ADS Works was founded by actress/playwright/teacher Anna Deavere Smith in the late 1990’s with a substantial grant from the Ford Foundation. Three summers of activities were hosted at Harvard University. Several new works were produced in all genres, with the idea that nascent works could be enriched by early contact with audiences if the subject matter, rather than form, was the focus. The summers were filled with robust conversations around such issues as gun control, beauty, policing, genocide, the fall of apartheid in South Africa, and many more. Artists ranged from very accomplished artists like Art Spiegleman, the Girls Choir of Harlem, to those who were iconic in the avant garde such as Ping Chong, to those who were newer to their fields. Intellectual participation was abundant. Any given evening included such visitors as Lewis Hyde, Martha Minow, Lani Guinier, Cornel West, and Henry Louis Gates.
Our overriding question was “What do you gain or lose when you come out of the safety of your studio to engage in civic events?”. Since that time, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the rise of social entrepreneurship, increased globalization of the marketplace, and the explosion in social networking and technology, we see a global surge of artists who want to combine meticulous discipline and abundant creative energy in their given form with a desire to make a difference where things are not quite right in the world. There is no longer the strict dividing line between art which is successful as good “art” and art that seeks to speak up and out.