and may not have the opportunity to engage in the arts in a formalized way.

NEA: Can you describe a Dancing to Connect experience that really sticks out in your mind?

HOLLANDER: I’ll tell you a New York City one. We were in a very large public high school—thousands of students. It was in a very difficult neighborhood with kids facing all kind of challenges. We tend to forget about the challenges that they’re dealing with because we get so immersed in the project that it’s all about getting from here to there—there’s going to be a performance, it’s on Friday, and we have five hours left to really refine and polish and get this ready. At one of the rehearsals leading up to that performance, two sisters who had been really important in the piece and who were doing so beautifully were not there. I went to the teacher and said, “I just can’t tell you how disappointed I am. They were doing so well and look at this—they’re not here.” And she [explained that] their mother was taken by the police for drug possession. The sisters were remanded to Covenant House, which is sort of a safe harbor for young people. They had spent the day trying to get out of Covenant House so they could come to rehearsal. And they somehow got through the bureaucracy, got themselves out of there and into school the next day so they could perform.

A similar kind of story happened in Germany in Freiburg. We were halfway through this wonderful experience of building dance pieces and one of the students came to the school teacher and said that his father had won a prize and the whole family was given a trip to South Africa and they were leaving on Saturday, the day of the performance. And he just did not know what to do. His teacher told him, “This is an incredible thing. I’m sure that Battery Dance will understand.” Of course we did and we started making adjustments in the piece since he would not be there. Well, the next day he showed up and he said he told his parents that he could go to South Africa any time but this was the only time that he could do this dance piece. He was going to stay back and stay with his grandmother while his family was away. This same young man—who was not a dancer, this is not somebody who was going to become Baryshnikov, he was a soccer-playing, regular guy—he and his cohort convinced us we had to go back to his school next year to have a program for the veterans so they could go farther with this project. The third year that we were in Freiburg, those veterans, including this young man, wanted to be teacher-trainees and help us with the younger groups. That probably gives you a sense of the incredible sense of belonging to something that happens in this program.

NEA: How does Dancing to Connect fit in with Battery Dance Company’s other international programming?

HOLLANDER: Wherever we go, we also perform. We are taking our art around the world. But these days the Dancing to Connect vehicle is leading us into all these new areas of exploration. For example, dance as a vehicle for conflict resolution. We worked with Israeli, Palestinian, and German youth in a two-phased program and we tracked the results. The inclination toward war as a vehicle for settling conflict changed by about 30 percent in terms of the young people who took part. The perception of the other—Palestinian perception of Israelis—changed over the course of this program. We’re now at that very exciting stage in our development where we’re realizing that this model arts education program also has ramifications for social change in ways that we never imagined—working with HIV-positive populations, countering stigma, countering ignorance. The fact that an American dance company would go to an African country and work with HIV-positive people—in a country where if you’re sick, the family throws you out onto the street. And yet, that’s our chosen community. That telegraphs something in terms of public health, in terms of information, and we’re very dedicated to exploring more and more avenues for using this vehicle to teach and promote health and social practice of inclusion.

NEA: What do you see as the role of the artist in the community?

HOLLANDER: I guess everything that I’ve said addresses that. An artist cannot work without community in my opinion. I’m not interested in insularity. The older I get and the more engaged I am in my art form and in nurturing the next generation, it’s for me opening doors, not keeping it quiet and secluded and removed from community.

NEA: Conversely, what do you think is the responsibility of the community to the artist?

HOLLANDER: That’s an interesting question and I don’t know that I have a really quick and easy answer for that because, in an idealistic view of our society, I wish that the arts were more understood and appreciated as a foundation for life, not peripheral to life. It’s very hard for an artist to penetrate a community that is convinced that the arts are unnecessary or not for me, for someone else. And yet, I don’t feel like I face that with my art. I feel like I face that with funding. Artists are struggling to grow their art and, let’s face it, it’s very expensive. Dance is an expensive art form, not only in terms of money but in terms of logistics and facilities. Like right now we are negotiating with the U.S. Embassy in South Africa. And on the one hand they want to reach the same audience that we’re interested in, which is the disadvantaged, non-elite audiences. On the other hand, they want us to go to those audiences and work in those communities where there are no appropriate facilities. So we’re up against a really difficult conundrum of the fact that we want to say to a community we go into, “It’s actually not healthy for young people to be jumping on cement.” On the other hand, we don’t want to be putting forth the message that you need to be rich and have expensive facilities in order to dance. So we’re kind of up against it. It’s the resources I guess I’m addressing in terms of the community responsibility to the artist. If the community wants art it has to understand the resources necessary for art to thrive.

NEA: At the NEA, we believe that Art Works. What does this phrase mean to you?

HOLLANDER: It’s obviously a double meaning because “artworks” are pieces of art and “Art Works” [means] that art functions and if you pair that with “A Great Nation Deserved Great Art” theme, then it means that art works as part of the mechanism of society.

If you’re in New York this August Battery Dance Company will be presenting the 31st annual Downtown Dance Festival through August 17. More information about this free event can be found at

Lessons from the Old Post Office

August 14, 2012

by Abigail Roberts

NEA public affairs intern Abigail Roberts summer 2012

Abigail Roberts. Photo by NEA staff

No matter how old you are, when you return to your childhood home you feel like a child. Assuming this feeling never changes, I expect that when I am forty years old and make my way to Kensington, Maryland, from wherever I will be living then, I will revert to an eleven-year-old version of myself. That’s what happened when I came back from college this summer.

In Portland, Oregon, on the other side of the country, I was an actual person. I did well in my classes, I joined groups outside of the school, and I maintained relationships. I was successful, and I was happy that I could prove my intelligence, my worth. But when I came home in May, it was as if those accomplishments vanished. It wasn’t that my parents or friends from high school belittled them; it was just as if those achievements were stored in another world. They became anecdotes instead of actuality. I was a child, again; a kid who was living at home and spending her days napping.

But that became boring—quickly. I remembered why I hadn’t allowed myself to do those things. It was because it felt like wasted time. I learned that I would rather be working. I learned that I didn’t really want to be a child anymore.

When my internship with the National Endowment for the Arts began, I was eager to become a real person. I was eager to prove to my parents that I was a functioning adult who could be trusted with responsibilities greater than washing the dishes (which, to be honest, they still don’t completely trust me to do properly).

I got so much more than that out of this internship.

I thought that I would be doing intern tasks that you hear stories about—making coffee, returning phone calls, sorting files. On my first day here, one of my co-workers joked that she would make me stand in line for the cupcake food truck for them. As the rest of the staff laughed, I joined in, nervously. “And so it begins,” I thought to myself.

But that never happened. Instead, I found myself interviewing museum directors and writing about their backgrounds and collections for the Blue Star Museums blog. I found myself listening to all kinds of interviews with famed artists, from authors like Jennifer Egan to fashion designers like Yeohlee Teng, who refers to clothing as “intimate architecture.” I found myself researching the history of art and war for the NEA Arts magazine. I found myself sitting in panel discussions about the intersection between science and art, about literature, about dance, surrounded by intelligent and engaging people. And just like that, gone were my fears of being a serf—these people treated me as an equal.

There is a distinct sense of camaraderie in the NEA offices, and it’s because everyone is working toward the same goal—celebrating the power of art. From Design to Public Affairs, every person here cares for and believes in what they’re doing.

I came into this summer internship hoping to prove and to better myself, but am leaving hoping to better the world, using the skills and experiences I gained here. Because of the Arts Endowment I have a firmer understanding of how the government works, how interviews work, how editing works, and most importantly—how art works.

Abigail Roberts was an intern in the NEA Public Affairs office this summer. This fall she will be a sophomore at Kenyon College. She is studying creative writing and hopes to participate in choir, gamelan, and the Kenyon Review.

Singing Through the Wounds of War

August 13, 2012

By Rebecca Gross

Rehearsal for Fallujah. From l-r: Willy Miles-Grenzberg as “Lalo,” Nickolas Meyer as “Rocks,” Christopher Mayell as “Taylor,” and Ken Lavigne as “Philip.” Photo by Chad Galloway / Opus 59 Films / City Opera Vancouver

When U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant (Ret) Christian Ellis returned from the Iraq War, his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was so severe that he attempted suicide four different times. But it was at his darkest moment that he was prompted to return to one of his earliest loves: opera. With the support of philanthropist Charles Annenberg Weingarten, Ellis began to work with composer Tobin Stokes and librettist Heather Raffo, an Iraqi-American who has explored Iraqi culture in theatrical projects such as Nine Parts of Desire. Together, the team created Fallujah, the first opera based on the Iraq War. Inspired by Ellis’s life, the opera was first staged at the City Opera Vancouver, and is being shown in weekly installments on, a division of the Annenberg Foundation. Art Works spoke with both Ellis and Raffo about the opera and the process that went into its making.

NEA: Christian, could you tell me about your initial meeting with Charles Annenberg Weingarten and how the idea for the opera came about?

CHRISTIAN ELLIS: The opera came about for the most part as a joke on my part. I met Charles Annenberg at a retreat for wounded warriors that focused on healing though nature. This particular journey was for fly-fishing. He was doing a documentary on veterans, and toward the end of this retreat, he asked me what do I want do in life? What would be my dream? Jokingly, I said I would love to sing and go back into opera. That’s when he was like, “I have always had this dream of doing something about the Iraq War.” And he gave me a challenge to come up with a story that I thought people would want to hear. It took me a little bit to write a story, and that’s how it all started.

NEA: Christian, I know you have a background in music. Was your background specifically in opera?

ELLIS: No, not specifically just opera. I classically trained in opera; I’m a tenor. But my musical journey began when I was eight or nine. That’s when my mom said I really started singing. Around the fourth grade, I picked up the trumpet; before then, my mom was teaching me piano. My passions became the trumpet and singing. I’ve done competitions, I’ve done all kinds of camps for men’s choir, honors choir, co-ed, international competitions, national competitions for singing, etc. all the way through college.

NEA: When you went to this retreat can you tell me where you were mentally, and were you still pursuing music?

ELLIS: Honestly, that retreat was my last attempt to find help. I had made plans to come back and end my life because I was in such a dark place. I didn’t like where I was at, I didn’t like what was going on. Music-wise, I had stopped singing when I was 19, and I was about 27 when Charlie Annenberg and I became acquainted. So I hadn’t sung in almost ten years. In no way, shape, or form was I involved in music—nothing. And then this out of the blue popped up. I was in the darkest place mentally, emotionally, spiritually that one could be in.

NEA: Christian and Heather, I read that both of you entered your first meeting together with a fair set of preconceived notions. Can you talk about that, and how you worked through those issues?

ELLIS: I was introduced to Heather via [artistic director] Charles Barber at City Opera Vancouver with the explanation that we have this amazing writer that they wanted me to work with who was half-American and half-Iraqi. What caught my attention was the half-Iraqi part. I did research on her; from what I read, she was a perfect fit. She had intelligent genius to create what we were looking for based on her work Nine Parts of Desire. But when they said I was going to meet her, I was extremely hesitant, because I know how I’ve always perceived Iraqis. I’ve always been trained—and my experience, a lot of it was bad—to expect them to be the enemy, but don’t treat them like that. Over time I grew to hate—I mean, truly hate—a lot of Iraqis because no matter what we did, as I saw it, they were ungrateful and they were all trying to kill us. It didn’t matter if you were a man, woman, or child. So I was extremely nervous. I didn’t know what to expect from her, and all I was focused on was that Iraqi part of her heritage. And the moment that I walked into her home, off the elevator, that was erased. It was an instant connection; I can’t even explain it. I saw her beautiful children, and she had this glowing smile on her face, her home was extremely welcoming, and right then, I knew that everything was going to be better.

HEATHER RAFFO: I will say that my acting training served me well [before that first meeting]. Actors are trained to go where the fear is. And I knew that I was afraid, and I thought well, that’s where the beauty is. I clearly have to do this. If I’m afraid of it, I have to do it. What I was afraid of was that I didn’t have the right to tell Christian’s story. I didn’t serve in the military, and how could I know these things?… Will I be able to understand it, something that is so different from me? And deeper than that, will I be able to let go of my own stereotypes, or fears, or hardness of heart about people that might have chosen to serve in the Iraq War? I think that what I knew to be to true was that if we could come together, that’s exactly where the story would be. That’s the whole reason to tell a story. Christan and I could be vulnerable and honest and expose ourselves to each other, and that’s what an audience is going to do. They’re going to get two sides of the story; they’re going to get 20 sides of the story. There are nine characters in the play, and they’ve all got in them multiple, conflicting sides of their own story. So the way Christian and I related to each other became the way these characters related to each other.

Christian Ellis (l) and Charles Annenberg Weingarten. Photo by Chad Galloway / Opus 59 Films / City Opera Vancouver

NEA: You touched on this, but you questioned whether you had the right to tell Christian’s story. Even though this is a work of fiction, you’re basing the story on someone else’s experiences—someone that you know. How did that affect the writing process for you? Did this create extra pressure?

RAFFO: It made me want to get it right, but I think I’d always want to get it right. The extra layer of pressure really honestly is that in meeting Christian, I felt that the story of who he was was different than the story he wanted to tell. And that meant that I had to propose to Christian, this is what I’ve heard from you; this is what I’ve learned from meeting you; this is what I think your story is and how I think that will move people watching it. Can we marry the story you want to tell with the story that I think you have lived? That was a vulnerable proposition, and a daring one. I had to say, “Hey, I think what you have lived in coming back alive is possibly harder than having died in Iraq.” And I had to say can we make this story really about PTSD? Because I think that’s what Charlie Annenberg wants, and what City Opera Vancouver wants, and what ultimately the conversation they want to create with veterans is about. So there are elements of wanting to get that right for all the parties involved, and knowing that it was my charge to do so, my charge to hear from everybody about what they wanted and needed this story to be, and find a way to make that work.

NEA: Christian, I imagine that seeing your story performed onstage also puts you in a very vulnerable position. But at the same time, you’re being given the chance to re-write your own story, literally and figuratively. Can you talk about what it’s been like to expose yourself like this, but also to take charge? Has there been an element of healing in all this?

ELLIS: It’s been an incredible healing process for me. It’s not easy to be vulnerable, especially as a U.S. Marine. There’s a lot on this stage that people will hear. Whether or not they’ll connect the dots, a lot of the information that they find out is about me. So having that onstage, having people know my fears, knowing what I’ve done, knowing what I’m scared of or what affects me, it’s extremely nerve-wracking. At times, it’s very scary. No one wants to be vulnerable to the world, and have everybody know your darkest secrets. So one of my biggest fears was how Heather was going to take what I wanted to tell, and present it in a way where it doesn’t feel like, “Here’s me in all my glory.” That’s how I perceived it. But she did it in an amazing way to where you don’t know it’s really me. Most people can relate to these characters. So it really diffused my fears.

In regard to re-writing my history, I don’t think anything was re-written. What I believe Heather did is she took a lot of my life, and a lot of her life, and married them together to tell a new story…. that’s never been told before in such a neutral, understanding way. It really helps heal a lot of my own mental injuries. Watching these actors perform a lot of things that had come out of my mouth, or mouths of people I knew, or situations that I had lived through, has really helped me realize that I need to accept them. And having Charlie Annenberg support this has just been a dream come true. So being vulnerable—we tackled that, we conquered it. Rewriting a new life—I believe we created a new life, a new story, that merged mine and Heather’s.

NEA: Heather, I know that you’ve written about the Iraqi experience before. How was this project different or similar to your prior work?

RAFFO: What’s similar about it is the depth of interviews into art process. With Nine Parts, I found real women and talked to them and lived with them and spent months with them in order to then make a composite of life stories. Again, not docu-drama—everybody’s name is changed, no text is verbatim—but it’s taking the truths of real life people, and making it into poetry. The process for this was similar.

What’s different is that Christian is involved in the process. So whereas with the Iraqi women, it was allowing the stories to work through me and then they may come to the play or not, Christian is involved in the process, and so therefore it is more exposing for him. Everyone knows this is inspired by his life story. In some ways, he can’t hide no matter how much we fictionalize. There’s this assumption that it’s his life as he’s lived it. But what’s different yet again, and profoundly beautiful for both of us, is that it’s all set to music…. Opera is a massive medium, and these stories are reaching people not only in song, but in really heightened music. So the poetic is really taking it to a different level.

NEA: Is this why opera was chosen as the format for this story, or were there other reasons for choosing this art form?

ELLIS: I’ve always had this deep appreciation and love for opera. When you go into an opera, there’s this massive sense of elegance, massive sense of mastery of the art. Whereas if you go into a Broadway musical, the sense of wonder is drastically different in my opinion. Opera has a way of transforming a story and really connecting the audience to it. Most people like to be entertained. Granted, we want to entertain, but also opera tends to have a more powerful purpose behind it. A good example was The Magic Flute. It’s a funny tale but there’s an important message behind it. With this opera, when we were thinking about music, I couldn’t think of anything other than wanting to have opera be the medium to tell the incredible story that Heather came up with.

A rehearsal at the Carnegie Centre, Vancouver. Photo by Chad Galloway / Opus 59 Films / City Opera Vancouver

NEA: Christian, what was the reaction if or when you told Marines that you served with about the opera?

ELLIS: I’ve actually had several of my buddies disengage our friendship out of fear. In their mind, they thought I was going to be telling things that aren’t publicly known about what we’ve done. I believe that they thought I was going to be this left-wing person that’s going to be preaching that the war is wrong, and this proves why it’s wrong. I think a lot of their fears were misguided and misplaced, and not accurate in what this portrayal was or intended to do. With that said, the people that have seen this, or have seen clippings, or have actually participated in the final workshop, they have thoroughly enjoyed it, and loved it in every single way. Heather and I were fortunate enough to actually join a conversation of active duty soldiers that when they were talking, they told us what they enjoyed. They related to this, and they publicly announced to people when we did a Q&A at the end that they loved it, and it essentially went above and beyond what they were expecting. Those who haven’t seen it who are active duty or veterans I think will find they can completely relate to it, completely understand, and hopefully learn from it because of the message that is inside it.

NEA: What do you hope people with no military experience will take away from the show?

ELLIS: We’ve had that experience too. When we did a Q&A at the end of the final production, we had people that had never seen opera. We also had people that hated opera. [People who] had no joy in going to see an opera told us—this is more than just one; it was several people—they loved this so much, and if operas were like this particular production, they would see them on a consistent basis. The music was hip, the message was amazing, and the story was powerful. So from my experience, because we do relate a lot of characters who are not in the military inside the story that people can identify with, I’m very confident that people will really take this opera to heart, thoroughly enjoy it in all aspects—emotionally, mentally, entertainment-wise.

RAFFO: We really feel that the opera is meant to begin a conversation. I would be hard-pressed to say people should just come and see it and then not talk about it. We want people to talk about it amongst themselves, talk about it with the people sitting next to them in the theater. I think that it’s definitely the kind of opera where you would want opera-goers, and military, and Arab Americans, and average civilians who have never been to an opera all in the room together discussing what they felt about the material….  I think the big takeaway from this opera is that a conversation needs to be had, and people need to just listen in order to hear what that conversation could possibly be.

NEA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

RAFFO: I think [composer] Tobin Stokes is awesome. As much as Christian and I have set off each other’s stories, Tobin has said our stories and made his own musical story from that, and we’re deeply indebted to his power and talent.

ELLIS: I agree. The biggest challenge we had in creating this opera, even with the name Annenberg behind it, was to find a composer. When I [was] asked how I wanted this music to sound, I told them, “I want a fresh sound. I want a new genre of opera that fuses Middle Eastern and Western cultures together, but in a way that young and old can enjoy.” And Tobin did such an ingenious, beautiful composition of music that you hear elements of old school, traditional opera, and within the same page of music, you’re going to hear elements of thrash metal. It’s done in a way that just kind of shocks you, like, “Wow, I never realized opera can sound like this.” And that’s why we touch so many people. We have a great story, but Tobin took this story and really magnified it with incredible sound.

NEA Arts: “The Art of Giving Back: The Blue Star Museums Initiative”

August 10, 2012

Young girl views a giant crystal during a museum visit.

Helen Blake, daughter of a Marine Corps aviator, marvels at a crystal during a 2011 visit to the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville, Colorado, a participating Blue Star Museum. Photo by Molly Blake

“I think we truly are creating an enormous generation of museum-goers from this, and I know that for myself and the other families I’ve talked to, we go to the museums year-round, and we spend money on them because of our experience with Blue Star Museums over the summer. So I think not only is it karmically good for the museums, but it’s actually good for their business as well, and that’s a good thing.” — Kathy Roth-Douquet, founder/CEO Blue Star Families

Sometimes the summertime blues aren’t a bad thing—that is if the “blues” you’re referring to are the more than 1,800 Blue Star Museums (BSM)! In our final story in the print edition of the new NEA Arts, “The Art of Giving Back: The Blue Star Museums Initiative,” Rebecca Gross takes a look at the Blue Star Museums program—a three-year-old partnership among the NEA, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and museums of every kind—that offers free admission for all active-duty military personnel and their families throughout the summer. You can also browse our other features including stories on the arts therapy program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Hospital, and on-line features such as our conversation with Don R. Schol, a Vietnam veteran and visual artist who has used his artwork to grapple with the wounds of war.

(p.s. Check out the Blue Star Museums blog to learn more about participating museums—like the Cherokee Heritage Center, the Edward Gorey House, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, to name a few. And each Friday, check in with a Blue Star Museums visitor, such as college sophomore and self-described “Air Force brat” Garrett Hoppin who fell in love with museums through the program though he initially “was not a fan of having to take time out of my summer schedule to go to museums.”)

Art Works Podcast: Richard Currey

August 9, 2012

By Josephine Reed

Richard Currey. Photo courtesy of The Writer’s Center

This week’s podcast is a little bit different. We wanted to continue the conversation begun with the recent issue of NEA Arts which focuses on the rich intersections of the arts and the military. So, we asked Vietnam veteran and author Richard Currey to share his experiences reading Tim O’Brien’s classic novel about that conflict, The Things They Carried. The Things They Carried, which is also a Big Read selection, is a collection of inter-related short stories that is a compassionate and unrelenting description of an American platoon in Vietnam. But the book is also about the centrality of stories in our lives, and the power that describing the indescribable gives the teller of the tale.

Like O’Brien, Currey wrote to give shape and understanding to the experience of war. In fact, O’Brien praises Currey’s novel Fatal Light as “one of the very best works of fiction to emerge from the Vietnam War.” According to Currey, in The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien holds a “mirror up to us as humans and to our culture and our history and say(s), ‘Look, you know, we can’t really come to grips with any momentous experience unless we learn how to mold that into a story.’” [1:43]


NEA Arts: “Lifting the Spirits: The USO Brings the Arts to the Troops”

August 9, 2012

by Paulette Beete

country artist Kellie Pickler

BNA recording artist Kellie Pickler joined the USO in honoring our nation’s real heroes with a week-long Memorial Day USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour to the Middle East. Paying homage to those who have fallen, as well as those currently serving on the front lines, Pickler dined with troops and performed USO shows on Memorial Day. In the region on her fifth USO tour, Pickler visited two countries in eight days performing a total of five shows. (USO Photo by Steve Manuel)

“We always look forward to planning the next trip. As soon as we get back from one, we’re planning the next one!” — recording artist Kellie Pickler on touring with the USO

Did you know that in its first seven years the USO’s entertainment division presented 7,000 entertainers and 428,521 live performances to troops both at home and overseas? Founded in 1941 as the U.S. prepared to enter the Second World War, today the organization still works tirelessly to lift the spirits of U.S. troops and their families stationed all over the globe. In fact, in 2011, the USO was recognized for its indefatigable service with the National Medal in the Arts, the nation’s highest federal award for artists and arts patrons.

American Idol alum Kellie Pickler, now a chart-topping Country singer, has taken part in five USO tours. We caught up with Pickler as she returned from her most recent USO trip to Kuwait and Afghanistan. In her own words, here are Pickler’s thoughts on why it’s important to bring the arts to the troops.

“I’ve always been a supporter of our military, and I came from a military family. It’s important for [service members] to know that we’re back home supporting them, and that we love them and that we’re praying for them. They need to know that we don’t take what they do for granted.

I think that through music, you can escape where you are. And with the USO show… that’s an hour that they can break up the monotony, and escape where they are… feel like they’re back home. That’s the goal, to take a little piece of home to them.

[On tour with the USO] we performed two to three shows a day. We’d have meet-and-greets, and take pictures, and sign [autographs]. We travel on military air-crafts from camp to camp, base to base, and it’s pretty busy, but it’s really great. We get a lot done—all the shows are special in their own way, and I really enjoy hearing people’s stories, and where they came from, and why they joined [the military].

I love working with the USO. They’ve been so great: to all of our servicemen and women, and all of the veterans, and they’ve been good to me. Their goal is to take entertainment to the servicemen and women, and they do that. They’re great people to work with. I’ve worked with them for a few years now and they’ve been such a pleasure, and I really admire what they do. We always look forward to planning the next trip. As soon as we get back from one, we’re planning the next one!”

Visit to read Lifting the Spirits: The USO Brings the Arts to the Troops in the new issue of NEA Arts. Don’t forget to check out some of the online-only features. And keep checking back on the blog—we’re featuring arts and the military themed stories throughout the month of August!

NEA Arts: “Strike Up the Band! The Bond Between Music and Military”

August 8, 2012

Air Force musicians carry their instruments through the surf to board a transport ship

The U.S. Air Force Band of Flight carries their gear through water on an overseas deployment. Photo by Major Richard M. Mench, USAF

“I was finishing graduate school as a music major and like most musicians, wanted to work as a performer. The idea of being in a military band had been on my mind since I saw The U.S. Army Field Band when I was about ten years old and thought that looked like pretty much the best job ever. I am also the son of a combat veteran of World War II and being a soldier was one way I could follow his example.” — Colonel Thomas H. Palatier on why he joined the Army as a musician

The 21st-century military is very different from its counterpart of 100 years ago, much less centuries past. One aspect has stayed the same, however—the presence of military musicians. Whether signaling the arrival of the President of the United States with “Hail to the Chief” or paying honor to fallen service members with “Taps” or just providing a night of entertainment for fellow troops, musicians remain a vital part of military culture. In “Strike Up the Band! The Bond between Music and Military” Michael Gallant speaks with musicians from the U.S. Army Band and the U.S. Air Force to find out what it’s like to—as the Air Force Chief of Music Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Price puts it—”make art for the sake of our country.”

Visit to read the full text of “Strike Up the Band,additional stories from our issue on the arts and the military, and browse our  online-only features, including a first-person account by ballet dancer-turned Marine-turned choreographer and artistic director Roman Baca, and an audio feature on Theater of War with the company’s artistic director Brian Doerries.