Disturbance Art: Engaging Difference through Pop-Up Music, Dance, Theater, and Visual Arts (Doyle Symposium First Place)

By: Devika Ranjan

April 20, 2015

I. Disturbance Art

In hopes to rebuild the commonweal and engage difference, Georgetown University should capitalize on its extensive and multi-faceted arts program to integrate students, faculty, and the community. Worldwide, studies have found a strong correlation between arts participation and civic engagement (National Endowment for the Arts, 2007). I propose that “disturbance art”—art that pops up on campus, engaging themes of indifference—will enrich the campus community and diversify our perceptions.


Disturbance art will capitalize on the existing arts community. We have brilliant and innovative artists at Georgetown, both students and faculty; however, their skills are often restricted to their departments. Many students miss out on performances if they do not have friends performing or cultivated interest in the art form. Instead, I believe that Georgetown should integrate art within the campus community—remove the boundaries of a stage and weave arts into daily life at Georgetown.

According to “Impact of the arts on individual contributions to US civil society,” a qualitative research study, “Individuals who engage in higher levels of audience-based arts participation and who engage directly in artistic activity will demonstrate greater levels of other regarding behavior.” Their social tolerance “toward gay and lesbian persons… [and] toward racial and ethnic minorities” increases and “younger people… display higher levels of social tolerance than older individuals.” Clearly, there is a strong correlation between positive tolerance and both observational and participatory arts. Georgetown has the talent and the means to engage the campus community and encourage these values.

II. Existing Examples

The Lau mural, which was painted over the March 20-21, 2015 weekend, takes ownership of the Lauinger Library space and beautifies a generally sullen area. The painter, Agree Ahmed Ranjan 3 (SFS ‘15), also chalked the Georgetown-esque reproduction of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in Red Square. Students have had a generally positive response, and the mural has sparked conversation on where else we can beautify campus. ICC, Leavey Center, and residence halls would all be possible locations. Whether permanent like the Lau mural or temporary like the chalking, murals are one option to engage Georgetown through arts.

Pluralism in Action starts a discussion about diversity during NSO every fall. It helps to explore who we are as a campus and highlight the unique stories of people who are around us. Afterwards, we often run into those whose stories were showcased during Pluralism in Action and continue these conversations. Performance art, especially testimony-based theater, helps to visualize experiences and captivate audiences.

In the same vein, Generation wh(Y) is a performance-based collaboration between Georgetown, universities, and theaters around the world. Through devised theatre, my colleagues and I hope to create performance pieces around the "global voices" of our generation—talking to members of our community and Skyping with friends, colleagues, and willing interviewees from several other countries. Similar to Pluralism in Action, we aim to tell real stories that deserve to be told. In this way, we engage with people around the world with the intention of bringing that diversity to Georgetown. This strengthens the tolerance of the devisers because we get to interview to strangers and understand their points of view, but it also benefits the audience because they engage with worldwide testimony and a broader understanding of the world. Some issues with Generation wh(Y) are that, by nature of the grant, it is limited to a certain number of countries in a particular area of the world; additionally, the performance pieces will all be staged in the Gonda Theatre. To remedy this in future testimony-based devised theater pieces, Georgetown could combine the ideas of Pluralism in Action and Generation wh(Y) in the everyday campus life. We can place shorter encounters outside—the White Gravenor patio, Red Square, fields outside of Regents, Kehoe—and through them, tell stories that focus on the campus.

Humans of Georgetown was founded in fall 2013 but never really took off beyond a few photos. The Facebook page is, however, wildly popular and currently boasts over 2,000 likes. It is based on the concept of Humans In New York, telling diverse stories through portraits that are accompanied by short quotes. Through this viral project, the we understand our own community a little bit more and appreciate its differences.

Lau Sings also take the arts and integrate it with the community. Advertised as a “study break” outside of Lauinger Library, Lau Sings are hosted by the various a cappella groups on campus. They are very popular on busy homework nights and often captivate those who would not normally attend an a cappella concert.

III. Moving forward…

Through these existing ideas of arts in the community, I believe we can build up the concept of “disturbance art” and integrate it further in Georgetown with the aim to engage difference and social justice. For instance, street theatre is often used as a form of protest or communication in South Asia and Latin America. It presents topics of social injustice and allows Rangila (Source: The Hoya, November 2014, Ranjan 5) passers-by and audience members to explore them. The socially engaged Georgetown community could use this as a tool to educate the campus and raise awareness on various issues.

Pop-up musical performances in Red Square or the front lawns would encourage small-group music, appreciation for campus musicians, and a diverse music selection. Sometimes, Farmer’s Market Wednesdays host folk-style campus musicians; we can also involve the classical and contemporary artists for a display of their work.

With an existing cultural focus in the arts, Georgetown can build on this interest and encourage further partnership. For instance, Reventon or Rangila performers may repeat their performances for cultural events or as a flashmob in Leo’s. On the visual arts side, portrait exhibits can highlight young international artists. For instance, the SFS Academic Council is building a partnership with American University in Kabul, Afghanistan. I hope to organize a photography swap, in which Georgetown will exhibit student photos of daily life, culture, and victories in Afghanistan.

Students could compete in regular visual arts competitions, like those hosted by the Georgetown Arts Week program. Sculptures or free-standing exhibits could take place in ICC Galleria, residence dorms, Healey Family Student Center, or Healey Lawn. They would represent themes of engaging difference and bring people together in creation as well as in discussion.

Potential partners could be the Center for Social Justice and affiliated schools; theatre groups on campus including Black Theatre Ensemble, Nomadic Theatre, Children’s Theatre, Improv, and Mask & Bauble; dance groups on campus like GU Dance Company, Black Movements Dance Theatre, and Groove Theory; musical groups including the orchestra, choirs, and a cappella groups; GUSA Initiatives for the Arts; the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice; and the Laboratory for Global Performance.

IV. Engaging Difference through Discussion, Creativity, and Ownership

Community arts projects will strengthen the commonweal by bringing people together, fostering creativity, and allowing students to take ownership of their campus. For instance, if students work on a mural together or perhaps watch a musical performance in Red Square as they walk to class. Arts within the community creates a common ground for conversation. It reconstructs the social environment of freshman year—spending time meeting new people, learning about them, and through them learning about the world. As we have grown, it is difficult to deeply engage with the campus community. We are more concentrated on ourselves, academics, internships, and extracurriculars. Art allows the Georgetown community to open up and talk to each other, whether they are actively participating or observing.

Disturbance art will also encourage creativity on campus. This is not limited to artistic capability, but rather includes problem-solving and team-building skills. At Georgetown, we are often wrapped up in the academic and the cerebral. We take ourselves too seriously and sometimes lose appreciation of poetry and drama and the arts. With the talent on this campus, I believe that we will be able to teach each other and destress with creative activities. Additionally, while working on an arts-related project with other members of the Georgetown community, students will learn to map out the anticipated course of the project, accept change, and understand the perspectives of other members of the group. Interpersonal skills are essential to art and civil society.  

Community arts projects will also allow students to take ownership of the campus. People will be more involved in the community—both socially and spatially. As a RA for 100 freshmen, I have often noticed that students are bewildered in the first few weeks here; once they join clubs, start writing papers, and open up within the residence hall, they often feel more “at home.” When students feel marginalized or like outsiders on campus, arts may be one way to integrate them in the community and enrich feelings of belonging. Disturbance arts fits perfectly with the spirit of Georgetown because the interdisciplinary nature of arts and civil society involves art in our daily life. It celebrates cura personalis and community in diversity, respecting the creative construction and unique experiences at Georgetown that can contribute to these projects. Additionally, it explores the topics of privilege and identity; like Pluralism in Action, we will more readily reflect on who we are and the importance of diversity in the campus community. In theatre, in dance, in music, and in art, we celebrate this diversity and the creativity of this campus.

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Disturbance Art: Engaging Difference through Pop-Up Music, Dance, Theater, and Visual Arts (Doyle Symposium First Place)