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John Ridley’s Nō Studios to host Social Justice Summit with space to blend art and empathy

Oscar-winning filmmaker, founder and CEO of Nō Studios, and Milwaukee native John Ridley invited members of the local media for an exclusive first conversation on September 30, about the Nō Studios inaugural Social Justice Summit.

Following its first year anniversary on October 11, Nō Studios will present a two-day Social Justice Summit on November 15 and 16 to help residents of Milwaukee build personal relationships, encourage ongoing conversations with individuals who want to identify social issues, and match them with others who are skilled in solving community problems.

“Roger Ebert, who is often thought of as a film critic but I believe to be one of the greatest film journalists, said that ‘at its best, art is an apparatus for delivering empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.’” said Ridley. “Art can bring people together, and let them feel things together. Sometimes it’s just laughter and good times. Sometimes a subject is so challenging that folks don’t want talk about it. But the experience stays with them when they walk out of that space, and drives them to do more to find solutions. So for us at Nō Studio, we wanted to create that kind of experience in this space.”

Ridley and Lisa Caesar, his sister and chief operating officer of Nō Studios, told the attending media and special guests that they felt their goal of turning Milwaukee – their hometown – into a film hub was part of the motivation for the summit, and its goal to uplift the community.

“The intent of Nō Studio was to be a creative hub, and enable the community to embrace this idea and elevate it to a new level. This is where I grew up, and my brother and I are very committed to investing in Milwaukee’s future,” said Caesar. “After being in Milwaukee over the past year, it really crystalized that if we did not stand for something then we stand for nothing. If we are not making a statement, then we are complicit in the absence of statement. So I think the summit is an extension of what we are doing here.”

The summit is entitled “Art Activated,” which represents the purpose of combining art with activism. It will bring together artists of different disciplines – filmmakers, photographers, musicians, dancers, and more – who use their talent and vision to create works that not merely entertain, but also focus the audience on pressing social concerns: poverty, trafficking, bias related crimes, economic disparity, and such. The difficult subject matters are made less distancing through the emotionality of the artists. Activists and academics will discuss the lived experience of disenfranchisement and offer solutions to some of the most pressing social justice issues affecting Milwaukee, the nation, and the world.

At the same time, the summit will include and involve organizers and social engineers practiced in implementing real world solutions to social issues. The summit wants to deliver concrete proposals to the widest group of energized individuals possible, who can then take those ideas back to their localities, and put them into action. The Social Justice Summit will be an opportunity for like minded individuals to cross-pollinate over a wide range of topics, with the goal of taking engagement and emotion, and turning them into practical and ongoing solutions.

“When people come together and have a community experience, it’s about sharing the experience of feeling. It’s something that can’t be expressed in words, it can’t be quantified. It’s just there. You know when you feel, and share it together,” said Ridley.

“There’s no more urgent need in our world today than people who are ready to stand up and fight to make a difference. People do this in different ways because we all have different skill sets. Our ability is artistic, which is not always a solution to every problem. But art is a platform to share our commonality. Art offers the ability to express and understand empathy, spending time with other people to explain things, and be in their space in a very unique way. That is something that art can do.”

The takeaway from the Summit would be that whatever issues people are facing, they are not facing them alone. And while every circumstance is unique, the reality is that underlying causations and results of bias, poverty, disenfranchisement are sadly universal. Many people in many places face them, endure them, and overcome them. So if people unite, then together people can overcome.

Presentations and panels at “Art Activated” will focus on criminal justice reform, human trafficking, fair housing, and art as a form of protest and repair. Notable speakers and participants include: actors and activists Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Guerrilla) and Richard Cabral (American Crime, Mayans M.C.); Frank Almond, Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and subject of the documentary Plucked; author, producer and television host Chrishaunda Lee Perez; founder of Uganda-based Children of Peace, Jane Ekayu; Nancy Yarborough, founder and executive director of Fresh Start Learning in Milwaukee; activists, poet and Professor Peggy Rozga; professors Michael Dinwiddie, and Millery Polyne and Kristin Holton from NYU’s Gallatin School, among others who are still being scheduled to attend.

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