The ROC Initiative

The Rhythm of Change is an initiative that has emerged from 22 years of Mande
Dance as a historical and embodied study at Brown University. Since its inception in
1989, Brown’s program has pioneered the study of Mande performance; it is now a
transnational program with a research center in Mali, and has attracted and served over
two thousands students from around the globe.  The Rhythm of Change Initiative directly builds upon projects pioneered throughout the Mande program, including The Bloodline Project, which developed performance pieces on malaria prevention, and the hugely popular Africanist weekends, which have been bringing African performance artists to the Brown community for over 10 years. 

Performance creates action; each year, students and educators travel to Mali to the
Yeredon Center for the Malian Arts, our cultural research facility in Bamako, to
engage in cultural preservation initiatives, educational advancement, community
service, and locally-identified research projects that utilize performative values to build
relationships and collaborations between communities, cultures, and nations. Over the
past twenty years, students have participated in building schools, creating public-service
plays to be broadcast on national radio stations, painted community murals, and created
performative events on malaria prevention, healthcare, and the environment that have
helped sustain artists, their families, and surrounding communities.  To see examples of selected student projects, click here.

Phase I commenced in 2010; students of the Mande Dance & Culture class were
partnered with international social change organizations to build partnerships between
performers and activists. The 2010 ROC Festival invited over three dozen international
artists and social organizers to engage in embodied learning and present a call to action.
The 2010 initiative included integral support for the creation of a local Burundian refugee
drum ensemble in an effort of cultural preservation. In 2011, students continued to raise
money and awareness for social change initiatives in health care, cultural development,
and nutrition, among others.

Phase II was launched this past summer; funded by the Brown Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards (UTRA Program), students traveled to the research center in Mali
to organize “The Communal Bowl,” a conference bringing together leading Malian artists
and nutrition experts in order to investigate the artist’s role in education and awareness
about Mali’s malnutrition crisis. Students were able to witness the provocation of a
vibrant discussion and connection of resources between artists and nutrition professionals
from traditionally distant sectors.

This past fall, New Works / World Traditions dance company participated in a
conference at Yale University with UNESCO’s Engagement FĂ©minin, which looks
to empower women through the arts. With the 2012 installment of the now annual
Rhythm of Change Festival, we further investigate performance’s role in social change,
especially in Africa and the Diaspora, and identify themes through the lens of nutrition,
health, and empowerment. This year we are lucky to be in partnership with Erik Ehn,
who is a leading activist in the role of art in trauma and survival and has done significant
work in East Africa on this subject, as he holds his own annual conference, Arts in the One World.

Join us in our continued exploration of how the arts contribute an active and integral
role in human survival and development.