Avatar-default Megha Ralapati

Jen Delos Reyes Reflects on Open Engagement 2016

Jdr At Oe 2016

Jen Delos Reyes at Open Engagement 2016

Jen Delos Reyes (2013 Jackman Goldwasser Resident) is a creative laborer, educator, writer, radical community arts organizer, and author of countless emails. She is the director and founder of Open Engagement, an international annual conference on socially engaged art that has been active since 2007. Delos Reyes currently lives and works in Chicago, IL where she is the Associate Director of the School of Art & Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Open Engagement 2016: POWER took place April 30 - May 1 in Oakland, CA. We reached out to Reyes for some reflection on how this years conference went.

What was the highlight of this year's conference for you?

As an organizer the highlight is seeing the over 264 individuals come together to create this network of support and share their work and research. The feeling on the ground in Oakland during the conference truly felt like the coming together of creative communities engaged in the radical transformation of the world through creativity. I think that everyone who left the conference on Sunday night after seeing a monumental keynote speech by Angela Davis felt reaffirmed in their belief that the role of artists is critical in struggle for a more just world.

How was it to have OE in Oakland? How did that site shape, impact and/or enrich the context of OE?

On the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party (BPP) Open Engagement found itself in the city that gave birth to this powerful revolutionary movement. Former BPP member Jamal Joseph has said that the guiding principal of the party that drove them forward was “an undying love for the people.” Many of the people who convene at Open Engagement continue to work toward the equality and justice that they were fighting for, and do so with the same commitment to care and desire to serve the people.

Beginning in 2014 OE became an itinerant conference, moving the conference coast to coast. As the conference changes locations highlighting the local context is key, we emphasize the local, as well as include national and international perspectives. This year, in addition to activating 16 sites across the Bay Area, we collaborated with a dozen organizations representing a wide spectrum of arts ecology in the Bay Area. We featured arts organizations, but also groups working at the intersection of art, activism, and social justice, such as Destiny Arts, Black Lives Matter Oakland, Justseeds Artist Cooperative, Indian People Organizing for Change, the Anti Police-Terror Project, San Quentin Prison Arts Program, Bay Area Video Coalition, Chapter 510, and many others.

What are you most looking forward to about OE 2017 in Chicago?

Chicago is a city that needs to think about what justice truly means. Over the course of 2016 Open Engagement has already been forming relationships and starting dialogues with artist and activist groups across Chicago representing a full scope of the local arts and activist communities of the city. Our first pre-conference meeting in November 2015 convened representatives from over 20 organizations across 14 zipcodes. I am looking forward to emphasizing the remarkable work being done in my city.


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