On July 26, the Pulitzer Center's “Using Art for Social Engagement” panel brought together diverse storytellers to explore how the union of art and journalism allows stories to be told in a way that draws people into otherwise-ignored issues. David France's documentary "How to Survive a Plague" and the Pulitzer Center-produced performance Voices of Haiti serve as prime examples of such a union.
Poet Kwame Dawes discussed the transformative elements of his work, specifically the poetry featured in Voices where the poetry evolved directly out of reporting done in Haiti during the aftermath of the earthquake. This is the second such project on which Dawes partnered with the Pulitzer Center. The first, Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica , also resulted in a multimedia performance and an Emmy award-winning website livehopelove.com. Dawes said that working with the Pulitzer Center let him enter the “closed world [of HIV/AIDS], a world of secrecy in Jamaica and Haiti, a world of stigma,” and allowed him to "meet people and to grow to care for people."
"I felt a lot of gratitude for their willingness to tell me their stories and to tell me about their lives...and that is important to me as a human being and, above all else, as an artist," said Dawes.
Panelist Andre Lambertson, whose photography set the backdrop for Voices, said that photography exists as a “window into someone's life,” providing individuals with an opportunity to learn from and listen to the people—an integral component of journalism, for journalists and audiences, alike.
Writer and journalist David France recently produced his first documentary, “How to Survive A Plague.” France's newly produced documentary continues the work he has undertaken as a journalist focusing on AIDS since the early 1980s. The documentary demonstrates France's shift from print journalism to more dramatic art forms that allow him to reach new audiences. “There are ways that you can convey in more pure art forms—like film—emotional truths that are more profound or at least more profoundly perceived than what you can do with print,” France said.
Patricia Finneran of the Sundance Institute said Voices of Haiti as well as “How to Survive a Plague” demonstrate the technique of combining art and journalism by transforming reporting facts into accessible stories that generate social engagement.
“These campaigns [that blend journalism with art] are multi-faceted, involving awareness, engagement, and coalition building,” said Finneran, who further recognized the power of uniting art and journalism as a means of connecting audiences and procuring activism. Noting that facts alone may not always be compelling, Finneran concluded, “The emotional openness [associated with art] is what allows people to be open to changing their opinion or open to engaging deeper in an issue, and that is what leads to change.”
The panel complemented Voices of Haiti, a multimedia exploration of HIV/AIDS in a post-earthquake Haiti performed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on July 25 and 26. The Pulitzer Center produced Voices of Haiti as an affiliated event of the 2012 International AIDS Conference, in partnership with the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the College of Art + Design and Population Services International (PSI).