Dissident Arts Festival held in New York

The sixth annual Dissident Arts Festival was held in New York City at the Brecht Forum.

John Pietaro, a labor organizer and musician, along with poets and activists John and Steve Bloom, brought the festival to New York City last year from Beacon, N.Y., where it originated.

The festival featured film, poetry and song. First on the bill was one of the most highly regarded labor films ever made in the U.S., Salt of the Earth. Documentarian Kevin Keating (Harlan County U.S.A., and Giuliani Time), who led a discussion on the movie, said, “The audience loved the film. Everybody was stunned, I think. I don’t think anyone in the audience had seen it before. The film was made by communists and that power came through in the film.”

Singer/songwriter Judy Gorman did a great rendition of Pete Seeger’s Talking Union.

The Raging Grannies also showed up and made a lasting impression. Carson Chutters, a New York teacher said the Grannies “were wonderful. It was really exciting to hear them. I’m an educator. I work with eight- to 12-year-olds. I’m always looking for ways to integrate and make music more accessible to people who don’t always have exposure to these ideas, and I especially think that the music and lyrics and the way they were talking about these really complex issues made it really easy and fun to participate … What a wonderful way to start engaging than signing a really exciting song and getting into it.”

Poets Steve Bloom, Sara Goudarzi, Mary Ellen Sanger, Angelo Verga, Jackie Sheeler and Robert Gibbons read some of their works to the delight of the audience. Satirist Dave Lippman provided the audience with belly laughs “protecting greed” and other acts.

A jazz and spoken word ensemble from San Francisco, Upsurge, blew the audience away with their powerful music and lyrics, which condemned Wall Street and the greedy banks. The leader of the group, Raymond Nat Turner, said, “This is a perfect showcase for what we’ve been doing for 20 years in the Bay Area.” This was the group’s first performance at the festival.

Summing it up, festival organizer John Pietaro said, “This is the second year of the festival in New York City. People we get each year have a following. Kevin, who was with us last year, Gwen Laster, who performed at Obama’s inauguration, Upsurge, from San Francisco.”

“The goal is for Dissident Arts to become a real organization, not just a yearly concert but a regular series of things influenced to some degree by Pete Seeger’s people songs, the composer’s collective in New York in the 30s, and Aaron Copeland,” said Pietaro.

He concluded. “We need to have a broad coalition of people who are tired of capitalism and certainly tired of the military industrial complex that we’ve been living in.”

Photo: Radio Noir performs at the Dissident Art Festival.


Gabe Falsetta
Gabe Falsetta

Long-time social justice activist Gabe Falsetta writes from New York City.