Ninja Book Club Book Review: Art in Other Places

The MFF Ninja Book Club is led by guest Ninja Danielle Azoulay.

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This past weekend our first Ninja Book Club meeting took place.  We discussed the book Art in Other Places: Artists at Work in America’s Community and Social Institutions, by William Cleveland.  This book is basically a collection of case studies for non-traditional ways to use the arts to educate and heal people who are in nursing homes, hospitals, jails, and other social institutions.

Our group had many different reactions to this book.  Some felt angry and frustrated that this is the fundamental purpose of art and we have gone too far commercializing it to still stay true to its core.  Others felt that the compassion displayed by the people who headed these programs was an amazing example of what can happen when someone who has never been engaged on this level, is.  People who were never held accountable for anything became accountable to their fellow cast members and they learned how to work as a team and their lives were changed forever.

We all agreed that these arts educators transform the lives of people who are the victims of a broken system.  An adult woman, who was deaf and mute, for the first time in her life, was able to express herself through her paintings, which she sold to raise funds for sign language lessons.  Prisoners that were engaged in poetry and acting classes became less aggressive and were able to explore the roots of their problems.  Nursing home patients looked forward to their weekly dance classes, feeling a renewed sense of purpose.  Each example had a similar outcome, the people on the receiving end of the arts education were more fulfilled, more in touch with themselves and they felt they had something to live for.

Programs like these are inspirational and transformative for the participants.  The educators in this book, who were really the pioneers of this movement, are heroes for seeing something in people that society didn’t.  They extended their compassion and knowledge and believed that the arts would give people a sense of self-worth, and they were right.  This is one example of how a society that puts an emphasis on the arts, benefits in many ways.  We must realize that the arts can serve many purposes, not only to entertain, but to bring community members together, to heal wounds inflicted by society and to give people who experience art, in any form, a sense of self. The value inherent in the arts is often overlooked and this book did a great job of capturing the unique ability of arts as a discipline to serve different segments of our society.


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