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August 18, 2021

By: Aarya Gupta

Illuminate, educate and connect. Those were the words that instantly came to mind as I perused the Mondavi Center's 2021-2022 season, which features a diverse array of compelling performances from artists unequivocally committed to moving the dial on important conversations.

Art has always been used to harness radical social change and challenge ideas. Even though this concept has always run in the back of my head, I never really knew what it meant until I explored the work of these artists in depth and heard the stories they had to tell. 

For some artists, this means using the power of words to elucidate pivotal ideas and share personal experiences. On March 31, one of America’s leading historians and antiracist scholars Dr. Ibram X. Kendi will bring his foundational work on anti-racism to the Mondavi Center as part of the Campus Community Book Project through the Office of Campus Community Relations and Diversity Equity and Inclusion. This year’s theme is addressing social justice in practice.

Kendi, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and founding director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, was named as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2020 by Time

Kendi's work is essential. It seeks to interpret the ongoing fight for civil rights; understand, explain and solve systemic racial inequality and injustice; and provide concrete recommendations for individuals to enact change in their personal lives. This is best reflected in his book How to Be an Antiracist, which has been printed over one million times.

But, this New York Times #1 bestselling author’s work doesn’t just stop there. Kendi launched his podcast called “Be Antiracist,” to challenge individuals and communities to think critically about building an antiracist society. 

“I’ll discuss policies and platforms we can rally around to build an equitable and just society for all people,” Kendi said in a video published by Pushkin Industries. 

This weekly show includes discussions between Kendi and notable guests around the world, including an episode featuring Heather McGhee, a renowned pundit in economic policy.

Author, activist and speaker Heather McGhee will be coming to the Mondavi Center on April 3 to deliver a deeply stirring talk, which will provide an actionable roadmap for one of the most critical and troubled periods of history. 

There is no better expert on the American economy than Heather McGhee, a pioneer who addresses inequalities in the United States by designing and promoting intricate solutions to such issues.

In just two months of being online, McGhee’s TedTalk, “Racism Has a Cost for Everyone,” garnered 1 million views. 

McGhee is not just the author of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, a book that is said to “change how progressives talk about race,” by The New York Times. She is the chair of the board of the United States’ largest online racial justice organization, Color of Change, has testified in Congress and has drafted legislation.

But, it's important to remember that prose isn’t the only vehicle artists use to inspire change. 

Even at the Tijuana-San Diego border, music connects us, not only to each other, but also to important messages. Despite a strained diplomatic relationship, rising tensions and heated discourse on immigration, Fandango at the Wall unifies the people of the United States of America and Mexico. 

In addition to filming a documentary about the lives of the son jarocho musicians and writing a book on the history of the United States and Mexico, Fandango at the Wall includes an album of 30 songs, recorded over 5 sessions by multi-Grammy winner Arturo O’Farrill and 50 artists.   

This project is inspired by retired librarian Jorge Francisco Castillo, the individual responsible for organizing the Fandango Fronterizo Festival. After reading about him in The New York Times, O’Farrill reached out to Castillo, and Fandango at the Wall was born.

Felix Contreras of NPR, describes O’Farrill’s album to be “a cross-cultural expression of social and political observations told through music” (2018). This mix of jazz, Afro-Caribbean, and folkloric music from Mexico will be performed on October 14 at the Mondavi Center by Arturo O'Farrill himself, and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. 

However, Fandango at the Wall isn’t the only project Arturo O’Farrill has been a part of. In 2017, Arturo O'Farrill began collaborating with Ronald K. Brown and his Brooklyn-based dance company EVIDENCE, in their project titled New Conversations, revealing the intimacy and vitality of dance. 

Brown and EVIDENCE have the incredible ability to use movement to create sensory connections to important issues—one which they will be showcasing through their exploration of human struggles, tragedies and triumphs on February 26, at the Mondavi Center.

Coalescing traditional African dance with contemporary choreography, EVIDENCE illuminates critical perspectives on the human condition. Their latest piece, Equality of the Night and Day, examines concepts of balance, equity and fairness.   

Their work features nine dancers, an original score created by Jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran, spoken word elements from racial justice advocate Angela Davis, and a photographic display from expert on African American photography Deborah Willis and costumes designed by Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya. 

“The fact that art and social justice share a common foundation continues to push us forward in spite of the continuing turmoil of a global pandemic and nationwide protests against police brutality,” EVIDENCE said in their message to their community on their website. 

Captivating and engaging audiences is not just a characteristic of dance, but also includes the opera. 

Themes of corruption, courage, hate and hope will be explored during the Heartbeat Opera's revamped rendition of Beethoven’s Fidelio, coming to the Mondavi Center on February 19 and 20.

This performance unravels the harrowing concept of injustice by chronicling the journey of a black activist who is wrongfully incarcerated and his wife, as she attempts to free him from the system.

Accompanying Fidelio’s live cast of five singers and seven musicians is a prerecorded virtual chorus of more than 100 incarcerated singers from six prison choirs across the United States. 

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we confront the world around us. With our sheer tenacity and ferocity, we have the drive to cultivate change and shake things up for the better. For many of us students, that means passionately expressing our thoughts on social media, engaging in conversation in comment sections and sharing ideas with each other with the click of a button. 

But, if there's one thing that I learned, the ability to expand perspective comes from unexpected places. There is a lot to see and unpack. After all, the arts are exciting, empowering, and eye-opening. 

This season brilliantly encapsulates the idea that you can reap unparalleled rewards by stepping out of your comfort zone. So, the question is, are you willing to take that chance? 

Because I know I will. 

Explore our website to learn more about these artists and purchase your tickets today.