Three-day residency brings performances, discussion of civil rights, social justice, art to UGA

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The University of Georgia’s schools of art, law and music, along with several interdisciplinary and artistic university groups, will shine a light on social justice, civil and human rights and art’s role in advocating for them when “The Innocents” three-day residency comes to Athens on February 14-16.

The residency supported by a Willson Center for Humanities and Arts Public Impact grant, centers around a performance project of the same name, created in 2006 by Dr. John Lane of Sam Houston State University and Professor Allen Otte of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. 

The project was inspired by Taryn Simon’s “The Innocents” photo exhibit, a collection of photographs Simon captured of wrongly convicted individuals who served time for crimes they did not commit. According to Otte, the composition is, in large part, about confronting and overcoming the preconceptions of others we make every day.

“Breaking down the wall of such blindness, to actually look at others we encounter for who they are, is a spiritual goal we can all strive towards,” said Otte. “’The Innocents’ is an acute manifestation, a magnification, of this daily situation in all of our lives.”

Lane and Otte’s “The Innocents” was performed by Lane, Otte and Atlanta-based contemporary chamber ensemble Bent Frequency last year in Atlanta at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, where Connie Frigo, associate professor of saxophone at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, was in attendance.

“It was the most transcendent and thought-provoking performance centered on civil and human rights that I have ever seen,” said Frigo.

Frigo set out to bring the project to UGA, and after discussions with Lane, Otte and Bent Frequency, they agreed.

“I'm proud to be playing a small role in raising awareness about these important issues through music and performing,” said Lane. “After recent political upheavals in our country, I feel a certain energy around socio-policital issues including social justice. There are few more important and impactful in people's lives than social justice.”

“The Innocents” is an intersection of numerous artistic disciplines and social subjects, so Frigo’s aim was to reflect that in the programming of UGA’s “Innocents” multi-day residency. To that end, she reached out to the Georgia Innocence Project, the Willson Center, UGA’s Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE), an interdisciplinary initiative for advanced research in the arts, the School of Law and the Lamar Dodd School of Art.

The result is a three-day residency that covers a variety of topics surrounding art, liberty and justice, beginning with a pair of master classes on February 14 and 15 for saxophone and percussion students featuring, respectively, co-director of Bent Frequency Dr. Jan Baker and Lane and Otte. Otte will also hold a closed “Eurhythmics Class” for the UGA Wind Symphony on the 15th.

At noon on the 15th, in Lamar Dodd room S160, ICE will hold a conversation with Bent Frequency, Lane and Otte discussing the collaborative and cross-disciplinary aspects of “The Innocents.” Later that evening, in the Hodgson School’s Dancz Center, the same group will present on “Collaboration and Community: Cultivating a Performative Voice.”

“Interdisciplinary collaborations are central to the mission of Bent Frequency,” said Baker, also a professor at Georgia State University. “In addition to our partnerships with dance and theatrical groups, poets, artists, puppeteers, film, etc., Bent Frequency's music and projects often center around socially relevant topics, such as the wrongfully convicted, global warming, the epidemic of gun violence or mental illness.”

The final day of the residency Thursday, Feb. 16, begins with a panel discussion in the Hatton Lovejoy Courtroom at the School of Law at 12:30 p.m. Russell Gabriel, School of Law faculty and director of UGA’s Criminal Defense Clinic, will moderate a discussion with Lane, Otte, Clare Gilbert, interim director of the Georgia Innocence Project, the Georgia Innocence Project’s first exoneree, Clarence Harrison, and Northeast Georgia Regional Capital Defender Ryan Swingle.

First-hand accounts of the justice system from the men wrongly processed through it provide a stark, enlightening view of what “The Innocents” attempts to depict. Baker said she was extremely moved the first time she heard exonerees speak at one of these discussions.

“After experiencing such horrors on death row, being failed by our justice system over and over again, spending the majority of their formative adult lives behind bars for crimes they did not commit and having to enter back into a society they no longer knew, these two men had such a positive perspective on how they could effect change,” said Baker.

The culmination of the residency happens in the Lamar Dodd Atrium at 6 p.m. on the 16th: the performance of “The Innocents.” The first half of the program is Lane and Otte’s performance of “The Innocents,” using found percussion (rocks, pans, trash cans, etc.), electronics and text to illustrate some of the strong and complex emotions brought about by Simon's original exhibit.

Bent Frequency follows with performances of “Coming Together” and “Attica” by Frederic Rzewski. The text is taken from letters written by Samuel Melville, an activist and inmate killed in the prison riot at Attica State Prison in 1971. Melville’s words outline the inhumane living conditions at Attica, which lead directly to the four-day riot that left 39 people dead.

Admission to all events is free, and more info on events can be found at music.uga.edu/innocents.