Conference on Democracy

While "think, question, and create" has become the motto of Marin Academy, it is the second part of our mission statement—that MA "challenges each person to accept the responsibilities posed by education in a democratic society"—that inspires the Conference on Democracy, now in its 14th year. The Conference’s origins were modest: a lunch-line conversation between two teachers sparked the idea of integrating the school’s mission more deeply into our daily intellectual and social practices. Now an eagerly-anticipated annual event, the Conference provides a wide array of perspectives on political, social, economic, and environmental issues that our communities face locally, nationally, and globally.
Each year, the Conference invites local, national, and global luminaries to share their professional perspectives and personal experiences with the community. Well-balanced panels debate hot-button topics such as immigration policy, election integrity, and environmental issues. In the last several years, the Conference has fueled curricular innovation and community engagement, with both teachers and students planning and presenting sessions.
The Conference on Democracy earned national recognition for Marin Academy six years ago when the National Association of Independent Schools named MA a Leading Edge School in the category of Equity and Justice. According to Orville Schell, keynote speaker at the 2008 Conference and former Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, “Marin Academy’s Conference on Democracy is a wonderful and intelligent convocation that comes at precisely the time in their young students’ lives when all the formative intellectual and political muscle of their future lives is being formed. If this country is to help engender real citizens out of the next generation, there is surely no better way to do it than this.”
Conference on Democracy 2017 Schedule

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

D Block 8:00 - 9:15 AM

Peeling Back the Veneer: Steinbeck and Salgado’s Compelling Look at Human Migration and the Practice of “Concerned Art.”

John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath with a specific agenda to raise the consciousness of Americans to the plight of the “Dust Bowl Refugees.” Dorothea Lange documented it and Sebastian Salgado follows in the same tradition by practicing what he calls “concerned art.” Join MA students and teachers in an exploration of how artists have influenced the public view of the migration and immigration issues of our time. The session will include excerpts from MA’s upcoming production of The Grapes of Wrath.
Presented by: Bill Meyer, David Sinaiko, and the cast of MA’s Fall production of The Grapes of Wrath.
    • Peeling Back the Veneer
E Block 9:20 - 10:35 AM

Democracy, The Soundtrack: Music and Its Role in Democratic Discourse

Music has long been an art form keyed to the expression of democratic beliefs, principles, and demands of the people. Woody Guthrie, John Coltrane, and Rage Against the Machine are but a few prominent names in the pantheon of musical expressions of democracy. Join MA Music teacher Chris Detrick, cultural anthropologist Nicholas Baham, and MA students in a musical exploration of democratic values featuring a mix of live performance, recordings, and lively discussion.
Special Guest: Nicholas Baham
    • John Coltrane
F Block 11:05 AM - 12:30 PM

Killer Memes and Fake News: Understanding Propaganda in Democratic Society

What is propaganda? How did it look in the past? Every MA student that has been through our humanities curriculum should have some ideas about how to answer those questions, but many others remain. What are the psychological underpinnings of propaganda—and why does it work so well? What does propaganda look like now—and how is it connected to “fake news” and the election of 2016? Join us for a session where MA students will guide an exploration into these phenomena and their impact on democratic society.
Presented by: Alexandria Brown and MA students
    • Fake News
G Block 1:30 - 2:45 PM

Lauren Gunderson: All Stories are Political

Lauren Gunderson, 2017’s most produced playwright in America, will lead a presentation/conversation examining the inherent politics of every work of fiction - based on who the main character is, what happens to them, and (if it is a play or a film) which actors are cast. Join Lauren as she explores of the purpose of art and how it forces us to make meaning out of chaos.
Special Guest: Lauren Gunderson
    • Lauren Gunderson

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Block 8:00 - 9:15 AM

What’s Going On?: Ken Light and Photojournalism and Democracy

What role do images play in shaping our perceptions of current events, history and politics? Join us for a session with the head of UC Berkeley’s Photojournalism program Ken Light as he discusses his work as a freelance documentary photographer, focusing on social issues facing America for over 45 years. His work has been published in nine books, including, What’s Going On?, Coal Hollow, Delta Time, To The Promised Land, With These Hands, Texas Death Row and Valley of Shadows and Dreams. He is also the author of the text Witness in Our Time: Lives of Working Documentary Photographers, now in its second edition.
Special Guest: Ken Light
    • Ken Light
C Block 9:50 - 11:05 AM Session will begin in the Championship Field

The Nature Fix: The Role of Nature in Creativity and Democratic Society

Many philosophers, scientists, and artists have attested to the value of a walk in the woods. In this session we will have the opportunity to explore our own responses to time in natural settings. We will also hear from Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, about how and why time spent in nature helps us become happier, healthier and more creative. There will an opportunity following her talk for questions. This session will be co-led by students from the Outdoor Leadership Elective, Sacred Texts, Advanced Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Neuroscience.
Special Guest: Florence Williams
    • Florence Williams
Assembly 11:10 - 12:05 PM New Gymnasium

Keynote Presentation: The Embodiment Project: Challenging Systemic Inequities Through Hip-Hop and Dance

For our keynote assembly this year we are thrilled to welcome MA’s own Hip-Hop Instructor Nicole Klaymoon and other dancers from the Embodiment Project back to campus for an hour of performance and conversation. This presentation will feature excerpts from the Embodiment Project’s current show Ancient Children and past projects to highlight how this dedicated group of artists uses their work to “challenge systemic inequity by exploring themes of trauma, healing, womanist histories, race, and gender role dissolution through street dance, live song, spoken word, and documentary theater.”
Special Guest: Nicole Klaymoon and The Embodiment Project
    • Nicole Klaymoon
B Block 1:05 - 2:20 PM

Art Behind Bars: Creativity and Restorative Justice

Should the justice system in the United States function as an agent of punishment or rehabilitation? What happens when incarcerated people are given the opportunity to work alongside artists to practice creative expression within the walls of their prison? Harnessing art’s universal power to help us understand ourselves and the world, four artists who work with incarcerated populations join us for a panel discussion on the effects of artistic expression within prison environments. Film and theater director Shira Piven, visual artist Katya McCullough, dance and theater maker Amie Dowling, and dancer and former incarceree Reggie Daniels, along with students from Pam Maffei’s Justice in America class, will discuss their work bringing art into the lives of incarcerated people in order to make justice more restorative.
Special Guests: Shira Piven, Katya McCulloch, Amie Dowling, and Reggie Daniels
    • Art Behind Bars

Thursday Evening Thacher Lecture Speaker Series

Thursday, October 19, 7:30 PM

Thacher Lecture: What is the Role of Art in Democratic Society?

Film and theater director Shira Piven (Welcome to Me), playwright Lauren Gunderson (2017’s most produced playwright in America), and author Florence Williams (The Nature Fix) are three artists whose work prompts audiences to engage deeply with the world around them. Join us for a conversation with them as they share their perspective on the role of art and representation in a democratic society.
Special Guests: Shira Piven, Lauren Gunderson, and Florence Williams
    • The Role of Art