Abstract: Performance Art and Racial Justice at William and Mary

Hello! My name is Johnna Moore and I will be researching Performance Art and Racial Justice at the College of William and Mary for the 2015 Summer. I have been graciously funded by the Lemon Project and I am super excited to be able to have this opportunity.

This research project aims to fill a gap in diversity education research and the history of arts activism at the College of William and Mary. The question I plan to answer with my research is “How is performance art an effective means to pursue racial justice on college campuses?”. Using the College of William and Mary as a case study and focus community, I will answer my question by using Special Collections research, interviewing William and Mary students, and applying theatre and social justice theory. I will be studying what initiatives and programs have been implemented at William and Mary that have incorporated performance art and racial justice. I will aim to find qualitative measures such as (list what they are) to evaluate performance art and its potential ability to educate about race, identity, or culture.
Performance art is defined in my research as plays, staged readings, spoken word poetry, storytelling, dance, or songs. To be considered in my research, the performance needs to be artistic and creative in nature and live (film screenings will not be considered, for example). The event must also incorporate an aspect of a minority race, identity, or culture. To evaluate trends in William and Mary’s emphasis on performance and diversity, I will document events that meet these requirements in William and Mary’s history, 1960s to present. The Flat Hat and other William and Mary news media has been thoroughly documented through Special Collections. These news sources will provide valuable insight into how performances on diversity or by racially diverse students have been perceived and reported on over time. Additionally, I will look at the records of the Center for Student Diversity to see what initiatives have been in place that involve performance art. This includes events and programs such as, the spoken word component in Freshman Orientation or bringing the poet, Nikki Giovanni, to campus.
Multicultural student organizations will play a large role in my research. Many multicultural student organizations host large annual cultural showcases, such as IREP Africa or Lunar New Year. I will interview current members of these organizations to study the goals and outcomes of these performances. Participants of these interviews will be asked a series of questions about their experiences at the College relating to performance-based events and their potential impact on their or other’s understanding of race, identity, or culture. Students will ideally provide valuable insight on how performing about their racial identity has impacted them, their ideas on how it can impact people who are not of their racial identity, and their place in arts activism. International Performance Arts Exchange (IPAX) was created in order to create a space for students of color to create their own art and showcase art relating to identity or culture. As a member of this group, I will also interview present and former members to understand how this organization has evolved over the years and how it has contributed to increasing the amount of diversity in performance art. I will also study the plays directed by the William and Mary Theatre department that have included a minority cast member or have been about race, identity, or culture. While I am not actively involved in the Theatre department as an actress, I have taken courses in Theatre and will be in contact with professors, such as Articia Green and Francis Tanglao-Aguas to assist me in my research.
As a result of my project, I will write a research paper grounded in the theory of Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, to explain my findings and advocate for the emphasis of performance art in racial justice activism and diversity education. As appropriate, I will also update the Special Collections Wikipedia with any findings or materials that have not been documented previously. Additionally, I will be focusing on creating a way to create a survey to qualitatively measure the impact of performance art to establish it as an effective means of diversity education. Many multicultural student organizations or individuals may struggle to find substantial funding for their events. However, if there is a way to show the potential benefits of a performance or bringing an entertainer to campus as pursuing racial awareness and a positive diverse community, they will be able to create a stronger argument for a grant. I attend to share my findings with administrators in the Theatre department and the Center for Student Diversity to evaluate how William and Mary can continue to encourage art activism on campus.
This project will help my own academic and intellectual development because I will be able to explore the intersections of performance, activism, and race outside my academic course offerings. I want to understand myself as an artist and how art can bring awareness to the oppressed and the oppressors. Relevant coursework I have had to this proposal include the classes: Acting Asian American, Sex and Race in Plays and Films, and Visualizing the Civil Rights Movement. Additionally, I have experience as a Student Coordinator for the Center for Student Diversity so I am very knowledgable about diversity education, the events that the CSD provide the campus, and the staff. I hope to continue this research as an independent study where, ideally, I will be able to undertake a longer creative project. This research project is important to William and Mary because it explores the history of students of color creating representation for their culture or identity in performance spaces or how the College has implemented events or programs that allow for these spaces. It is also about valuing art in activist spaces and valuing the power of art as a whole.