LAVA Center hosting Social Justice in the Arts and Media series

  • The LAVA Center at 324 Main St. in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/2/2022 12:34:36 PM
Modified: 3/2/2022 12:34:11 PM

GREENFIELD — The LAVA Center is hosting a series of presentations and performances this spring to explore how social justice issues continue to affect the community and the world.

Starting March 5 and ending May 28, The LAVA Center’s Social Justice in the Arts and Media series will see topics ranging from the Israel-Palestine conflict to feminism explored through theatrical performances, music and art. Residents are encouraged to be entertained and inspired as they learn about how these complex social issues continue to evolve.

“People will be learning from them, and they’ll also be challenged,” said Jan Maher, co-coordinator of The LAVA Center, which stands for Local Access to Valley Arts. “People are going to have a lot of highly emotional thoughts and feelings.”

Each presentation and play will feature a range of themes, but will all be threaded together by the theme of social justice. Vanessa Query, The LAVA Center’s manager, said each presentation will see the artists talking about “how they’re infusing social justice into their particular art form.”

The series’ performances kick off March 5 with the first performance of “Bridges,” a play that delves into the inescapable traumas experienced on the West Bank and the stories behind Israelis and Palestinians living there.

Written by local author Christine Benvenuto and directed by Maher, each performance of “Bridges” will be followed by a facilitated discussion on a different social issue brought up by the play. Examples include discussions on health care, ways to bring people together and first-hand experiences on the West Bank, led by Temple Israel Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener.

Benvenuto said the play is written in two “distinct” parts, with the first being her own fiction about an Israeli soldier in the U.S. recalling the trauma of his military service and the second part being inspired by “compassionate listening” transcripts that Cohen-Kiener had recorded when she was in Israel.

She noted the divide seen on the West Bank and explored in her play is similar to the “growing gulf” between people in the United States.

“We have such a divide in this country,” Benvenuto said. “It seemed painfully relevant to me in ways that I hadn’t thought about when I was working on (the first part).”

Benvenuto said the facilitated discussions after the play readings are designed to help people process their own emotions and feelings about the complex conflict.

“People need to get a chance to express themselves,” Benvenuto said. “There’s going to be more of an emotional response and they need a place to do that.”

Preceding March 5’s performance of “Bridges” will be a “Listening Ear” session with local poet Christian McEwen from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The “Listening Ear” sessions encourage people to have face-to-face conversations, with organizers promising to give everyone a chance to be heard, which Maher said is a “perfect metaphor for the entire series.”

“Anybody who has anything to say can step up and speak, and be assured they will be closely listened to,” Maher said. “The idea of the power of listening is something that we have to step up to and explore because we are not doing very well in listening to each other these days and that produces a lot of injustice.”

All performances and presentations in the Social Justice in the Arts and Media series will be available both online and in person at The LAVA Center, 324 Main St. Tickets can be reserved with a donation — $5 to $10 is recommended, $1 minimum — or attendees can see the show for free on the day of the performance if seats are still available. The venue requires everyone who attends to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination upon entry. Tickets can be reserved at bit.ly/3BLYysD.

Each presentation and play will be videotaped and then made available the week after they happen on The LAVA Center’s website, localaccess.org. A full calendar of events is also available there.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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