What Is It Good For? 

Local artists collaborate to make sense of the war.

Lamb, 30, was one of the protesters at George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001. As a veteran social activist, she's been to rallies around the country, and most recently found herself in the acute minority one February day at Lake Tahoe as one of 40 anti-war protesters. It was not the most inspiring of marches, and a growing disillusion with her own power as a citizen prompted Lamb to take another tack.

In February, she came up with the idea of organizing a public art event, what she's now calling Performance Initiative, to address the war and give voice to the different responses people have to it. Area artists will produce individual installation pieces to show as a collective April 10 at the downtown gallery Artspace. The 45-minute show will be followed by a forum for dialogue among the performers and audience members. Lamb stresses that the event is not an anti-war statement; she hopes it will provoke thought and inspire people with even the most disparate opinions to come together as a community.

"Times of crisis are opportunities to build relationships," she says. And, she hopes, people will get "interested and used to expressing their views in public. Plus, it's just interesting and good for people to hear what other people are thinking. That can only bring us closer together."

Lamb is a performing artist and playwright, a former SPARC acting student who continued to study drama in Richmond and New York and received a degree in social education through performance at a small liberal arts college in Arizona. For the April event she is gathering together visual and performance artists, writers, dancers and filmmakers.

Nearly 20 artists, as well as the silent protest group Women in Black, have signed on to the event. There are filmmakers like Rassaleela Shields, writers like Mathias Svalina and dancers like Chris Burnside, 55, acting chair of the dance department at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Burnside was drafted into the army infantry during the Vietnam War in 1969, but was stationed in Texas. He says he didn't appreciate serving his country only to experience the anger and protest that was directed at the military. "It's really important to sort of separate the issues," he says. "I think the people over there fighting are living their lives with the highest honor. They're serving their country. I separate that ... from my impression of the decision that we're over there. I don't think it was a good decision."

Using volunteer dancers, Burnside's piece attempts to examine how people and nations pull apart from discussion and retreat to "the rhetoric of name-calling." This, he says, can lead to violence.

Lamb is pleased with the amount of participation, but disappointed with the decidedly one-sided point of view. So far, she has not been able to sign up artists who support the war. She knows they are out there, but they have been hesitant to come forward.

One woman who declined to participate was conflicted about it, Lamb says. Because her nephew is on the front line, she told Lamb, "'How do I speak out?'"

That response is something that Lamb understands, and she designed her own piece to address the emotional and intellectual conflicts that many people feel. "It's a piece that can mean different things to different people," she says.

Exactly, one might say, like the events at hand. S

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