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Imagine Cultural Counterpoint to GOP Convention

Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 7, 2004

Imagine Festival Combines Art and Politics in Cultural Counterpoint to GOP Convention

- Interview with Chris Wangro, co-founder and an executive producer, of the Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:

The days preceding and during the Republican National Convention in New York City were filled with protests of all kinds: massive bike rides, non-violent civil disobedience, and a massive legal march of hundreds of thousands. But cultural events with a political twist have also been part of the convention scene. The Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas held more than 200 events, including concerts, film screenings, forums, theater, poetry and more, focused on the many critical issues facing the nation and the world this election year.

The festival, which featured artists such as Yoko Ono, comedian Margaret Cho, actor Richard Gere, playwright Tony Kushner, and musician Lou Reed, promoted the themes of freedom, community, democracy, justice, prosperity and future.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Chris Wangro, co-founder and co-executive producer of the festival, before a kick-off celebration at a nightclub on Aug. 28. Wangro is the former director of special events for the New York City Parks Deparment, and an organizer of massive public events such as the papal mass in Central Park. He says this arts festival is meant to engage participants, encouraging them to think and to dialogue with their neighbors.

Chris Wangro: We started Imagine about a year ago. We decided the RNC was an incredible opportunity for us. We are playing host for a party that we consider the unofficial, uncensored welcome to the RNC, and we’re bringing together thousands of artists and activists, all of them working so hard over the past year, to make their voices heard in their own way. What’s happening in NY and we hope it’s happening across the country, is an incredible thing, because what’s happening is you have the arts community fired up and speaking out, and you have the activist community fired up and speaking out. The last time this country went through major social change ? say 1965-1975 ? it took exactly that ? it took artists, filmmakers, writers, fashion designers; it took people who were visionaries ? to create a different vision for us, to understand how we could live differently. It also took tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, taking to the streets and marching for civil rights, and marching against the war and marching for peace, marching for women’s rights. And when both of those things happen, we can change the course of history. And it’s happening here and we’re celebrating that.

Between The Lines: I was just at something tonight, which I guess is part of the Imagine Festival ? Women Against War.

Chris Wangro: Yeah, Women Against War, sponsored and organized by Code Pink, one of our well over 100 partners. Imagine is doing well over 200 events in 75 venues with well over 1,000 artists. And it’s everything from household names like Richard Gere or Marisa Tomei or Kathleen Chalfant or Yoko Ono or Philip Glass, to really, NY’s edgiest, most interesting, lesser-known artists. But, I think it’s safe to say that this is the most creative community in the country, possibly the world, and when this community gets together and speaks out, we expect America to listen.

Between The Lines: These are the people you’ve brought together who have a political perspective that is against Bush, I assume?

Chris Wangro: No, that’s not true. We have brought people together on issues. It happens that this is a city that’s fairly liberal, fairly progressive, and for the most part, against Bush. That’s no secret. But what we’ve wanted to do since day 1 and we have really been strident about, is to bring people together to focus on jobs, on women’s health, on education, on the environment, you name it. And it’s that sort of issue-based agenda that the Imagine festival has, that allows us to build a big coalition. We have a coalition that includes unlikely bedfellows, like Republicans for Choice, working with fairly “lefty” artists, because they’re all unified on the issue of women’ rights. Now, I will say this, I think, and this is me talking, not the organization, terms like “righty” and “lefty” are just counter-productive. I’m not a lefty, just because I’m upset that my father has to drive to Mexico to afford his drugs, doesn’t mean that I’m a lefty; just because I want to be sure my sister’s kids can actually go to a decent public school and she doesn’t have to move to some god-awful town she doesn’t want to live in to do that, that doesn’t make me a lefty. I’m concerned about specific issues, and so many others are as well. And it’s the issues that motivate us. And if we can listen to the visionaries, and the educators, and all the people who really understand this stuff, we’ll get a deeper understanding and we’ll be able to think out a better course for our future.

Between The Lines: I heard a 45-minute speech from Michael Moore that he gave at a side conference at the Democratic National Convention. He was talking about, you know, we are the majority, the people who are opposed to the policies that are going on now, against women’s reproductive rights, and the war, and attacks on the environment, that it’s the majority who are against all those things. But the reality is, it’s going to be a very, very close election. He was saying that a lot of the people who are against those things don’t vote. But how representative do you think these issues -- pro-choice, pro-environment and anti- this particular war at least ? are in the country, or even in NYC?

Chris Wangro: I think the country is certainly thinking about all this stuff and thinking about it hard. I don’t know that the artists of NYC represent the nation. I do know that we’ve been contacted ? Imagine has been contacted by many cities and even overseas, who are asking us to assemble similar things. I know we’re inspiring change in the way people face the issues. And I think we really need to rethink how we address the issues and concerns, if we really want to make change.

Between The Lines: Are you doing that? Are you helping that happen in any other cities?

Chris Wangro: We have to get through this, and then we’ll figure it out. But there will be more, I’m sure.

Between The Lines: Does the name have anything to do with John Lennon?

Chris Wangro: The name has to do with us deciding that we as citizens and as artists have to help imagine a better future, that we feel the leadership of both parties has let us down, that it’s up to us as artists to help imagine a better place. It happened to be that when we came up with this idea, we knew that John Lennon’s song had been struck from the Clear Channel song chart, and we thought that was a blatant violation of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. So it had a nice tie-in.


Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( for the week ending Sept. 10, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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