Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Roots of the nation: At ArtsEmerson, conversation is The Point

Courtesy Kevin Becerra

What is art? Or more importantly: what is considered art, and by whom?

These were some of the questions touched upon in the latest conversation for The Point, a series hosted by ArtsEmerson that allows audiences to engage with artists in dialogue.

The Point was orchestrated by ArtsEmerson creative producer Kevin Becerra. As the artists’ dialogue is not necessarily centered around art, he believes that conversations for The Point are distinguished from more conventional panels.

“Even when it’s panelists talking about their work, they’re talking about something that is very close to them,” Becerra said in an interview with the Beacon. “My vision for The Point is that they all feel very intimate, so that it doesn’t ever have to feel overly formal or presentational.”

For Becerra, one of the primary goals is ensuring that audiences feel comfortable enough to involve themselves in the dialogue. 

“My dream is that people get up and walk across while someone’s talking, to refill their drink and grab a couple snacks, so that people feel comfortable,” Becerra said. “That kind of ownership of the space allows them to engage in deeper conversation.”

The conversation was loosely framed around potter Adam Silverman’s Common Ground project. Beginning in 2019, Silverman collected ground materials from across the U.S and created pots and dinnerware. With these, he organized meals all around the country, creating a functional art project connected to the roots of the nation.

Photo: Ashlyn Wang
Adam Silverman’s Common Ground project at 118 Boylston St. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

Silverman had a seat at the panel alongside Tess Lukey, an Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal member and associate curator for the Trustees of Reservations. Their discussion, guided by a moderator, freely encompassed their experiences with pottery, land ownership, and the intersection of art and function.

“I think that there is beauty in the usefulness of objects and vice versa,” Lukey said in an interview with the Beacon. “There’s beauty in the usefulness of objects and there’s usefulness in aesthetic value. So I think all art has a function in that way.”

Historically, works of art are solely displayed in museums, which often excludes diverse voices. Part of what ArtsEmerson and the Trustees have been striving for with their curation is to provide new voices a seat at the table, which includes indigenous artists and perspectives. By doing this, they can create art that serves a larger community.

“Art needs people and people need art,” Lukey said. “I think that museums are all well and good, but they are definitely exclusionary. I want as many people to access and learn from art.”

These conversations get members to interact with and talk about human issues, sometimes surrounding a work of art. Silverman’s Common Ground pots are displayed on 118 Boylston for all passer-bys to engage with, with no entry fee required.

ArtsEmerson had hosted public dialogues in 2015–16 as part of a series. However, Bacerra strived to create a conversation format that was more community-oriented, and that would invite audiences to contribute to the discussion.

“The early panels were so focused on the making of art, so they weren’t super accessible to a general audience,” Bacerra said. “They were a bit insider baseball. We’re trying to strip some of that back and find something that’s a little more alive.”

The Point attempts to engage the audience with issues that may be uncomfortable. While Becerra encourages audience members to find and share their differences, the end goal is not always to reach a conclusion—sometimes, conversation is the point.

“Our goal is to find a common ground and to find the limits of that common ground,” Becerra said. “A lot of times, we erase important differences in the name of finding common ground. What ArtsEmerson is most interested in is celebrating nuances.”

Because the conversations are not heavily orchestrated, sometimes they come across stumbles. However, these help facilitate learning for all parties involved.

“We learned to not let discomfort be a stopping place in these conversations,” Becerra said. “If something doesn’t feel quite right, that’s important. If we are to create a space where people can connect across differences, people have to be able to voice it.”

Though The Point is still in its early stages, ArtsEmerson has big ambitions to use the series as a vehicle to serve the community.

“When people start realizing that art is all around them, their lives are better for it,” Lukey said. “In all the work that I do, I try to be as inclusive as I can and think about what voices are being represented, and what stories are being told.”

Both Lukey and Bacerra note how art can enrich lives and communities, and use their roles to give artists from all walks of life a seat at the table.

“I am constantly bearing witness and learning and experiencing new ways of making art and telling stories,” Becerra said. “Every day of this work is really different, and it’s all kind of rooted in people.”

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About the Contributor
Ryan Yau
Ryan Yau, Living Arts Co-Editor
Ryan Yau (he/him) is a first-year journalism major from Hong Kong. He writes and edits for the Living Arts section, normally feature stories on artists and arts events in Boston, usually film-related. Occasionally he has an opinion. He recreationally play saxophone.

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