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The Arts at NCDD Events

Art can be a powerful catalyst for dialogue. Through our various experiments with the arts at our national conferences, NCDD has found that the arts can take people to deeper levels of thinking and feeling, much faster. Through creative use of the arts, you can bring much-needed humor to serious issues, provide a new doorway to enter into a conversation about troubling topics, and lend a personal and human dimension to abstract social issues. (See our “Arts-Based Civic Dialogue” resources for many examples!)

At our events, we’ve used music, slam poetry, theatre, drawing, collage, and of course graphic recording to give participants different ways to consider conference content and interact with fellow participants.

Here’s an overview of some of the arts featured at NCDD’s national conferences. We are grateful to all the graphic recorders, performing artists, musicians, and others who have added meaning and magic to NCDD events through the arts.

Arts at the 2014 Conference in the DC Area

We’ll be sharing a considerable amount of information soon on the incredible work our graphic recorders did during our latest national conference.  In the meantime, check out our NCDD 2014 Storify Page for a sneak peak or read this blog post detailing NCDD’s Field Mapping Project.

Arts at the 2012 Conference in Seattle

NCDDSeattle-GRs-border9-Person Graphic Recording Team
Graphic recording has always been a feature of NCDD’s national conferences, and in 2012 we integrated graphic recording into our conference design in several ways. Our large team included seasoned artists as well as newbies, and we designed the process to be a mentorship and educational opportunity for the newer artists on the team.

Team members included:  Timothy Corey, our team leader, Catherine Bachy, Claire Bronson, Anne Jess, Patricia Kambitsch, Anne MannKarina Mullen, Anna Ulanova, and Nancy White.

The team decided to create a huge mural they would work on together throughout the 3-day conference that reflected what was said and learned on the conference theme, “How can we build a more robust civic infrastructure in our practice, our communities, and our country?” The team not only processed input from the various plenary speakers, but also received a ton of input from participants directly.

During the plenary session on the second day of the conference, volunteers themed input from each table on these three questions:

  • What have we heard so far at the conference that’s promising or working well, and needs to be nurtured?
  • What are some recurring challenges or obstacles to building and sustaining civic infrastructure at various levels (local, regional, national, global)?
  • What could we create together to overcome these obstacles and barriers and move us forward?


The themes from this fruitful discussion were incorporated into the graphic recording wall. At the end of the plenary, our graphic recording team leader, Tim Corey, reported on the themes the team saw emerging and how they were being interpreted graphically.

HarvestCoreyPlenary1-framedThroughout the conference, Tim also experimented with graphic recording utilizing iPad apps and showed the artwork he was created on his iPad in real time via a second projector and screen we had in the room.

Graphic recorders tap into the power of visual thinking — they literally draw information out of people, functioning as facilitators and scribes to get the wisdom of groups into a tangible form.

Sahar Driver and Shaady Salehi of Active Voice offered a session titled “Dialogue and Deliberation 3.0: New Platforms for Storytelling as New Opportunities for Dialogue,” which led participants in an exploration of how online events and film “streamings” are a form of storytelling that can deepen in-person dialogue and online conversations.

In addition, we had a highly-rated session titled “Embodied Dialogue: A Social Presencing Theatre Workshop” led by Heidi Madsen of CAW Columbus–Creative Arts of Women and Patricia Kambitsch of Playthink. Heidi and Patricia led an experiential session in which participants explored Social Presencing Theatre, a synthesis between theater, embodied presence, and dialogue which is based on Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.

Arts at the 2008 Conference in Austin

Austin City-Wide Youth Poetry Slam
The high-energy slam poetry performances during Saturday’s lunch were sponsored by the Texas Youth Word Collective (TYWC) – a nonprofit youth literacy program that encourages middle school and high school students’ interest in writing through youth poetry slams, open mics and online anthologies. Our thanks to Central Texas Team member Taylor Willingham for coordinating this performance!

Musical Composition by Eric Haltmeier
Musician and educator Eric Haltmeier created an original musical composition featuring audio clips of speakers and attendees at the 2008 conference, which can be heard at http://www.erichaltmeier.com/dialoguesongs.htm. Eric’s piece, which we played during the closing session, served to reflectively represent conference themes in sound.

5-Person Graphic Recording Team
The Graphic Recording Team at NCDD 2008 included Sunni Brown, Julie Gieseke, Mariah Howard, Marilyn Martin and team leader Avril Orloff. Graphic recording has long been a feature of NCDD conferences, but for the 2008 conference we took it up a few notches. Instead of just one or two graphic recorders, we had a whole team — and rather than having them record quietly in the back of the room, we closely integrated the graphics with the rest of the program.

In addition to recording the plenaries and sub-plenaries, the graphic recording team created mural-size posters for each of the five challenge areas we focused on at the conference. The posters were displayed throughout the conference, and the graphic recorders worked with our challenge leaders to add to the posters each day as new thoughts, insights and ideas emerged related to the challenges.

Conference participants were also urged to contribute ideas to the posters, and many did. And to help people along, our Graphic Recording Team offered a graphic recording demo/session at the D&D marketplace on the first day of the conference, giving dozens of conference attendees the opportunity to try their hand at graphic recording and learn some basic graphic recording skills.

Avril Orloff created the mural that captured themes related to the Framing Challenge, which explored the question “How can we talk about and present dialogue and deliberation work in ways that are accessible to a broader audience?” At the 2008 conference, we focused on the need to attract more conservatives to D&D work in particular. Click on the image below to see a larger version of this mural on Avril’s website. You can learn more about Avril’s work at www.avrilorloff.com.


Many more images of the graphic recordings created at NCDD Austin have been uploaded to Flickr by conference participants. Be sure to check them out at www.flickr.com/search/?q=ncdd2008&w=all.

Arts at the 2006 Conference in San Francisco

Drumming, singing, spoken word, theatre, the visual arts, music, dance, and film all have the ability to deepen our work in dialogue and deliberation. 2006 conference participants were invited to enjoy, engage in, and be inspired by the arts elements of the conference and to think about how the arts might enhance their dialogue work. You will find more details about the following arts-based activities in the 2006 Guidebook.

Our sincere thanks to Leah Lamb, Artistic Director of The Performance Initiative, for coordinating the arts component of the 2006 NCDD conference!

Several arts-focused workshops were offered at the conference. Being in San Francisco – the documentary film capitol of the nation, leaders of the Center for Digital Storytelling shared how their narrative storytelling techniques can be tools for social change. Active Voice also demonstrated their technique for empowering organizations to use film to enhance their work.

  • Story as Entry to Sustained Dialogue and Social Change (Libby Traubman, Len Traubman, Elias Botto & Miriam Zimmerman, Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue)
  • The Power of Media: Using Film to Spur Action-Oriented Dialogue (Shaady Salehi and Ellen Schneider, Active Voice)
  • The Role of Digital Storytelling in the D&D Movement: First Voice in Media Production (Joe Lambert and Amy Hill, Center for Digital Storytelling)
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know: What Do the Arts Have to Do With Dialogue? (Leah Lamb, The Performance Initiative; Pam Korza, Americans for the Arts)

Peace Tiles
The International Peace Tiles Project (http://mixedmedia.us/peacetiles/) envisions a world in which schools and other public places are bound together through the visual arts. Peace Tiles offers an easy to follow, dynamic process to engage people of all ages in the exploration of global issues through art, while building connections around the world. The Peace Tiles booth, an ongoing display and work station in our exhibit area, invited participants to work on your own tile throughout the conference. The Peace Tiles Project was founded by Lars Hasselblad Torres, who you may know as a former researcher for AmericaSpeaks. The booth was managed by Nil Sismanyazici Navaie, director of Arts For Global Development, Inc.


Poets for Global Justice
As San Francisco is an epicenter of “spoken word,” two artists of Poets for Global Justice opened our second day together, giving us a sense of place and showcasing the roots of hip hop, where young and old poets alike put words to a rhythm that can be listened to, providing a way for difficult social issues to be voiced. Drew Dellinger is a speaker, writer, teacher and rapper. He is the winner of Common Boundary magazine’s national Green Dove Award for innovative work integrating ecology, psychology and spirituality. As a rapper and lyricist he uses music to address issues of cosmology, justice and ecology. Danielle Drake-Burnette is a writer / spoken word artist, the 2003 Oakland Poetry Slam Champion and was pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing for Poetry at San Francisco State University at the time. Danielle is also the Founder of Creation Cocoon for Girls, an arts education program that teaches girls empowerment through traditional arts. A video showing clips of the two performers at the conference was uploaded to http://blip.tv/file/57783 by one of our attendees.

Unconditional Theatre
Unconditional Theatre (www.untheatre.org), led by John Warren, brought to life the themes that emerged as the conference progressed, in the same way they brought voting ballots to life during elections for their local community. Each night of the conference, a group of 12 to 15 volunteer attendees met to share quotes, themes, questions, and challenges they noticed during the day’s plenary sessions, workshops, and hallway conversations. The next morning (on the second and third days of the conference), the volunteers got on stage and acted out the themes and quotes that stood out for them, to tell the story of the day before. Unconditional Theatre explores contemporary issues and events through the actual words, stories, and participation of those involved. By conducting interviews, sharing stories, and facilitating dialogue, they involve communities directly in dramatic work that builds understanding and seeks to inspire social change.

Graphic Recording
Nancy Margulies at workChristine Valenza of Art for Change (www.christinevalenza.com) created large graphic note-taking templates which we used to record themes, key points, and next steps during the workshops, and smaller note-taking templates for the Open Space. And Nancy Margulies (pictured) and her daughter Mariah Howard of Mindscapes (www.nancymargulies.com) served as our graphic recorder during the Reflective Panel and Exploring the Trends plenaries on the second day of the conference.

Illegal Art
Throughout the conference, participants had the opportunity to connect and create with artists from Illegal Art (www.illegalart.org), who are joining us from New York City. Illegal Art is a collaborative of artists whose goal is to create interactive public art to inspire self-reflection, thought and human connection. Each piece is then presented or distributed in a method in which participation is simple and encouraged. Among other things, Illegal Art will allow conference attendees to contribute to their “Suggestion Box” – a large cardboard box with a slit on the top where people can submit a suggestion about anything they would like to.

The Maracats
The 2006 conference opened with the ceremonial tradition of drumming. The Brazilian drumming ensemble Maracats (pictured above) enticed stragglers into the Parc Ballroom with Samba drumming, and performed songs and chants for Elegua, the Ancient African Deity of the Crossroads – the Opener of Dialogue and Communication! The Maracats perform the cultural traditions of Pernambuco, Brazil, known generally as Maracatu. This highly infectious drum/song/dance tradition combines ancient African roots with modern soulful and funky grooves to produce a compelling contemporary mix. Maracatu, while well known throughout Brazil, is virtually unknown in the U.S.

Arts at the 2004 Conference in Denver

In addition to several exciting arts-based workshops and Monday morning’s plenary session featuring National Playback Theatre, several artists provided artistic notation and graphic recording during the plenary sessions and in some of the workshops. Many more details can be found in the 2004 Conference Report as well as the 2004 Guidebook.

Arts-Based Break-Out Sessions
The titles and presenters of the 2004 art-based workshops were:

  • Bringing Dialogue to the Media: Leaping Between and Beyond the Horns of Dilemma to Paradox (Duncan Campbell, Living Dialogues with Duncan Campbell)
  • D2 – Dreaming of Democracy Through Dialogue and Dance (Wanjiru Kamuyu, Urban Bush Women; Vincent E. Thomas, VTDance)
  • ENGAGE: An Exploration of a Community (Leah Lamb, MSW, The Performance Initiative)
  • Traces of the Trade: Film-based Dialogue on White Privilege (Harold Fields, Denver Victim Offender Reconciliation Program; Holly Fulton, Abraham Lincoln High School; Pam Korza, Americans for the Arts; Chris Waldron, Andover Newton Theological School)
  • Using the Arts to Promote Dialogue Among Youth (Diana Brittain, Performing ArtWorks; Karen Eberle-Smith and Stella Yu, Arts Street)
  • Writing, Dialogue, and Community: Sharing What We Know (SY Bowland and Mary Adams Trujillo, Practitioners & Scholars Research Insititute)

Graphic Facilitation
Several artists from Alchemy, a Denver-based company co-founded by Janine Underhill and Patti Dobrowolski, provided real time graphic recording during the plenary sessions. Alchemy creates unique, vibrant maps and charts that capture themes, processes and agreements made during critical meetings. See the main mural created at the conference here.

Elana Stanger (aka St. Anger) joined us again to provide her unique, dialogue-provoking artistic notation services. Elana, an innovative artist from the Bronx and owner of Diversity Arts, created artwork while observing sessions and goings-on at the conference. Her artwork, which revolves around cartoons in which innocent-looking characters talk to one another about sensitive subjects, is designed to raise questions or awareness in the viewer, leading to greater individual clarity and insight, and intergroup understanding.

Playback Theatre
On the morning of the third and final day of the conference, we began the day with an interactive performance of National Playback Theatre (pictured), which turned out to be the most highly-rated and most talked-about feature of the 2004 conference. Playback Theatre is an innovative example of how the arts can foster and enhance dialogue. We utilized this improvisational form of theatre to reflect on our learnings and experiences over the weekend, encourage unresolved conflicts to emerge, and rejuvenate us for the trip home. Read a summary of the Playback session at the 2004 conference.

Arts at the 2002 Conference in Alexandria, Virginia

Due in large part to our collaboration with the Animating Democracy Initiative, NCDD 2002 ended up having a very strong art component which left a strong impression on most participants. Animating Democracy’s day-long meeting held the day before the conference brought a sizable number of talented artists whose work inspires dialogue and deliberation. Some of these artists had applied to present at the conference.

In addition, we were approached by two young, talented artists who provide graphic notation services at conferences and who were especially interested in this conference. And we wisely decided to have artist William Cochran present a slideshow about his unforgettable Community Bridge project during our opening night reception. More details about the arts at the 2002 conference can be found in our 2002 Conference Report.

Arts-Based Break-Out Sessions
Five of our most popular break-out sessions were related to the arts. This was the first time many of the dialogue and deliberation practitioners and scholars present had been exposed to some of the possibilities for combining art with D&D, and these sessions were extremely popular and highly praised by those who attended.

The sessions were titled:

  • Art & Civic Dialogue: An Exchange Among Arts and Dialogue Practitioners (Andrea Assaf, Barbara Schaeffer Bacon and Pam Korza, the Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts)
  • Dance Exchange on Dialogue & Making Dance (John Borstel and Liz Lerman, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange)
  • The United States: A People’s Dialogue – An arts-based civic dialogue on the nature of citizenship since 9/11 (Marty Pottenger, Animating Democracy and Patricia Romney Ph.D., Romney Associates, Inc.)
  • Using Informal Writing to Foster Democratic Dialogue: From Small-Group Gatherings to Online Forums (Irene Papoulis, Intercollegiate E-Democracy Project and Beverly Wall, Trinity College)
  • Using Film to Build Dialogue to Action: How to bring in and sustain effective stakeholders and build new collaborations. (Elaine Shen, Television Race Initiative/Active Voice)

One participant made this comment about the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange session:

I was brain dead with exhaustion from the adrenalin put out at my own workshop and the listening focus of the prior workshop. This woke me up and got my attention! You didn’t realize until the very end how far you had gone both in deepening your connection with yourself and working in interesting ways with others.

Because of these sessions, more D&D practitioners now know that combining the imaginative power of art with the transformative power of dialogue creates dramatic possibilities for communication and connection. Integrating the arts into our work also obtains and holds the interest of some people who might otherwise be uninterested in dialogue and deliberation. The D&D community now knows the importance of examining this question posed by the Animating Democracy Initiative: How can the arts and humanities contribute most potently to civic dialogue and broader civic discourse?

A Special Presentation on The Community Bridge
During our Friday evening reception, artist William Cochran shared with us the inspiring story of the Community Bridge and the divided community that came together to build a lasting bridge. Frederick, Maryland’s Community Bridge is an extraordinary public artwork whose meaning and content was created through a two-year artistic interaction with thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds. This large-scale collaboration charged the bridge with such meaning that those who see it and hear its stories often report that it changes the way they look at the world; it certainly seemed to impact many people’s thoughts and ideas throughout the next two days of the conference!

Graphic Recording by Megan Schopf
Megan Schopf (pictured), Founder of Artful Work, is an artist and facilitator who provided the conference with her experience working with groups and individuals creating visuals that support personal/professional development and deepen conversation. Throughout the conference, in both plenary and break-out sessions, Megan created visual learning tools which artistically captured what was being said. Megan has extensive experience in using graphics with people on an individual level, in large groups at conferences and small intimate dialogue groups.

Artistic Notation of Elana Stanger
Elana Stanger, an innovative artist from the Bronx and owner of Diversity Arts, provided us with graphic notation and diversity art services at the conference. Stanger – or St. Anger – created artwork while observing sessions at the conference. Her artwork, which revolves around cartoons in which innocent-looking characters talk to one another about sensitive subjects, is designed to raise questions or awareness in the viewer, leading to greater individual clarity and insight, and intergroup understanding.