Wende Panel Discusses “The Role of Art in Today’s World”

The bright, chilly afternoon of Feb. 12, 2023 saw the garden at the Wende Museum turn into a forum for art. The panel discussion on ‘The Role of Art in Today’s World,” facilitated by the Wende’s Deputy Director Cara Megan Lewis, opened a conversation about the need for and the function of art that was a tantalizingly small slice of an enormous topic.

Panelists Darrel Couturier, a curator with a specialty in Latin American art; Heidi Duckler, founder and director of the eponymous Heidi Duckler Dance; Hugh Levick, a composer and organizer of the HEAR NOW festival; and Armando Molina, artistic director of the Company of Angels theater, all addressed the issue of art from their multiple seasoned perspectives. 

Touching on everything from the need for freedom and political expression to the massive economic power of art, panelists also reflected on how their own disciplines met with both audiences and patrons. Duckler asked “Are we seen as entrepreneurs or prostitutes?” when considering the need for financial support to present a performance. Her own site-specific choreography was a challenge to “insurance people, lawyers, you know- they kind of trail after your wake, worrying about details…” and she offered an occasion where the amount of red tape in her way had caused her to change the venue. After the success of the performance, she noted “Perhaps they reconsidered whether all that paperwork was essential.” 

Couturier took on the fact of ethnic prejudice in the art world, noting that many artists from both Latin America and South America were marketed as ‘less than’ when they could even get the gallery space. “We have ideas as to what is art and what is not, and that is unfairly limiting to artists; doors need to be open.” 

Levick and Molina spoke about the challenges of getting the art to the audience. The HEAR NOW festival, set to come to Los Angeles in April of this year, features contemporary composers; Levick commented on the ‘signal to noise’ ratio of getting people to listen to music when they are so frequently bombarded with all kinds of sound all the time. How to get funding for theater that represents the people who are typically under-represented in our culture was a part of Molina’s task as a creator. “Change is the work,” Molina offered, “To express what it feels like to be alive. Everyone has a story to tell. It’s about getting people to believe that art is something real.”

After the panel was over, the conversations continued, with the audience drawing the speakers out for more ideas and insights. 

A brief walk through the galleries at the Wende was dramatic evidence as to the power of art to communicate, to reflect and to change the world. 

Judith Martin-Straw


The Actors' Gang