Friday, December 17, 2010

ARTS ELSEWHERE: The School of Social Work at the University of Washington recently reconnected with the historical formation of the field, that is, with what we would now call its nascent “interdisciplinarity” in the arts. The late 19th century reformers who sought something other than a charity model to address the social ills of their day—unregulated factories, juvenile justice, the experience of immigration, race and gender prejudice, the health and housing of the poor, you name it—founded “settlements” in cities around the United States to craft sustainable and “neighborly” ways of addressing these issues.  Importantly, artistic activity was central to this vision of social transformation.  Settlements supported painting, story-telling, museums, theatre, parades, and more, arguing that access to such forms of expression and community building should be an essential, hardly ornamental, element in the life of U.S. citizens.

That might be grand language, but it seemed important to remember  when I was writing a book called Lines of Activity on the role of the arts at the Hull-House settlement.  And it seemed important to remember a decade later at a symposium at University of Washington that was trying to re-integrate the arts into the vision and clinical practice of social work now.  Emily Conbere, the central organizer, is working to establish Matt’s House, an outreach effort that will use the arts in suicide prevention and to help youth to address the effects of teen suicide in their families and their communities.  The symposium attracted a varied audience of young people, social workers, historians of social work, as well as civic leaders in the arts who brainstormed together about what it takes to rebuild an intimate and reciprocal relationship between the arts and social work.

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