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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2010 > April 2010 > An Art-Changing World: Stories from Art Threat

An Art-Changing World: Stories from Art Threat

Thursday 1 April 2010, by Ezra Winton

Myself and the other editors at Art Threat, a media outlet devoted solely to political art and cultural policy, are very excited to be collaborating with Alternatives. Each month I will, with the help of the other Art Threat editors, select a handful of our stories from the past month to be republished in the Alternatives newsletter.

In keeping with the mandate of Alternatives, stories that touch on international solidarity and communication, human rights, progressive politics, and public space will be selected. Of course these stories will also have everything to do with art and culture, the focus of Art Threat.

For the inaugural collaboration we’ve selected stories that reveal the possibilities for progressive change when art intersects with politics and public space (both virtual and on-the-ground). The first piece (short text and a video interview) looks at one of the many interventions made during the past olympics in Vancouver, linking the problem of homelessness to the shrinking public space during the games. The second piece reviews a new political video game that intricately weaves narratives around the deaths of inmates at Guantanamo, in particular that of Boubacar Bah, who died while in custody in 2007.

This is of course a short sample of the many posts at that bring together art, culture and world politics. From film reviews about the Alberta Tar Sands [link:] and the fight for Iceland’s environment [link:] to creative public space interventions in Windsor [link:] to documenting ethnic cleansing in the Serengeti [link:], there is no shortage of interesting critical stories that Alternatives supporters can find at our site.
We hope this collaboration of our two organizations continues for as long as this world needs changing.

Art Garden on East Hastings: a refuge for the imagination
by Michael Lithgow

Art confounds so many of the problematics that come with the politics of power and poverty. Take the Hastings Folk Garden, for example. You can’t find it through the Cultural Olympiad. There are no Tourism BC pamphlets that tell you how to get there. You find it by walking around in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown East Side (DTES). In its own very quiet way, it defies the Olympic corporatization of public space and corresponding rendering of this beset community only in terms of a problem to be fixed.

The Downtown East Side is a neighbourhood that was not invited to the Olympic buffet — at least its residents weren’t. As the poorest community in Canada, the Olympic games are largely an unaffordable party that views their neighbourhood as a potential “public relations embarrassment” rather than vibrant albeit troubled home.

What was once an empty lot among the ruin of storefronts along the East Hastings corridor (a few steps from Insite, North America’s only safe injection site), is now a community garden owned by the Portland Hotel Society. And for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the garden has been filled with art to create a little urban oasis with found objects and recycled materials.
The garden was created over the last 300 days largely by DTES resident Jim — who was unavailable to be interviewed on the day that I visited. I spoke briefly with Dominique, one of the artists who helped to make the art garden happen.

Video game puts you undercover in America’s Homeland Guantanamos
by Leslie Dreyer

In solidarity with the detainees currently on hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions at the Los Fresnos immigration jail (Port Isabel, TX), I’m highlighting Homeland Guantanamos. Much more than an educational online game, this project documents actual detainees’ stories and the abuses they endured while in detention. Approximately 300,000 immigrants both legal and illegal are being detained in the U.S., many without conviction of any crime. This non-linear storytelling/investigative project invites players to discover what’s really happening on the inside.

The game’s assignment: go undercover by working as a prison guard and find the truth about what happened to Boubacar Bah, an immigrant from Ghinea who died while in ICE custody May 30, 2007. Free Range Studios built the virtual facility to match the Elizabeth Detention Center (run by the private company Corrections Corporation of America) where Bah was detained and designed the story around the actual events and people involved. While exploring each room, I found clues to help solve the case including embedded video interviews with Bah’s friends and family, his fellow detainees and their families. The video and written evidence reveal human rights abuses that mimic those committed at Guantanamo and other U.S. secret prisons.
Partnering with Free Range Studios, the international human rights organization Breakthrough used this project to launch a national engagement campaign. Included on the site are innumerable ways to take action, a memorial wall for the 87 immigrants who’ve died while in detention and a searchable U.S. map that locates local Gitmos by zip code. The article that triggered this project along with the recently released video What Really Happened to Boubacar Bah can both be found here. Spreading, creating or participating in projects as informative and comprehensive as this encourages the beginning of the end of real homeland Guantanamos.