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Bending Toward Justice: Improvisation, Freedom, and the Arts

Romare Bearden, Soul History, 1969. Collage, graphite, colored pencil, and gouache on Masonite.
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Abram M. London, M.D., Class of 1957, 1997.210. Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.


Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street
Cambridge MA

This symposium is sponsored by the Harvard University Committee on the Arts.

Improvisation is a process that generates structure in our everyday lives; we might describe it as the way we do almost everything—not just certain kinds of music, but also ordinary speech, games and sports, politics and warfare, and most social interactions.

The notion of improvisation is adjacent to key concepts from the social sciences and humanities: agency, diaspora, subjectivity, experience, and our beloved national ideal, freedom. These conceptual valences lead us to construe improvisation in relation to power: movement across difference.

In this symposium, we consider the power of individual and collective improvisation in/at/as moments of crisis, turmoil, or social change. We examine the improvisational nature of heightened moments such as the Civil Rights struggle, the Black Lives Matter movement, police violence, election rallies, and modern campus activism.

Our panelists’ perspectives from the arts disciplines will illuminate these political questions, as we attune our ears to the music of difference—the polyrhythms, counterpoints, cadences, and dissonances of highly charged human interaction.

The symposium includes opening remarks from poet, theorist, and University of California, Riverside professor Fred Moten. Panelists include Vijay Iyer, Harvard’s Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts (moderator); Danielle Goldman, assistant professor of dance at The New School Lang; Daphne Brooks, professor of African American studies and theater studies at Yale; Wadada Leo Smith, a composer and trumpeter who will be performing in the Fromm Players concerts as the Eileen Southern Distinguished Visitor in the Department of Music; and Matthew Leslie Santana, a Harvard graduate student in ethnomusicology.

This symposium is given in conjunction with the annual Fromm Players at Harvard concerts, taking place at Harvard on April 7 and 8. The theme this year is Creative Music Convergences.

Free admission

The program will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.