As RFC Advisory Board member Angela Davis has noted, “Artists are an integral part of any movement for justice.” Artists were among the most prominent supporters of the fight to save Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the 1950s, and have been involved in the Rosenberg Fund for Children since our inception in 1990.
Music, drama and other creative outlets provided solace for the Rosenbergs’ sons Robert and Michael as they grew up in the household of their adoptive parents, Abel and Anne Meeropol. When Robert founded the RFC as an adult, he knew firsthand the power of art to heal people and inspire social movements. As a result, children the RFC supports are able to use our grants for art-related activities, and the RFC often enlists artists to tell our story to a broader community.
Within this context, and with the assistance of generous support from the Puffin Foundation Ltd., our 2017 public programming has focused on “Artists as Activists.” In July, the RFC sponsored sets by Vance Gilbert and RFC Advisory Board member Peter Mulvey at the New Bedford (MA) Folk Festival, where we talked about our work in front of receptive audiences on several stages.
As the print version of our newsletter was going to press in August, we were beginning a collaboration with Millpond.Live. This free, community-oriented arts festival (literally in our office’s backyard in Easthampton, MA) spans six consecutive Saturdays, August 19th through September 23rd.
We were proud to be the presenting sponsor for the Art & Activism edition of Millpond.Live on August 26th, headlined by Sweet Honey in the Rock. Throughout its four-decade history, this legendary, all-female vocal ensemble has centered its music in the struggle for social justice. “We are very forward thinking as an organization, constantly reevaluating how we can express concepts to uplift and create change through our music and concerts,” says founding member Carol Maillard.
We also sponsored visual artist Sophia Dawson’s involvement in Millpond.Live. Her paintings focused on police brutality, Black Liberation Movements and other themes were showcased at the Art & Activism date. Our underwriting enabled Sophia to come from New York City and build a mini-residency around her Millpond.Live participation. During her stay in western MA, the RFC hosted her for a free, public presentation and letter writing session in our office focused on U.S. political prisoners.
Next up, on September 9th we’ll bring another set of “artists for justice” to western Massachusetts. Rebel Diaz is a hip hop duo out of the Bronx and Chicago, consisting of Chilean brothers Rodrigo Venegas (RodStarz) and Gonzalo Venegas (G1). In the tradition of “Nueva Canción Chilena,” Rebel Diaz uses their music and unyielding social and political activism as an organizing tool and to spread knowledge about injustice. They’ll offer a free workshop on "Hip Hop and Activism" in Holyoke, MA in the morning through the Sojourner Truth School for Social Justice Leadership, before performing at Millpond.Live in the evening as part of Esperanto: an evening uniting musicians - who are also immigrants from four continents - in a blend of Afrobeat rhythms, psychedelic funk, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban Salsa. (Register for the Sep 9th workshop here and get details about the Sep 9th concert here.)
We’ll round out our 2017 calendar with several more artistic events this fall. On October 21st, regional folk favorites The Nields will perform Songs for the Children of Resistance (and Their Grownups), a family-oriented benefit concert in Northampton, MA. A local kids’ chorus will open that show. On November 4th, Brooklyn-based singer songwriter Jean Rohe, best known for “Arise, Arise” (her alternative national anthem), will give a benefit house concert for us in Watertown, MA (contact the RFC office for address and other details). And on November 12th, we’ll be one of several sponsors at an event presenting the inaugural Abel Meeropol Social Justice Writing Award in Holyoke, MA, which will include music by Pamela Means, a member of the RFC Board of Directors.
Visit www.rfc.org/events for details on upcoming programming. For those who aren’t local to these events, we’ll share them with you via photos, video, and other updates. Whether in person or from afar, we hope our entire community will join us in celebration of the art of resistance.