News: PEN AMERICA PUBLISHES FIRST-EVER GUIDE FOR ARTISTS AT RISK

January 26, 2021 News Release from PEN America

(New York, NY) — Today PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection is releasing its Safety Guide for Artists, a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind guide available in English, French, and Spanish to help artists navigate, counter, and overcome threats and persecution from those seeking to silence their voices. In 2019, ARC—a project that connects imperiled artists worldwide with resources— had its highest number of caseload referrals since its founding in 2017 and has already broken that record in 2020, indicating the dire situation globally for artists and advocates.

The recommendations in the guide were informed by ARC’s experience connecting artists at risk to assistance as well as the vast knowledge of its global network of partners working to defend artistic freedom, whose research, campaigns, and collaborations provided instrumental information.

“This year, we’ve seen an explosion of protest movements worldwide, but also the desperate attempts by governments to unjustly and at times violently muzzle artistic freedom and dissent,” said Julie Trebault, director of ARC and one of the guide’s lead authors. “Artists have been leaders in the global movement for rights and justice, and are often targeted for arrest, detention, kidnapping and even murder. The potency of creative expression in kindling passions and changing minds is what makes regimes view artists as threatening. We hope that our guide will be a go-to resource for those facing danger and for the organizations worldwide doing their utmost to protect artistic freedom expression.”

“Facing risk can be an incredibly isolating and confusing experience,” says Mai Khoi, a dissident Vietnamese musician who had to flee her country after experiencing persecution related to her pro-democracy activism in 2018. “A resource like this guide, which can help artists understand their vulnerabilities, learn how to overcome them, and hear from artists who have been in similar situations, will surely help future artists at risk feel less alone and better-equipped to withstand pressures.”

In the past year, artists have helped lead protest movements in the U.S. following George Floyd’s murder, as well as in Chile, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Belarus, and elsewhere around the world. The rise in global activism has led to a simultaneous rise in the risks of speaking out. Freemuse’s State of Artistic Freedom report earlier this year counted over 700 incidents in which artists’ rights were violated in some 93 countries, including censorship, assault and harassment, arrest and imprisonment, kidnapping, torture, and even murder.

These realities have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many governments have exploited the health crisis to crack down on dissent through national security and disinformation laws, while other governments fail to take proper steps to protect the health and livelihood of cultural workers. As part of the manual, ARC interviewed 13 leading artists to help inform the guide, surfacing the strategies they’ve used to counter repression, what resources exist, and what guidance or help others might need.

The guide offers robust recommendations to help protect artists and creative professionals who are being silenced for their work. Topics covered include:

  • Tactics governments and non-state agents use to attack artists
  • Methods of identifying and assessing risks
  • Digital security threats and best preventative practices
  • Strategies for developing a personal safety plan
  • Actions artists can take to gather evidence and ensure accountability
  • Overview of the field of support available to artists at risk, as well as a list of resources

“Over the past four years, we’ve seen that artists are at the forefront of the growing global movement to speak out: singing songs, penning slogans, painting murals, staging exhibitions and performances,” said PEN America’s Trebault. “The costs of such artistic freedom have risen dramatically. And while there are thousands of courageous artists who speak out despite the dangers, there are untold creative minds who live in fear, self-censored into silence.”

The guide breaks down how to manage threats from governments, but also from political groups, the police, and military, as well as the threats posed by extremist groups, fundamentalist communities, and even one’s neighbors or family. It comes as ARC itself has seen a skyrocketing caseload, with the vast majority of those accessing ARC’s network of supporters seeking help with relocation and emergency grants. 

The full guide is available here and a downloadable PDF is available here.

 

Losing the News – Local News in Peril

As local news outlets are gutted and shuttered, reporters laid off, publication schedules cut, and resources tightened across the country, Losing the News: The Decimation of Local News and the Search for Solutions sounds the alarm about the existential threat facing local watchdog journalism and proposes big-picture solutions for its revitalization.

Source: Losing the News – PEN America

This important report shows how news coverage of local issues in local newspapers is being lost: “Most Americans do not yet realize that their local news sources are on the brink of collapse and only a small minority pay for local news.”

“Local” is–obviously–where we live, and as we lose local watch-dog reporting and coverage of on-going issues, we are entering a paradoxical situation where we know more about what’s going in Washington, D. C., and other major cities than we do in the towns where we live.

Why does local journalism matter and what must we do to save it? If this subject resonates with you, click on the link above to see the report and its conclusions. As a former college journalism instructor, you have my gratitude if you read and share this report.

–Malcolm

 

For discussion: do you support this view of publishing and writing?

from PEN America

PEN AMERICA RESPONDS TO ‘AMERICAN DIRT’ CONTROVERSY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(New York, NY) – Following news that the publisher of American Dirt plans to cancel its book tour, PEN America issued the following statement:“We have been closely following the debate concerning American Dirt, which implicates concerns at the heart of PEN America’s mission. Our organization has long been committed to the vital work of amplifying lesser-heard voices, and we are staunch advocates of increased diversity, equity, and inclusion in publishing. In our public programming, we strive to present the broadest array of writers from across the country and around the world. We have dedicated programs focused on fostering writing among individuals who are incarcerated, undocumented immigrant youth, and others who might be locked out of the literary community due to resources, background, or other factors. And we have engaged deeply over the last two years in combating online harassment, and recognize its particular silencing impact on women writers and writers of color.“As writers, we believe in the necessity of reasoned discourse across differences. The breadth of passionate perspectives unleashed by this controversy has sparked an overdue public conversation. We urge that this dialogue unfold in the realm of ideas and opinions, and avoid descending into either ad hominem attacks or caricature. As defenders of freedom of expression, we categorically reject rigid rules about who has the right to tell which stories. We see no contradiction between that position and the need for the publishing industry to urgently address its own chronic shortcomings. If the fury over this book can catalyze concrete change in how books are sourced, edited, and promoted, it will have achieved something important. It is past time to equip, resource, and elevate a wider group of voices to speak for themselves and about their experiences. As a nearly 100-year-old organization, we have our own historic legacies, blind spots, and challenges to reckon with. We look at this debate through the lens of how we can continue to evolve to better fulfill our mission.

“Finally, we reject all threats of violence, as well as vitriol aimed to shut down discussion and enforce silence. In our digital discourse, harsh invective too easily gives way to threats and intimidation that have a chilling effect not only on their targets, but on entire topics or points of view. We believe such approaches impair, rather than advance, what is an urgent and essential debate.”

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If you haven’t been following the “American Dirt” controversy, you can find information here.

PEN America to Focus on the Right to Read in the Nation’s Prisons 

“America’s prison system implements that largest book ban in the United States. This year, as part of national Banned Books Week (Sept. 22 – 28), the free expression and literary organization PEN America will launch a weeklong initiative to shed light on the practice of banning books in the nation’s prisons and jails. ‘Literature Locked Up: Banned Books Week 2019’ will feature events across the country, online activities, and public education to highlight restrictions of the right to read for the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in the United States.”

Source: As Part of National Book Banning Week, PEN America to Focus on the Right to Read in the Nation’s Prisons – PEN America

We hear about prisoners’ lack of access to books from time to time, but it always seems isolated to one jail or another. That obscures the issue. Book banning in prisons is worse than all the book challenges in all the school and public libraries put together.

We’re not talking about books with titles like “How to Tunnel out of Sing Sing” or “Bomb Making for Dummies.” I often wonder under what authority does the warden or those he reports to ban the same titles the rest of us are reading.

I hope PEN America’s initiative brings the problem to the attention of more people and shows how pervasive it is.

Malcolm