Last Friday night in the Loch started out much like any other night in “the number-one lake-themed student lounge in the Twin Cities metro area.” Students played pool, did homework in the spacious side booths, and watched football in the large TV anteroom. But poolplayers soon stopped their game, and the people in the booths looked up from their work as a crew of breakdancers suddenly started flying across the small stage next to the pool tables.
The dancers, along with several other artists from the Twin Cities, performed alongside Mac performance art groups Bodacious and MacSlams in an event produced by the non-profit Twin Cities artists’ collective, “Face Forward—Humanity through Art.”
“We bring emerging and established socially conscious artists together to dialogue about social issues,” explained Face Forward founder Amanda Leaveck after the show. “We support artists who want to give back to the community.”
Leaveck has an eye for the kind of talent that will stop you in your tracks—or in the middle of your game of pool. The New Heist, the jaw-dropping breakdancing crew that started off the show, makes it part of their mission to provide dancing as a healthy alternative for adolescents growing up in the midst of destructive influences. Bomba Umoya, a Puerto Rican drumming ensemble that also performed, brought audience members dancing onstage alongside their own dancers and singers. Khary Jackson, a “poet, teaching artist, playwright, actor, dancer and sometimes musician,” performed several powerful, utterly original poems. Shahar Eberzon ’12, the artist representative for Face Forward with a haunting, smoky jazz voice, sang for peace and urged the audience to “practice your democracy.”
“I’m a big fan of community,” Leaveck said, because “when we share our art, we share our humanity.”
Leaveck graduated from the University of Saint Thomas with a B.S. in neuroscience and a minor in dance in May 2010. She founded Face Forward in October 2009 after coordinating a benefit to raise money for a school in India. The event sold 600 tickets, and Face Forward “grew in the hands of the community” that had come together to make the event possible.
Now, artists meet monthly to discuss their art and local social issues and to network with one another. Through Face Forward, these artists perform shows together and independently at venues around the Twin Cities. Face Forward promotes their artists through film and social media and finances their performances. In return, these artists spread the word about the Face Forward community at their performances.
“Face Forward is important because it connects local artists with a local audience,” said A.J. van Arneman ’16, who performed at the event as a member of the Macalester hip-hop dance team Bodacious. “I think showcasing local talent should be valued way more than it is at present.”
In terms of his own dance career, van Arneman doesn’t know what the future will hold. But using dance for social change, or to positively impact the lives of others, is on the table.
“Many of [the artists] left quite an impression on me and I’m sure that the same can be said for the rest of the audience,” he said.
Poet Renee Schminkey ’16, one of the leaders of MacSlams who performed at the event, believes strongly in a sense of community to create “safe, brave spaces for people to perform art.”
“It was great to be able to collaborate with other organizations to see the ways in which art overlaps,” said Schminkey, who is passionate about promoting safe spaces for LGBTQ identified individuals and the trans* community, as well as educating people about non-binary gender expressions. “It felt like a great place to share art together in a supportive environment.”
The kind of socially conscious communities, dialogue and performances in which Face Forward engages are present at Macalester; they are a source of pride for many of the students and faculty here. It is something that “you don’t have to graduate from,” as Leaveck put it. “You can do that for the rest of your life. You should do that for the rest of your life.”