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Digitizing activist art: Widening the platform for civic engagement

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Ethnic minority artists are often entrapped in cultural spaces that define their representation as ‘marginal’ and limit their visibility and reach. The challenge facing minority artists – like Muslim, Arab or South-Asian American artists, to name a few – lies in creating spaces that would free their plays from being demarcated as ‘marginal’ or ‘subaltern’, and attract a wider audience to view and engage with their issues and concerns. Ethnic theatre initiatives are actively interacting with the wider community to change such narrative by creating new spaces for the distribution of their art, and imbedding civic engagement in the mosaic of that art. This article investigates a new socially-engaged discourse being developed by companies like Silk Road Rising (SRR) in Chicago, whose artists are disseminating their work to new virtual audiences in digital ‘counterpublics’. In particular, the article focuses on the company’s recent direction to harness the online public sphere in the making and distribution of artistic works to challenge cultural, political and institutional limitations. SRR is benefiting from and harnessing new technologies to: firstly, make its projects visible and accessible to a wider audience; secondly, engage its audiences in a participatory process that would effectively render them as ‘spect-actors’; and thirdly, redefine the artistic output of ethnic artists as polycultural, rather than subaltern or marginal.
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Keywords: Arab American; activism; civic engagement; digital humanities; minority representation; online theatre

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent Researcher

Publication date: October 1, 2016

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  • The Journal of Arts and Communities seeks to provide a critical examination of the practices known as community or participatory arts, encompassing a field of work defined for this purpose as incorporating active creative ollaboration between artists and people in a range of communities.The journal will take a cross-artform and interdisciplinary approach,including work happening in performance, visual arts and media,writing, multimedia and collaboration involving digital technology and associated forms. In part this will create an archive that will document work which can otherwise be ephemeral
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