Art & Politics: Changing Hearts and Minds led by Anne Hawley



Why do we care about art anyway?  When ideas are expressed freely through art, they go directly to our emotions, then to our minds. Art gives voice to our time, our issues and deepest concerns. In today’s globalized world, where war is no longer about conquering territory but about winning hearts and minds, art becomes not only a powerful expression, but also a weapon. This is both for good and ill.

Because America is often perceived abroad as a cultural colonizer through its popular culture of Hollywood films, rock music, Coca-Cola products, and sexy fashions –it is seen as degenerate and threatening of the values of traditional cultures. There is a push back in many countries: a rejection of these exports resulting in a form of cultural war. As a recent example, the Islamic ISIS group in the Middle East uses violence to oppose Western culture and win the hearts and minds of their youthful recruits. Most recently, they have destroyed ancient buildings in Syria and attacked a concert hall in Paris where an American rock group was performing.

At the same time, cities in the Middle East and Asia, from Abu Dhabi, to Shanghai, are boldly building themselves into world-class centers using the best architects to reshape them during an unprecedented building boom.

Closer to us in the U.S., employers say that creativity is the trait they most seek in hiring. Art is central in all of this. 

My career in the arts has focused connecting art to the public. Early on, I formed an arts NGO, next I ran a state arts council, and most recently directed an art museum. 

When I was appointed Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, an internationally renowned personal museum created by its eponymous founder, my charge was to transform the sleepy institution into a world class cultural center as it had been in her day. Just six months into this quite grueling task, thieves disguised as policemen broke into the museum around 1:00am and stole thirteen priceless works of art including a Vermeer and three Rembrandts. Thousands of leads later, the art is not yet recovered.

Despite this devastating event and using it as leverage, I’ve led a transformation of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, preserving its historic building and doubling its size with a new addition by architect Renzo Piano. Any transformation of this scale requires the participation of government officials. Deft political support of Boston’s then Mayor, Tom Menino was key. In this most personal and sensuous of museums, I’ve initiated an Artists-in-Residence program; conceived exhibitions (contemporary and historic); established a concert program; installed new gardens and created new education programs. Attendance on site has soared and online programs attract millions.

Earlier in my career, I led a public arts agency, the Massachusetts State Arts Council, where I attained the second highest arts council budget in the U.S, worked with the Governor and state legislature to pass laws requiring public art in state building projects, to fund education programs of cultural organizations, and to facilitate the financing of capital projects. I further devised experimental programs commissioning young world class artists such as theater artist Robert Wilson, choreographer Mark Morris, and light artist James Turrell.

The persuasion process with legislators was filled with impassioned dialogue and theater. I had to stand up to a Senate President wanting to curtail free speech by threatening to cancel a play critical of the Catholic church and have defended artists’ projects whose practices offended public taste. At the international level, I negotiated with officials of many countries to conduct artistic exchanges including the former Soviet Union under Gorbachev’s Presidency where his policy of Glasnost and Perestroika unleashed an immense artistic flowering in music, visual arts and theater. In the spring of 1987, I experienced an experimental theater production (“The Education of Dr. Spock”) on a Moscow night where over 100 new theaters were performing experimental plays challenging the communist party…all the while being followed by the KGB.

I am proposing a seminar that illuminates many of the intersections art has with politics and the public.  Culture is intrinsic to life. Art can   engage our senses and by doing so transport us to new places of mind,   feeling, and creativity. Through architecture and design, art shapes our public and private spaces. Through its visual, film, and literary works, art informs and shapes the way we think about our lives. Art will document our time for future civilizations and can be our window into the human struggles and triumphs of past time. Let me invite you to journey with me into a world of politics and art.


Seminar II:  Art and Theft of Our Cultural Heritage

Feb 24, 4:00 - 5:30


  •  Geoffrey Kelly, FBI Agent

Geoffrey Kelly was the FBI Agent-in-charge of the case of the break-in and theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum


  •  Anthony Amore, Director of Museum Security, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

      Anthony Amore is also the author of Stealing Rembrandts.


The robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum -- the largest art theft in history -- is still unresolved. While the museum was robbed, the art was stolen from the public and removed from our cultural heritage. Imagine you can never hear a Verdi Requiem or a Beethoven symphony again. Just erased from history. This seminar will explore art crime, the investigation and where it stands today. I will guide the discussion with the guests as well as provide images of the stolen art.


On March 19, 1990 two thieves disguised as Boston Policemen broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tied up the guards and removed five paintings (including works by Rembrandt and Vermeer), six drawings, and two small sculptures. Today the art is valued at over 500 million, but it really is priceless. The Vermeer painting “The Concert” is one of the artist’s best works, among only 33 in existence.  An active investigation continues but those holding the paintings so far have refused to return them.


Working alongside law enforcement, as well as with private investigators to recover the works, I’ve had complex experiences with the FBI as well as the Boston crime underworld.  Early in the investigation, I was threatened with the charge of obstruction of justice when pursuing privately a lead that promised to crack open the investigation. During my time on the case, I have followed leads from a businessman’s home in Japan, to Corsica, to a luxury hotel room in New York City.  Today, top talents at the FBI are working on the case and collaborating with the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. All while the museum has re-imagined itself to become a cultural center where artists, scholars, musicians and designers interact with the public in unexpected ways.


Seminar III: The Arts in America and National Public Policy

Mar 2, 4:00-5:30


  •  Robert Lynch, President, Americans for the Arts

Americans for the Arts is the national advocate for arts in America, with research, networking and governmental advocacy programs 


In the early days of the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), there was a vision of a federal role that would “nurture creativity, elevate the nation’s culture, and sustain and preserve the country’s many artistic traditions.” During the 1970’s, the NEA agency grew in budget and programs and was a dynamic force in American culture. By 1981, the NEA’s budget was $159 million, compared to our country’s National Science Foundation’s budget which was $1.12 billion! The United States was only committing to the arts about 10% of what it was committing to science. Today, the National Science Foundation budget is around $8 billion and the NEA budget is $146 million. These numbers reveal that the US is now only committing about 2% to the arts compared to what it is committing to science.  Is this level of national commitment to the Arts what our country aspires to?


Today, most of the support for the arts in America comes through private donors.  While private donations to arts organizations can be claimed as tax-deductible, facilitating generous giving to established cultural institutions, those who can do this are wealthy individuals who tend to support established institutions. Artists, new works, and start-ups are hard pressed to exist. A certain kind of cultural sector and main stream art is supported.


Likewise, laws do not support the work of the visual artist. While copyright laws give residuals to writers, filmmakers and composers, a painter who sells his/her painting never benefits from its resale.  As it is resold over the artist’s lifetime, the artist never has a stake in the profit of the sale. Congress has repeatedly failed to pass The Artists Resale Royalty law despite 70 other countries adopting the measure. Why not here?


We will explore the federal role in the arts in America and the forces shaping it historically and currently. Why is art support left to the private sector? Should there be significant government funding for arts as there is for sciences?



Seminar IV: Art and the Political Culture Wars: From Censorship to Violent Destruction

Mar. 9, 4:00-5:30


  •  Michael Danti

Michael Danti has 25 years’ experience in leading archeological excavations in the Middle East

We  will examine the culture wars in America as they have evolved from attacking art that critiqued family values and religious taboos during the post-Cold War period, to the issues today of diversity in race and gender. We will explore the controversies behind exhibitions such as “Sensation” at the Brooklyn Museum which included Chris Ofili’s painting “The Holy Virgin Mary” using elephant dung on canvas which triggered then New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to advocate pulling city money from the museum and a possible eviction from the building (which was fought by museum Director Arnold Lehman who filed a lawsuit against the Mayor for breach of First Amendment). We will also look at the Walker Art Center’s exhibition of gay activist/performance artist Ron Athey whose public piece featured blood-stained towels from fellow performers which hung on hooks over the audience and ignited Congress to challenge the National Endowment of Arts funding of artists who featured LGBT subject matter.


We will then look at how censorship, as one mode of silencing the message of artists, can move to the actual destruction of art and monuments. Believing that eradicating the image also removes the ideas conveyed within has long been a strategy of human leaders throughout time from the iconoclasts of reformation Europe to today’s ISIS leaders. With the guidance of archeologist Michael Danti we will look at the destruction of ancient Palmyra in Syria this fall, the blowing up of the 1700 year old Buddha statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban and other politically motivated acts of destruction.

We will explore the questions of what is gained, what is lost, what can be done and by whom.



Seminar V:  Art as Political Change Agent:  For or Against

Mar 23, 4:00-5:30


  •  Johan Grimonprez

Johan Grimonprez is an award-winning Belgian artist and film maker, creator of “The Shadow World”, an expose of the global arms trade and its impact on the way we live and die. 


Artists’ works can be a potent force to challenge repressive government regimes, as well as to further goals of leaders: good and bad.  Documentary filmmaker, Laura Poitras’ recent film on Edward Snowden’s revelation on how the National Security Agency of the U.S. was spying on its own citizens has forced a nation-wide conversation.  Picasso’s mural “Guernica” was meant to condemn the Nazi bombing of the historic Spanish town and focused world attention on an atrocity a government committed against its own citizens.  During the Tiananmen revolt of 1989, Chinese artists organized an exhibition of art, calling out for freedom of the press and free speech. Conversely, Leni Riefenstahl’s film “Triumph of the Will,” produced by Hitler himself, was a brilliant film glorifying the Nazi party and mesmerizing German citizens with its images. Artists can convey ideas in potent images and music that rally a populace to action.  We will look at some of these images and their power to inspire citizens in their engagement with their governments both for and against.



Seminar VI: Art as Experience: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum*

Mar 31

Visit: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

  •  The Tour will be guided by Anne Hawley

                   Anne Hawley is the Director Emerita of the

                   Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

We will continue the seminar with a sensuous experience of art by visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum which is a Gesampkunstwerk: a total work of art meant to activate all your senses. We will first enter through the new Renzo Piano designed wing which prepares us for our journey. Then we walk through a glass link in a garden into a Courtyard filled with antiquities and flowers, which is choreographed to transport you to a place of dreams. We will explore the galleries through feeling and seeing. We will wander freely looking at art and installations. I will challenge you to find something that moves you and work with it.  We will bring various strategies to the looking at art--from Bernard Berenson’s tactile feelings, to the connoisseurship of Kenneth Clark, to the Visual Thinking Strategy of today’s leading museum educators. We will spend time with one of my favorite paintings: Titian’s Europa, said by scholars to be the greatest 16th century Italian painting in America. Throughout this tour I will share my insights and feelings about this museum and what living with art can mean for you.



Seminar VII: Art: Sense and Non-Sense

April 13, 4:00-5:30


  •  Mariale Hardiman, Director,  The Neuro-Education Initiative Johns Hopkins University 
  •  Malinda McPherson, Malinda McPherson is a PhD Candidate in the joint Harvard-MIT Neuroscience program and is co-author of  A Study of Brain Mechanisms that Underlie Art & Creativity


Are we losing our senses? Has removing art and music from the public school curricula made for a populace that has lost aesthetic perception?   When we lose our ability to perceive art and music what happens to our brains? To our culture? What does the research in learning and in brain development tell us about this? Does our obsession with STEM education threaten to turn us into a technocratic society?

Why aren’t the arts a part of our public education curriculum? We will examine the forces and attitudes that lead local school districts to their decisions to cut the arts from the curriculum.

We will also look at the most recent data on the availability of arts education in the report “Arts Education from the National Center of Education Statistics” issued in 2012


Seminar IX: Architecture and the City’s Public Identity: The political process shaping good or bad buildings

April 27, 4:00-5:30


  •  Charles Renfro, Architect, Diller, Scofidio & Renfro

 Mr. Renfro’s firm designed the High Line (New York City), Boston Institute of Contemporary Arts (Boston), Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center (New York City) and the new addition to the Museum of Modern Art (New York City).

  •  Jill Medvedow, Director, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston.

 Jill Medvedow led the design and construction of the new Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, designed by Charles Renfro. She is the founder of Vita Crevis, a public arts project in Boston.

Cities are judged by the qualities of their buildings. We all love cities with great architecture and inviting public spaces. Asian and Middle Eastern cities today are reinventing themselves through massive projects, transforming their cities with great architecture and public buildings.

Yet often cities stumble and create deadening areas that no one loves.  The more recent history of architecture in American cities is an upsurge in utilitarian buildings, not exciting architecture and bold new ideas. The new Seaport district of Boston is an example, with glass box buildings, a highway running through its center, and no public parks or schools. What happened?

Yet, over last twenty years, architecture has flourished like no other time in history.  Globalization has meant cities are vying for attention and economic development; whole new cities with iconic architectural signatures are being developed in the Middle East, China and across Asia. These new metropolises with their access to capital have building requirements that are unprecedented. 

Throughout history, Architecture has celebrated the power of rulers who competed with scale and refinement in the buildings and gardens they commissioned from Versailles in France to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Conversely, democratic societies have expressed their public pride and values in capital buildings, libraries and other public commissions, often quoting elements from classical Greek buildings – one of our earliest democracies.

Today’s high renaissance in architecture gives us public buildings that further economic development ameliorate social ills, inspire public spaces and gatherings.  From Frank Gehrey’s iconic museum in Bilboa, Spain opened in 1996 which captured the world’s imagination, to Shiggeru Ban’s inventive refugee housing, to Renzo Piano’s Pilgrimage Church in Foggio, Italy --- these architects have created buildings that have reinvented a city, housing for homeless, and possibilities for worship.

We will explore this architecture and what is driving it today and how and why some cities succeed and others fail. The political process and knowledge are the drivers.