Democracy and the Arts

Exploring the intersections of artistic practice and arts policy in Washington, D.C.

What roles do the arts play in shaping and reflecting democracy? We spent the month of January, 2020 in Washington, D.C. finding out. As a group of 24 students and two course leaders from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, we attended performances, visited museums, engaged with community members, and met with arts professionals and civil servants and our representatives. But we didn’t just come to learn: we also set out to make a difference. By the end of the course, each student generated an arts-centered policy proposal that they delivered to those with the power to make change through and in the arts, from school board members and city councillors to college administrators and congresspeople. Keep scrolling down to read students’ reflections on their experiences, or click the following links to learn more about the course’s structure and assignments, see a map of site visits, and meet our community partners.

A Month To Remember

A Month To Remember

At our orientation meeting, one of the first activities we did was a K-W-L (Know, Want to know, Learn) chart. Of course, at that point, we could not complete the L (Learn) row in the chart because we had not left for DC yet, but these were some of my answers to the K (Know) and the W (Want to know) rows: I know the definition of democracy based on a political science major perspective I know there is widespread abuse of power in world politics I want to know to what extent does the US...

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The Power of the Arts: A Final Reflection

The Power of the Arts: A Final Reflection

The arts are powerful. Of course, I knew this before coming to Washington DC. I, myself, am an artist and musician. The arts have been a driving force in my own personal growth and development prior to this course. So, I was beyond excited to come to DC to study the relationship between the arts and democracy this interim and am so glad that I went. The opportunity to be a first-hand witness to the exchanges and government inner-workings that establish the relationships between the arts and...

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“I want to lead.”

“I want to lead.”

I would call myself an incredibly reflective person. While the majority of this personal reflection exists internally, I am dedicated to recording as many of these scattered thoughts as possible. I am constantly writing, whether it be in whatever random journal, notebook, or piece of scrap paper I have on hand or in my trusty Notes app that holds an odd mixture of miscellaneous poems, shopping lists, and personal epiphanies. Whenever I have a thought that seems especially significant,...

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(D)emocra-(C) and the Arts – A Reflection

(D)emocra-(C) and the Arts – A Reflection

This past month has opened my eyes to so many new ideas and perspectives, helped me grow in self confidence and understanding, and allowed me to catch a glimpse of the impact art can have when used democratically and when supported by our democratic government. In the beginning, this course was hard to pin down. Democracy and the arts? What’s that supposed to mean? Is it arts management or a branch of political science or art history? One of the really cool things about studying at a liberal...

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A summary reflection

A summary reflection

There are more than seven billion people in the world and one person's view can be very similar to others but I believe that no one's view will be identical to the other. I consider learning to be the gaining and application of a new perspective. This gives me a wide range of perspective that I could gain from being in the company of people. It also provides an unlimited variety of ways I could perceive my own identity. As a result of living in two countries, I never considered myself as a...

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Reflections on D.C.

Reflections on D.C.

After these 23 days in D.C. that went so fast yet lasted a lifetime, I have come to realize how entangled the government is in the arts and just how important it is to engage in art scenes. I experienced first hand the ways arts can engage in and detract from communities they are sourced from. Dance Place, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Washington National Opera are just a few places we went that all represented different parts of the intersectionality of art and democracy. The...

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So long, DC

I’m sure this is a widely felt sentiment but truly, the older I get the quicker time passes. Perhaps it was the breadth of our experiences and our rich itinerary. Perhaps it was the walking or the hours of dialogue or maybe the 191 hours of sleep I got (wow). I’m sure many of us are having a hard time finding a place to start and how to synthesize a month of varying experiences down into an accessible blog post. Without further ado, here is my reflection on my final J-Term of undergrad.  Some...

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Artistic Citizenship at the Core of Democracy

Artistic Citizenship at the Core of Democracy

When people in the United States think of democracy, they often think of a governmental system with equal representation under the law. Previous to my visit to Washington D.C., my understanding of society's notion of democracy seemed unattainable. Initially, I understood democracy as a lofty white man’s ideal; unachievable for many marginalized groups, including a high number of the residents native to the Washington area. As a class that is striving to understand the relationship between...

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Some post-museum musings

Some post-museum musings

My high school psychology teacher Mr. Woodard used to tell us to question anything that claimed to be a “magic bullet” solution to a complex problem. It made sense at the time — how could any easy fix possibly consider and account for all the possible side effects within a changing and unpredictable world? However, I don’t think I truly grasped the full implications of his warning until this trip.  News of some sort is almost always on the TV as white noise when I’m home in Spokane. It’s easy...

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Defining Democracy and the Arts (Spoiler: it’s impossible)

Defining Democracy and the Arts (Spoiler: it’s impossible)

Democracy (/de mäkresē/): noun; a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. Art (/ärt/): noun; the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Democracy and the Arts: experience; a month-long course in which 24 students and 2 program leaders closely...

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So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

Spending the past month with Professor Epstein, Alyssa, and my fellow students in Democracy and the Arts here in Washington DC has been extremely valuable to me because it has shown me how easily accessible much of our government is.  Beginning after our meeting with Tina Smith, a group of students decided to explore the Senate office buildings.  We entered six different offices and were welcomed each time by staffers of the Senators.  We were showered with offers of food, gallery passes to...

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Reflections On One Heckuva’ Month…

Reflections On One Heckuva’ Month…

As I sit down to reflect upon my time here in Washington DC, I’m overwhelmed by all that there is to think about. Our class had a multitude of experiences, all of which contributed to my deeper knowledge of the course topics. Democracy and the Arts has demonstrated the variety of ways I am able to apply knowledge from my academic and artistic studies at St. Olaf to my current community. In fact, I was already able to directly apply my knowledge on a local level through writing my policy...

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Holy moly, Oles: a reflection on our time in DC

Holy moly, Oles: a reflection on our time in DC

I often joke that I’m majoring in “don’t hire me”; with my degree being in a combination of studies with no semblance of a clear career path going forward, I don’t really know how far off I am a lot of the time. Throw in the fact that I was far from on top of my game during our alumni mixer this month, and I had all but decided that I would be camping out in my parent’s house until the end of time. Thinking about our time in Washington, DC a little more though, I am happy to report that I now...

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A Post-flection from Elijah

A Post-flection from Elijah

Prior to my interim experience, I spent two straight weeks with my extended family. The fortnight was lovely, but as a result, I also spent a considerable amount of time explaining to various relatives what I would be doing during the month of January. I started following a tight script: “So I’ll be taking a class called Democracy and the Arts, and we’re going to be looking at how the federal government decides what art programs get funding and how that funding ultimately affects what art is...

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Reflections (literally)

Reflections (literally)

*Note from the author: Because I'm cheesy and love a pun, this post is illustrated in six pictures I have taken of reflections, for fun and symbolic reasons.* I. Does Art Matter? I ended my first blog post wondering if the arts matter in the grand scheme of things. This is a question I have continued to ask myself everyday of this program, and I still don't have a clear answer on. I don't think that I could stand up and argue that the arts are more important at this point in time than climate...

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Reflecting on Our Time in DC

Reflecting on Our Time in DC

I signed up for Democracy and the Arts in DC expecting the “arts” part of the course to be pretty challenging and for the “democracy” part to be a little easier for me. I enjoy art but have never personally been very involved so my overall knowledge about arts and arts advocacy grew a lot over the course, and I expected that. I did not expect my understanding of democracy and civic engagement to change very much because I consider myself a pretty politically active person and I thought I had a...

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Close Calls V. Dem Arts DC

Close Calls V. Dem Arts DC

January 22 was an early morning with the alarm blaring at 4:30, but that was of little importance given the excitement I felt at the prospect of listening to oral arguments at the US Supreme Court.  After a quick shower, Mary Crawford and I met at our hotel to proceed to catch the 5 am metro at Farragut West metro station.  As we arrived, it became clear that the eerily empty metro station wasn't due for a train for 20 minutes because the first train left the station at 5 am! We were...

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A Month Long Conversation

Washington DC is a stunningly confusing and incredible city to me. Though I have lived close to a major city for my whole life, Washington DC threw me for a loop, and much more than I was expecting it to. First, I adapted to a non-grid structure, making me miss and love Chicago even more. Next, I reconciled that midwestern kindness/passivity was nowhere to be found, though in many instances that isn’t bad. What I continued to grapple with throughout the month, was just unbelievable energy of...

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Reflecting on the Power of the Audience

Reflecting on the Power of the Audience

It was a whirlwind of a month in DC. We visited sites all over the city and attended a truly astonishing amount of performances. Along the way we discussed funding, censorship, accessibility, citizenship, engagement, and countless other ideas. All of these issues speak to the connections between arts and democracy and are important to discuss as artists, consumers of art, and citizens of this country. But through it all, one topic specifically has been on my mind since our very first night in...

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For the People, By the People.

Twelve years - give or take a year - was the last time I went to see live theatre. We went as a family to see Wicked and I finally got to see the other side of the story that we watched annually at my house. I’ve been thinking back to why we saw that specific play and why I have not been back to watch live theatre since. I’m still trying to unpack that, so bear with me as I try. There was something immediately relatable. A family tale being unpacked and further explored on the big stage hence...

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Oh D.C., How I’ll Miss You…

Oh D.C., How I’ll Miss You…

Washington D.C. has been an experience beyond description. It is hard to explain how this course has and will continue to impact me as I process all the amazing opportunities we had here. Not only am I far more informed on the connections between democracy and the arts, but I’ve made friends with people whose company I never thought I’d love as I do now. I hope that I’ll continue to reflect on this experience and grow from the many concepts I have learned about. I have been delighted to...

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Art makes change.

Before I arrived in D.C. to take the Democracy and the Arts class, the only connection between democracy and the arts that I thought about was the government supporting the arts. I expected the whole trip to be meeting government officials with the power to make big changes to arts policies. While we did do this, there was so much more. We began with a topic that I didn’t know much about in general: curation. We learned how curators not only take care of the museum’s artifacts but how they...

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Teriyaki Everywhere… A Reflection on My Time in D.C.

Teriyaki Everywhere… A Reflection on My Time in D.C.

262,274 steps, 28 sight visits, 11 performances, 4 meals at Bibibop (with my final meal culminating in a lot of teriyaki sauce on my shirt), and 5 visits to Wawa later, our time in D.C. has come to a close. After countless hours of sitting in a myriad of coffee shops throughout the city, I’ve written four blog posts and drafted my very own policy proposal.  In one of our final class periods, we had the opportunity to pick our top and bottom three sight visits and performances. My “top 3” list...

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Finding Power in the Arts, a Reflection

This course has, among many other things, re-affirmed to me that the arts are both valuable overall and viable as career fields. I’ve known a lot of professional artists (mainly parents from my elementary school that remain family friends today) who have left their fields after a number of years, and can think of very few people I know personally who have actually been able to stay in the arts as a career. So, however unfair that judgement is, I entered this course thinking that while there...

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Reflection on our time in DC

Reflection on our time in DC

It is crazy to think that somehow our month in DC has come to an end. We’ve done and seen so many things in our time here and according to my IPhone’s activity tracker, I’ve walked 87.9 miles in my time here. I think it’s safe to say that we are all thoroughly exhausted and ready for our small campus where everything is only a short 5-minute walk away. I personally am not only physically exhausted but also mentally. This was a class unlike any class I have ever taken where I felt pushed...

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And Justice for All

And Justice for All

How do you write about an act of service when it’s a one-time act? It’s a little uncomfortable to call yourself a volunteer when it isn’t something you do regularly, yet, dipping your toes in and serving for a day or a few hours is still more than nothing…right? First, some personal context if I may. Before our time with George Washington University here in DC, I understood that MLK Day was to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, however, his teachings around service were not part of my...

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War, oppression, and violence

War, oppression, and violence

During the Cold War, Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviet Union. In 1988, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan which  began a period of instability. During this time, the Afghan group, the Mujahideen, were fighting to overthrow the communist government of the time. Once the communist government was overthrown by the Mujahideen and other militia groups, things got even worse because the different militia groups started fighting each other for power. Rockets and bombs were used to fight this...

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Looking Back and Forward at the Same Time… the climate of Anacostia

Looking Back and Forward at the Same Time… the climate of Anacostia

On Saturday Jan. 27, our class visited the Anacostia Arts Center and enjoyed a moving performance by the District Community Playback, where we had the privilege of listening to the stories of folk who have lived in the city for more than 30 years. From the D.C. Sniper in 2003 to the Million Man March in 1996, we were able to disconnect from being tourists and actively engage with members of the D.C. community through shared storytelling.  The Anacostia Arts Center, along with the District...

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We Shall Overcome… Someday.

We Shall Overcome… Someday.

Washington Performing Arts Men, Women, and Children of the Gospel Choirs (read this blog post I previously wrote to learn more about this incredible organization) and The Choral Arts Society of Washington joined hands and voices for the annual choral tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Kennedy Center (read Sam's blog post about another of the Kennedy Center performances we attended). Tears came to my eyes as the choir sang "Give Me Jesus," and the ASL interpreters contributed to the...

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Pilgrims Musa & Sheri & The Pilgrimage of our class.

Pilgrimage. Before we visited Atlas Theatre to watch Pilgrims, Musa & Sheri, I hadn’t heard the word "pilgrimage" in some years. My last memory of the word being used was during elementary school during historically inaccurate lessons surrounding Thanksgiving. Let’s just say I needed to refresh my memory.  By definition, a pilgrimage is “any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage.'' As I type this blog, this one being the third in my...

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Not What I Expected at the Pentagon

Not What I Expected at the Pentagon

*There aren't pictures of the things I describe because that is frowned upon* On one of our "Choose Your Own Adventure" days I had the opportunity to visit the Pentagon as one of my relatives works there. I was able to see the Pentagon in a way that is not usually accessible to the general public, as normally with the heavy security features it is only possible to see the Pentagon on a group tour that has to be booked at least two weeks in advance. Because I was there with someone who works...

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Last but not least

Last but not least

Our final site visit of the month took us to the Arts Museum of the Americas (AMA). Before I dive into the specifics of our trip, let’s get a little background. The AMA was founded in 1976 as the first collection of Latin American and Caribbean modern and contemporary art in the United States. The AMA was founded as a part of the visual arts wing of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS brings together the 35 countries of the Americas as well as 69 states who have permanent...

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Oles meet Amy

Oles meet Amy

Every Thursday, Amy Khlobuchar’s Senate office hosts “Minnesota Mornings” which are a chance for her constituents to come into the office and talk to her staffers and possibly meet her. We all know that Amy is super busy campaigning so we did not originally plan on going because we didn’t think she would be there. However, a St. Olaf alum who works in her office let us know that she would be there, so even though we had a pretty busy schedule, we made it work. When we arrived at her office we...

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It’s Gogh time.

It’s Gogh time.

Throughout our stay, DC has often graced us with what Blake Ormond likes to call a “Florida morning.” As I understand from her explanation, a “Florida morning” is when there is enough chill in the air that you need a coat when you first step outside, but the sun is shining in a certain way that lets you know it’ll warm up to be a balmy afternoon. Bonus points if the sky is a clear, bright blue.  It was a true Florida morning when I set off on my own to explore the Phillips Collection. I say...

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Once there was…

“Once there was a performance on January 25th, where an audience from all corners of the country came together to share their stories.” That quote was the closing line of the District Community Playback performance at the Anacostia Arts Center show we attended and participated in last Saturday (or something similar to that, I was a little teary eyed and couldn’t write it down fast enough). I think I speak for a lot of us when I say we left the performance with a drastically changed view of how...

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What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, or NMAAHC, is the newest Smithsonian institution. Authorized by Congress in 2003 and finished in 2016, the museum does not have a mission statement. Instead, they have four pillars that uphold their goals for the institution: explore African American history through interactive exhibitions, show Americans how their lives are shaped by global influences, explore what it means to be an American and share how those values are shown in...

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Why Do We Need Accessibility?: A Choose Your Own Adventure

Why Do We Need Accessibility?: A Choose Your Own Adventure

Dealing with multiple chronic illnesses is demanding in the calmest of times. But, in a course where we are “on” and active at almost all times, it can make things nearly impossible. One of the things we’ve repeatedly talked about during this course is how to make arts accessible in ways that encourage active community engagement. One of the underappreciated aspects of this is allowing time and space for rest, as well as understanding and assuming that people will be disabled in any group....

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From a movie theater, to an abandoned building, to a performing arts center

From a movie theater, to an abandoned building, to a performing arts center

In 2006 The Atlas Performing Arts Center reopened after being abandoned for approximately 33 years. Before this, the Atlas used to be one of four movie theaters in H Street. People from all throughout H Street came to the Atlas to see their movies. Sadly, in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. the theater was destroyed by the riots happening in the area. The riots were caused by the discontent in the African American community because of the discrimination against them. The...

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The Mirrors on the stage

The Mirrors on the stage

After a meeting with the executive director at the Atlas Performing Arts, Doug Yeuell, we had a chance to watch a play that I have been reflecting on since. Just like most of the meetings that we had had before this, I got to see how paths vary from the completion of college education all the way to a career. These conversations helped take away the anxiety around pursuing a career in the arts. The play that we watched was Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World written by Yussef El Guindi....

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Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card

Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card

My parents were both English majors in college. They were the youngest people by 30 years on my local Friends of the Library board my entire childhood and they correct my grammar every chance they get. The day that my brother was born, my father volunteered at the library book sale. Put this all together and, naturally, I’ve grown up with a love of libraries. While I’m overwhelmed by seemingly everything and my mind is in a constant state of racing, there’s something about being surrounded by...

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The Old Man in the “All Caps” Baseball Hat

The Old Man in the “All Caps” Baseball Hat

It was t-30 minutes until our show began and the mass of St. Olaf students rained down upon Bullfrog Bagels like a swarm of locusts. They weren’t ready for us but the staff was quick, agile, and provided excellent customer service. Contented with our bagel sandwiches, a number of us munched and chatted about how delicious the food was. Unbeknownst to the tunnel vision caused by our rumbly tummies, a pair of older gentleman sat at the table next to us-- also enjoying their bagel sandwiches. The...

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The Smithsonian’s tale of American Culture featuring African Americans from the view of a Norwegian/German American

The Smithsonian’s tale of American Culture featuring African Americans from the view of a Norwegian/German American

On January 21 our class visited the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture and met with Dr. Reece, a curator of their musical crossroads exhibit.  Our walkthrough of the museum progressed from the bottom of the museum to the top.  The bottom half of the museum were focused on histories of African Americans experiences in the United States while the top half focused on more modern cultural features like hip hop and music. The...

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Doors of D.C.

Doors of D.C.

Sometime, somewhere, somehow, in the last 22 years, I heard that Washington D.C. was known for their doors. I was told that Washington D.C. had colorful, vibrant, exciting doors at every turn. Doors to homes, doors to government buildings, doors to theaters. Now, it has yet to be confirmed if D.C. is actually known for their doors or if it is another fact that appeared in my head one day and decided to stay there, but either way, I have noticed in the last few weeks that Washington D.C....

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The Power of Playback Theater

The Power of Playback Theater

I found myself leaving Anacostia Arts Center feeling incredibly moved and empowered. After the last few days of performances focusing on heavy topics that led to even heavier discussions, I felt a bit drained. I had no idea what to expect beforehand, but the performance we saw by District Community Playback rejuvenated me in a way I didn’t quite know I needed.  Anacostia Arts Center opened in 2013 with the mission of “...creating a home for small businesses, artists, arts, and cultural...

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ART CAN…

ART CAN…

On Wednesday, January 22, our group had the opportunity to visit Arena Stage, a nonprofit regional theater celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2020. The performance company reaches an annual audience of around 300,000 people and focuses on producing work that is accessible, meaningful to the local community in Washington D.C., and rooted in justice and social change. Arena Stage, located in the Southwest neighborhood of the district on the Potomac River, began producing and performing...

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Alas! Atlas at last.

Alas! Atlas at last.

Hello there! Welcome back to the blog! I’m Elijah Leer, and last time you heard from me, I was writing about the Smithsonian American Art Museum! Since then, a lot has happened, but today, I’m here to talk about our January 23rd visit to the Atlas Performing Arts Center. As it was a rather contentious visit, I have no doubt that some of my classmates will also be writing about the Atlas, but Professor Epstein says that this is okay. Thanks Professor Epstein! The history of the Atlas is...

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On Hope and Impeachment

On Hope and Impeachment

After a long morning at the Supreme Court, I crossed the street and headed into the Capitol building. We had all received Senate gallery passes from Amy Klobachar, and a number of us decided to use them to try to see the first day of impeachment. After a five hour wait to enter the Supreme Court, we expected a similarly long line for the Senate. In actuality, the line was relatively short, and we were quickly told that we would be let into the gallery itself at 1:45, just 45 minutes after the...

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So You Wish You Could Dance?

So You Wish You Could Dance?

A few days ago, our class visited a unique organization called Dance Place. This nonprofit community dance studio was founded in 1980 to provide a convenient location for dance classes and community events for the Brookland and Edgewood neighborhoods of D.C. Since their beginning, the studio has also provided a variety of free or highly affordable dance programs for youth in the community, providing fun and growth-filled after school activities and opportunities. The Dance Place does a lot of...

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How to start with Swan Lake…

How to start with Swan Lake…

I cannot tell whether it is a testament to the artistic quality of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake or my own writer’s block that I am starting my blog post in this way. For all I know it is strong mixture of both, as I have written and rewritten the introduction to this about a dozen times. Each do-over had its own special reason as to why it wasn’t good enough. One was a corny bird pun, another a cliche, a joke, a summary, and so on. Ultimately, none of them felt appropriate to the nature of the...

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World-Class Art

World-Class Art The National Gallery of Art was one of the last places we visited in Washington DC on the 23rd of January. Apart from the exhaustion that a lot of people had at this point of the trip, there was an excitement that came with anticipating the art we would see. The institution was started by Andrew W.Mellon, an American who wanted to achieve a world-class national art museum comparable to those of other nations. The construction of the museum began after the death of the founder....

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THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE

THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE

On Saturday, January 18th a group of us decided to go to the Women’s March in D.C. We met the crowd at Freedom Plaza to listen to the many speakers before we marched over to surround the White House for the fourth time since the march's inception in 2017. It was one of the coldest days since we arrived to D.C. and it began to rain, snow, and hail onto all of our pink hats, but this didn’t stop most of us for standing up for things we believe are important (and, as Minnesotans, a little cold...

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A Morning of Near Misses: The Supreme Court

On the morning of the 22nd, I got out of bed at 4:25 AM to stand in line to see oral arguments at the Supreme Court. It was a grueling experience, and one that I very nearly gave up on, but it was ultimately one of the best decisions I have made on this trip. After quickly getting ready, the two of us going to the court left on the first train out of the station, and arrived on Capitol Hill at around 5:30. The sun was still hours away from rising, and the roads were mostly empty, but the...

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What Happens Behind Marble Walls: the Trump Impeachment Trial

What Happens Behind Marble Walls: the Trump Impeachment Trial

In high school, I always loved history classes. I loved reading about the lives of people before me, learning about how they lived, how they thought, what they wore. They were like stories to me, narratives about the generations leading up to the now. I loved thinking about how history informed each moment today in the 21st century. On January 22nd, I witnessed history in the making - I attended part of President Trump's impeachment trial. I had the incredible opportunity to experience...

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A Blog Post 65 Million Years in the Making…

A Blog Post 65 Million Years in the Making…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXsWn9DhF5g *cue music* Dinosaurs once roamed the lands we stand upon. Now, their memories roam our hearts. January 17th is a day I will remember forever. It was my first day of freedom. I could go anywhere in the broader DC area, but a few of us chose to remain close to home, spending the majority of our time at the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils- Deep Time. It was love at first sight. While I am a relatively new member of the dinosaur fan club (I fell in love...

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Studio Theater – The Impact of Art

What started with another presentation ended up being the most personal and nuanced creative experience I’ve encountered in my time in D.C. thus far. When I first visited Studio Theatre’s Website, I grew weary of their use of edgy to describe the range of contemporary plays that they put on. Edgy is such an objective term and edginess itself is a spectrum of sorts. Therefore, I knew this was something I just had to experience in person.  We kicked off the evening with a personalized tour and...

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Adventuring from home

Adventuring from home

How do you choose your own adventure when you don’t feel up to physically exploring places? Well for me there are two options: 1) sit in bed, watch Netflix, drink lots of water or 2) sit in bed, explore the arts and cultural sites online, and drink lots of water. This blog post is brought to you today from my bed, but I want to share some of the ways that it is possible to remain intellectually active when you don’t feel up to getting out in the world and exploring. Accessibility of the arts...

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Dance Place-Bringing People Together Since 1978

Dance Place-Bringing People Together Since 1978

On Sunday, January 19, we had the pleasure of visiting Dance Place in the Brookland/Edgewood community of Washington D.C. Dance Place is a non-profit organization, founded in 1978, that aims to enrich the lives of community members through high quality performances, commissions, training and educational programs at the local, national, and international scale.[1] Upon researching the theater and business, I was a little astounded at the amazing and sweeping goals of the organization, but I was...

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What light through yonder sitcom breaks?

What light through yonder sitcom breaks?

"There is not anything of human trial That ever love deplored or sorrow knew No glad fulfillment and no sad denial Beyond the pictured truth that Shakespeare drew."  -William Winter, inscription on wall of the Great Hall at the Folger Library As the daughter of a Shakespeare professor, I have developed a sizable soft spot for the Bard, so I was especially excited about our visit to the Folger Theater.  However, as in any play, the scene must be set before the action can begin, so here is a...

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The Museum of Questions, Not Answers

The Museum of Questions, Not Answers

On Friday the 17th, I spent my day at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and as I had heard from many people, it was an incredibly powerful experience. This museum is unique in that it is part museum and part memorial which for me made the experience even more powerful. At the end of the museum you enter the large memorial where earth from the death camps is burned in the middle with quotes from the Hebrew Bible around the ceiling. Candles that visitors may light for remembrance were surrounding...

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DC Metro Lines: The Definitive Ranking

DC Metro Lines: The Definitive Ranking

New public transit systems can be as intimidating for even the most seasoned of riders. You may wonder as you narrowly avoid being trampled through a fare gate by a busy local, "what rail line is the most versatile, the fastest, the most luxurious?". Never worry, my fuel-efficient friend, I'm here to tell you all about DC Metro and get to what we all really want to know: which rail line is the best? In our two weeks here, I've had the tremendous pleasure of riding all six of DC's train lines....

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“Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times”

“Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times”

January 9th was a long day. Our morning started bright and early at 8:00 am, when part of our group journeyed to the Dirksen Senate Building to meet United States Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota at her “Minnesota Morning” program, a time in which Senator Klobuchar invites Minnesotans to visit her office for coffee on every Thursday morning that the Senate is in session. After an exciting “Minnesota Morning” with delicious pastries (featuring potica, a traditional Slovenian pastry, as a...

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The Arts Education Partnership: Connecting the Nation through a Mission for Teaching

The Arts Education Partnership: Connecting the Nation through a Mission for Teaching

“There is no more valuable position than that of a teacher.”- Nicola Benedetti, professional violinist Arts education is something that has been imperatively important to my own journey in getting to where I am in life, including to this course. Similarly, I think the narrative of being supported and inspired by arts teachers is one that many students experience, whether or not they choose to go on in the arts beyond primary education. The Arts Education Partnership (AEP) is an organization...

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Equality….”Wouldn’t it be Loverly”

Equality….”Wouldn’t it be Loverly”

As a self-proclaimed Musical Theatre nerd, it may come as no surprise that one of the activities I was most excited for was the performance of My Fair Lady at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Kennedy Center, a National Center for Cultural Heritage located in Washington D.C., is often thought of as an organization representing the artistic values of the American people.[1] As an artistic facility hosting a variety of art forms and ideals, a degree of artistic liberty is...

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Copyright and Social Justice: A Driving Force for Change in Our Creative Economy

Copyright and Social Justice: A Driving Force for Change in Our Creative Economy

For many, copyright and intellectual property legislation in the United States are weapons used by major producing companies and the wealthy, upper-class to establish and assert power over others’ intellectual property. Professor Lateef Mtima, Professor Robert Brauneis, Kim Tignor, and Grammy-nominated singer Hollis Wong-Wear all work to negate these and other misunderstandings of one of the most recognizable powers of the American government. They each dedicate a portion of their life’s work...

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Americans for the Arts, across the country

Americans for the Arts, across the country

The Arts and Democracy gang’s visit to the offices of The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities sparked a new level of interest in surrounding support for the arts on a national level in the DemArtsDC class. This was our first real encounter with a government agency who directly felt the changes of each administration, and whose mission was always relative to the beliefs of whoever held power. These revelations primed our visit to the DC office of Americans...

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Global Festival, Local Focus

Global Festival, Local Focus

We spent Monday at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage with two meetings, one about the Folkways Recording Label and the other about the Folklife Festival. Every summer since 1967 the Smithsonian has put on a roughly two week long festival on what they call “living culture”. The festival began as a festival celebrating specifically American folklife but expanded to a more global view. Each year the festival focuses on the cultures of a couple of regions or countries; or...

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What is Folk, Really?

What is Folk, Really?

Even after doing research on Folkways Recording Label and learning about their 62 year history, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect from our visit. Part of this uncertainty stemmed from my unclear definition of folk and what it means to be a folk artist. There is a fallacy that folk artists are untrained, but this could not be farther from the truth. True folk artists are heavily trained within their own traditions and cultures. I really appreciated our discussion with Dr. Jim Deutsch on...

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“Everybody In, Nobody Out.”

“Everybody In, Nobody Out.”

"Everybody in, nobody out" became the cornerstone sentence for an organization that the Washington Post would later state, "has enriched the life of this community beyond any calculation."[1] Washington Performing Arts was founded by Patrick Hayes in 1966 under the name “Washington Performing Arts Society.” He envisioned Washington DC as an arts capital of the world, not only a democratic capital. This motivation lead to many collaborations between local arts organizations as well as other...

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An apolitical federal institution? It’s less likely than you’d think.

An apolitical federal institution? It’s less likely than you’d think.

Learning about the mission of the National Portrait Gallery in my research changed the way I approached the gallery. Since 1968, they have attempted to create a uniquely American narrative with a variety of individuals who commandeer their own piece of American history. Within the context of the class and our conversations, I had to put on a critical lense to truly examine the way the institution strives to achieve that goal or where they fail to do so. As one might expect, it was a little of...

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To Those Who Long for an Escape…

To Those Who Long for an Escape…

As we walked through the repurposed 75,000 sq/ft of the underground subterranean streetcar tunnels stretching under Dupont Circle, the relationship between democratic policy and the arts seemed to seep through the colorful graffiti murals on the walls. On Jan 11, our class visited and toured the Dupont Underground, a non-profit community arts organization that serves as a multidisciplinary platform for creative expression in the arts. Originally built as a street car station in the 1940s and...

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More Than Just a Food Court: The National Museum of the American Indian

More Than Just a Food Court: The National Museum of the American Indian

It’s taken me a minute to get to finish this blog as we have been kept so busy these past few days paneling with several organizations and going to groundbreaking shows. Native American history hits home for me which is part of the reason I find it both difficult to talk about yet easy to advocate for. Before we attended the museum, I did a little bit of research on the institution and gave a brief presentation of what I had found important. The first was their mission statement which was...

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Columns: An Artistic Connection Between American Democracy and History

Columns: An Artistic Connection Between American Democracy and History

One of the first things that struck me as I began exploring Washington D.C. last week was the juxtaposition of hundreds of years of architectural styles: historic townhouses sitting next to ugly brick apartment buildings next to shiny glass office buildings next to white marble government enterprises. These comparisons are similar to other metropolitan areas, except for the last. One thing that is well known about Washington, D.C. is that the architecture of the fundamental historical...

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The Invisible 18.43%

Throughout our time in Washington so far one theme has emerged loud and clear: the arts are a means of expression, but the issue of who creates and who consumes art is much more complicated than it seems. We are here to study democracy and the power of the people, and that idea begins with equity. It’s important to understand what exactly equity means, both broadly and in the context of arts accessibility. To do so, it’s helpful to clarify how equity is different from equality. Equality is...

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Won’t you take me to Funky (under) Town?

Won’t you take me to Funky (under) Town?

As you walk along Dupont Circle (a busy traffic circle, park, neighborhood, and historic district in Washington D.C.), you come across a red pole near a Starbucks and CVS. Upon further inspection, you realize that this red pole marks a staircase down into what seems like it could be a Metro station, but minus the recognizable escalators of the D.C. Metro system. On either side of the stairs is graffiti, but it seems welcomed. At the bottom of the stairs is a set of doors. Yesterday, our group...

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“I can’t say how I really feel”

“I can’t say how I really feel”

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from people how hard it is to “make it” in the arts. When I tell people I want to make a career out of the arts they say “oh that’s a tricky field” and that it’s “certainly not where the money is.” If you want to make money in the arts you first need to start with some money, buying supplies or instruments, renting spaces, or building a brand for yourself, it all costs money. This is typically where grants come in.  A couple of days ago we visited...

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The One Where the Humanities Get Funding

The One Where the Humanities Get Funding

We recently had the opportunity to meet with a group of directors from the National Endowment for the Humanities and their sister organization, the National Endowment for the Humanities. The two endowments were founded by an act of congressional legislation in 1965 which was strongly supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The NEH was originally created in response to studies that showed an insufficient amount of emphasis on the Humanities as our national was pushing forward in the sciences....

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Performing the Jewish Experience

Performing the Jewish Experience

An estimated 2.2% of the population of US adults consider themselves culturally or religiously Jewish.[1] Of those 5.3 million people, around 250,000 adults live in the greater Washington, DC area.[2] Theater J, one of the nation’s most well-known Jewish theaters, strives to connect with and support this vibrant population. In each decision they make and production they move forward with, Theater J works actively to portray Jewish experiences and the universality of the human condition through performances, artistic choices, and workshops.

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Rare Books: A Rich Resource

Rare Books: A Rich Resource

On the morning of January 11, we attended a rare books presentation at the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with approximately 168 million items in their collections. The Library functions primarily as the research wing of Congress, and keeps serving elected officials in their policy research as a priority. However, it is also open to the public, and serves as a metaphorical crown jewel of libraries. It is both the oldest, and one of the widest...

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Week 1 by the Numbers

40 hours of class (not including time spent in transit) 36 miles walked (that's my total; many students walked more) 35 blog posts (there are two more drafts in progress as I type this) 25 arts professionals consulted (I may have undercounted) 24 St. Olaf students (plus me and Alyssa) 13 site visits 3 performances (She the People at Wooly Mammoth, Sheltered at Theatre J, Three 20-Minute Operas at Washington National Opera in the Kennedy Center) 2 meetings with Minnesota Senators (here we are...

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The One Where the US is Big

Throughout our first week here, a group of us spent several hours running around the Congressional office buildings to either attend or make appointments with our congressional representatives. These experiences were thrilling to say the least. It is profoundly empowering to walk into a building where all the deciders of laws are, and be able to sit down and talk to the people you have elected to represent you. While meeting with Senator Tina Smith, we had the opportunity to both ask questions...

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The Woman with the Good Taste In Shoes

The Woman with the Good Taste In Shoes

On Thursday night, our group attended the premiere performance of Sheltered at Theater J. I not only attended an excellent performance, but I received an unexpected gift. I got to spontaneously converse with a DC local. Her comments about her life and her experiences with the arts has provided me with a "real life" perspective of the city. Upon arrival at the theater, I was seated next to an elderly woman with good taste in shoes. After I was settled into my seat, I asked her if the...

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An apolitical federal institution? It’s less likely than you’d think.

From the Well-Organized Files of Mr. John “SAAM” Varden

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I’m Elijah Leer. As Professor Epstein briefly acknowledged in a recent post, on the morning of January 8, we were lucky enough to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The Museum itself opens at 11:30am, but we were allowed in at 9am for a special guided tour and program, as well as a Q&A with some of the staff. In preparation for the visit, I did a bit of research into the Museum’s history and mission, and I would like to share some of this...

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A Night At The Opera

A Night At The Opera

On January 9th after an already long and busy day, we went to the Kennedy Center to watch a production of the Washington National Opera in "3 new 20-minute Operas". Being 62 years old, there's a lot of history to the opera but I'll try to go through it as brief as possible. The Orchestra warming up before the opera started and the composers and librettists of the opera's answering questions after the performances. The Washington National Opera has a long and interesting history after being...

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SAAM Staff Shout-Out

SAAM Staff Shout-Out

Many thanks to the wonderful staff at the Smithsonian American Art Museum who made our experience there this past Wednesday so fruitful: Phoebe Hillemann (Teacher Institutes Educator), Geoffrey Cohrs (Docent Coordinator), and Elizabeth Dale-Deines (Teacher Programs Coordinator) took us on insightful tours of the museum; led us through creative, thought-provoking, active learning activities that asked us to make difficult, curatorial decisions; and...

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“Sweet Dreams Are Made of These”

“Sweet Dreams Are Made of These”

From my early childhood, probably stemming from my family baking traditions, I have loved desserts and baking. It has been an activity I have enjoyed sharing with my grandmother, mother, and sister over the years. When my sister Lilly and I were young, and hadn't started tedious summer jobs yet, we passed many a day watching baking shows and testing our own delicious recipes. One of our favorite shows was called D.C. Cupcakes, ironically about two sisters who started their own cupcake bakery...

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Art and funding and women artists, oh my!

Art and funding and women artists, oh my!

Today was art museums galore! We started the day at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, had a little lunch break, then headed to the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), which I will be discussing a bit further in this post. Quick thanks to Ashley Harris, NMWA's Associate Educator, for coordinating our visit to NMWA! First, a brief history on the NMWA. Put simply, the museum was founded under the following guiding question: where are all the woman artists? According to our tour guide...

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Nakunda, This is me!

I am Nakunda Mshana. I am a psychology major in my sophomore year. I am from a combination of different cultures and ethnic groups in East Africa but I live in Michigan when I am not in school. I am interested in different forms of Art, spirituality and culture. The common forms of 2D Art I would go with are drawing, and painting. Others are dance, poetry, comedy, knitting, philosophy and fabric design. I love all sorts of music and playing the guitar. The arts are a big part of me because I...

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Hello, I am Thomas Weinheimer

Truth be told, I am from River Forest, Illinois, a suburb outside of Chicago. For most people, I often just say I am from Chicago, but I have been called out too many times by true Chicagoans that I am playing it safe here.    I am currently a religion major with concentrations in media studies and management studies. I really enjoy listening to music, mostly hip hop, jazz, funk, classical, and rock. My favorite book is, “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss, and I really enjoy...

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Meeting with Senator Tina Smith

Meeting with Senator Tina Smith

On only our second afternoon in DC, in the midst of a "snowstorm" that shut down DC*, we had the honor and pleasure of meeting with Minnesota's own Senator Tina Smith at her office in the Hart Senate Building.   We asked her to talk about her understanding of the relationship between art and democracy, and she made an argument I often make in my classes: art, and in particular music, is part of what makes us human, creates our culture, and gives us important ways to express ourselves. She...

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Hi, I’m Mary Crawford

My name is Mary Crawford, and I’m currently a sophomore music and religion major. I’m an oboist in the Norseman Band, and one of the program notes writers for the ensemble. In my free time I like to read a variety of books, although I’m usually more drawn to non-fiction than fiction. I’m taking this course because it’s the perfect blend of both my personal and academic interests in the arts, and in politics and government.  Although my arts interest is strongest in music, I also have a...

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Sending you all a very Charles Hello!

Hi Everyone, My name is Charles Hamer. I'm a Senior a St. Olaf - one of two Seniors here in DC this interim. I could not be more excited to be in DC!  As a Sociology/Anthropology major, who hopes to eventually work within the realm of Educational Policy, I am so excited about being able to tackle some really big questions in my time here. I took this class so that I can understand the way that policy works from multiple levels. Here in the big "city", I am able to take a look at the way race,...

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Greetings from D.C.!

Greetings, everyone!  I’m Anna and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I study Political Science and Studio Art with a concentration in Race and Ethnic Studies at St. Olaf College. These three fields of study intersect in a plethora of ways wherein the results of these intersections are oftentimes seen in the daily workings of our government. I am taking the course Democracy and the Arts to better understand the relationship the government has with institutions in the fine arts and analyze how the...

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A Pre-flection from Elijah

Hi folks! My name is Elijah Leer and I am experiencing a state of general wonder here in Washington D.C. For introduction purposes, I’m a sophomore, I’m studying music education, and one day, I hope to direct pit orchestras for stage musicals! For now, I am focusing on directing high school choir classrooms. On campus, I sing in the Chapel Choir, play the piano, and finish last in the intramural standings, no matter the sport. I applied to this particular interim course primarily because of...

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Salutations

Name: Alina Pronouns: They/Them Graduation Year: 2020 Alrighty, let's get started. Like many 8th graders, I was presented with the opportunity to go on a DC trip that, in the end, I didn't go on. 13 year old me is living right now. Anywho! I haven't been able to take an interim abroad for the past two years due to my previous involvement in an extra-curricular (but now I am free to enjoy my final interim off campus). Part of the reason I decided to take this course was that I have taken...

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Hello from Katie #2!

Hello from Katie #2!

Hi! My name is Katie Anderson and this is me (on the right side with the pink headband), circa 2013: This picture was taken almost seven years ago during my freshman year of high school on a choir tour to Washington D.C.  During our four days in Washington D.C., we went to museums, performed in churches and schools, walked around the city, and spent a lot of time trying to find the best cupcake in Washington D.C. As our plane took off to come home, I remember thinking something along these...

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Hello from Holly!

Hello from Holly!

My name is Holly Beck, and I am a sophomore history and religion major at St. Olaf College. I am from the city of Davenport, Iowa, which is NOT in the middle of a cornfield (sadly, many people make this assumption about Iowans). My vocational interests include future careers in ministry, interfaith leadership, and religious justice. While religion is my primary focus, I am a HUGE history nerd. While I can typically be found studying in the Cage at St. Olaf, I also sing alto in the Chapel...

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Daniel Dancing into DC

Hi!  I’m Daniel Meyer and I can’t wait to get to know all of you this interim!  My decision to take this class was initially sparked because of my interest in government and the democratic process.  The final project of the course, where we essentially lobby on an issue of choice, was of particular interest to me. The question I am most excited to discuss and learn about is presence of censorship, either intentional or not, in government supported artwork, and how that is best avoided.  At...

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Unexpected (but Predictable?) Encounters

Unexpected (but Predictable?) Encounters

Tonight, at the random restaurant Alyssa picked for dinner (Café Berlin on Massachusetts Ave. NE, just a few blocks from Capitol Hill), who should sit down next to us but Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Jon Thune (R-ND), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). No, these are not great pictures. Yes, we were trying to take them surreptitiously. And yes, Thomas (pictured on the right) was really that stoked to have had dinner next to a bunch of senators. We maybe sort of kind of overheard...

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Hello from Alyssa!

Hello from Alyssa!

My name is Alyssa Herzog Melby, and it is my absolute privilege to be serving as the program assistant for the “Democracy and the Arts” interim. My day job is Assistant Director for Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) at St. Olaf (a program within the International and Off-Campus Studies office), and my “all the time” job is mom to three amazing kiddos—Adela (8), Henrik (6), and Louisa (3)--and spouse to my engineer/homebrewer husband, Jake. My favorite color is yellow, I live on coffee, and I...

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Howdy! I’m Marlee!

Howdy all! My name is Marlee Baron and I’m a sophomore from St Paul, Minnesota. I plan on majoring in something however I do not know what that something will be, and I’m doing a concentration in family studies. Outside of school, I love the outdoors: I was a backpacking camp counselor this summer and I’m a big skier during the winter.  To be completely honest, I’m not a very artsy/artistic person but it’s something I’ve always been interested in and curious about learning more! I’m really...

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