Can art be democratic? Pangea World Theater thinks so.


“Bridges” performers run through one of their collaborative pieces.

Usually when we think of art, we think of one person’s vision. That person could be a painter, a choreographer, a playwright or a director. Their idea is transferred to a canvass, or in the case of theater, to a group of actors and staff charged with carrying out the artists’ vision.

The founders of Pangea World Theater think that model needs to change. For three years now, Pangea has hosted what it calls “Bridges” – an intensive program in which artists from different backgrounds work together on a performance. The actors have as much say as the playwrights. Artistic Director Dipankar Mukherjee says Bridges is about coming up with a new way of creating art.

Because the current way is mainstream, and in ‘the mainstream’ many voices are missing. Financially privileged Euro-American white voices form the centers of most artistic conversations. It’s not that artists with marginalized voices stopped creating work – they’ve always created work. The question is, can we create a circle in which the work is in the center, and that work is dynamized by everybody’s participation?

The “Bridges” project provides a pretty heady environment for performers, filled with discussions and workshops in addition to rehearsals. For three weeks they’ve debated the responsibilities and privilege of being an artist, and the’ve created work. The results of their collaboration is onstage this weekend at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis.


“Bridges” curators Dipankar Mukherjee, Meena Natarajan and J. Otis Powell!

The results of their work border on the abstract, which curator Meena Natarajan says is to be expected since they’ve had so little time to collaborate. But the process they’ve undertaken will stay with them in future projects, and perhaps lead to new work, and new insights.

Still, the idea of “democratic art” seems cumbersome. Is it practical to make art as a group? Curator J. Otis Powell! says it is:

It is practical that we practice freedom, it is practical that we practice democracy it is practical that we practice listening to each other. Unless we practice we’re never going to get better at it. If we keep saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” then we’re going to continue to get the same result, because we say “oh yeah, that’s right – I’ve heard that all my life, so it must be true.” We’re saying that must not be true. It must be true that we can have a better world if we actually paid attention to everybody who’s speaking instead of just certain people who are speaking.

As is often the case with art, these performers are trying to create a microcosm of what they want to see in the world. And for that, they’re willing to be patient, and keep working.