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Four-day Katrina 'Summit' at U. of I., elsewhere, strives for positive change

Elizabeth deAvila, News Bureau intern
217-333-5491; deavila@uiuc.edu

9/14/2006

"Katrina Mask"
Click photo to enlarge
"Katrina Mask," mixed media, by John Jennings, professor of art and design .

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A year after hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coasts, rebuilding efforts are finally moving forward. But it’s the remaining, deeper tears in the region’s social fabric that will be the main focus of a unique series of dialogues and events at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign designed to build community, connect diverse local and national audiences and ignite real and long-lasting positive change.

The four-day summit “Katrina: After the Storm – Civic Engagement Through Arts, Humanities and Technology” is scheduled to take place Sept. 27-30 at various venues on and off the U. of I. campus. Sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor and several campus units, the free summit is being organized to engage the public in critical conversations about issues that arose in Katrina’s wake, including social justice and equity, broken connections and the need for community healing.

The summit is also part of the “In|Formation Year,” a yearlong program that promotes the human and humane dimensions of technology, initiated by the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC), an international consortium of humanists, artists, scientists, social scientists and engineers.

Summit organizers have invited participation from artists, writers, technologists, scientists, humanists, teachers, healthcare professionals, social entrepreneurs and community members in the hope that their collective experiences and expertise will inspire innovative approaches and solutions to the problems Katrina revealed.

Using advanced multicast audio and video technology, the summit also will connect members of the U. of I. and local communities with virtual communities at many venues.

The venues: Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Boston University; Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta; Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, Fla.; Florida International University, Miami; Jackson State University, Jackson, Miss.; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge; and Renaissance Computing Institute, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Lectures, panel discussions and other activities will focus on topics ranging from understanding and predicting dangerous weather, disaster preparedness and deployment of mobile hospitals to re-imagining public schools and the role of social entrepreneurship in rebuilding communities. Other program highlights include performances by New Orleans poet Kalamu ya Salaam, the socially conscious hip-hop group Primeridian and poets Deborah Grison and Tyehimba Jess, a U. of I. professor of English. Also, ongoing throughout the summit will be “MiX TAPEStry: A Hip Hop VR Experience,” a collaboration between the U. of I. Krannert Art Museum’s Collaborative Advanced Navigation Visual Arts Studio (CANVAS) and Duke University that will give children hands-on experience with virtual-reality technology while learning history.

Allison Clark, associate director of the Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Creativity at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and chair of the Katrina summit, said the program was inspired in part by a previous campus initiative – the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Quilt, which carried the theme “A Single Garment of Destiny – Our Common Threads.”

“The quilt was created to remind us all that communities are a patchwork of different people and cultures stitched together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its part,” Clark said. “We are reinforcing that theme with our summit. We believe that community is stronger than Katrina or injustices that threaten community well being. We see technology as the thread that can bring people together into virtual communities even when they are forced apart physically.”

The summit opens with “A Cajun Fais Do-Do C-U Style” beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 27 at the Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park St., Champaign. The event will feature a screening of excerpts from “Perseverance: Putting It Back Together One Day at a Time,” a documentary ethnography project about one man’s determination to rebuild his home in New Orlean’s lower ninth ward, produced by U. of I. graduate student Maria Lovett; a panel discussion, musical and spoken-word performances, and an opportunity for the public to record personal stories.

Following two days of presentations and performances, the summit culminates with “New Orleans Rising: A Town Hall Meeting,” from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 30 in the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) auditorium, 1205 W. Clark St. Urbana. The meeting was engineered with the vision of bringing together participants from Champaign-Urbana and sites across the country to share ideas for creating strong communities that can effectively manage future disasters.

While participation in all events is free and open to the public, advance registration is requested. More information about the summit, including registration instructions, event times and locations, sponsors and partners, is available on the Web at www.katrinasummit.uiuc.edu.