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At ‘Future Tense’ Conference, Pittsburgh Artists & Organizations Focus On Engaging Community

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Activist Jasiri X leads a panel discussion on how technology and art has changed social justice movements.

Members of Pittsburgh’s art world want to connect with community and encourage them participate in causes they care about.

That idea of community engagement was a main focus for local artists, advocates, attorneys and funders taking part in the Future Tense conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Tuesday. The conference was organized by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Local rapper and activist Jasiri X said he spends a lot of time on the front lines of protests and that through art, he believes he and others can communicate ideas and prompt action. While leading a panel on the evolution of social justice movements, he pointed to James Baldwin, author of “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and “Nobody Knows my Name.”

“I’m very much an artist who believes, like James Baldwin, that artists are here to disturb the peace,” he said. “I feel like, as a young black man in America, I don’t have the luxury to do rap for rap’s sake or art for art’s sake. I feel like I have a real responsibility to speak to the real issues that I see affect my community.”

Art’s transformative power, especially as it relates to Pittsburgh’s older neighborhoods, was another focus during the conference. Jeffrey Dorsey, CEO of the Union Project, said his organization, which started with an effort to restore an old church, has turned into a community art space and more.

“The arts really have a power to transform lives,” Dorsey said. “We see it, we practice it every day and we believe it’s the arts that create spaces to bring people together who are different from each other, celebrate those differences. (They) may not always agree, but try to understand each other better as human beings.”

Dorsey said the event also provided an opportunity for local organizations to work together on future projects.