Roadside Theater on Art, Belonging and Community at Virginia Tech

On October 30, 2017, Roadside Theater’s Amy Brooks spoke at Virginia Tech as part of their Community Voices lecture series.


Community Voices, produced by School of Public and International Affairs’ Institute for Policy and Governance team members Max Stephenson and Neda Moayerian, is “an interdisciplinary group of Virginia Tech graduate students and faculty, and community representatives interested in exploring innovative approaches to community building and engagement.” The Community Voices team “organizes a series of public talks and roundtable discussions by leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors who share stories and insights about their creative leadership initiatives and innovative approaches to problem-solving, the hard lessons learned and the rich experiences gained helping communities shape their futures."

Brooks also spoke at a public brown bag luncheon on the Tech campus and was interviewed by international graduate students for Trustees Without Borders, a podcast produced by Institute Senior Fellow Andy Morikawa.

In her evening Community Voices address on the theme of belonging, Brooks took an outsider’s view of how to use arts, culture, and equitable development to redefine community in a mobile, politically fractious era, asking: “How can we organize for change together in this moment when we barely seem to inhabit the same planet...much less the same neighborhood, region, or country?”

“Since I came to work for Appalshop’s Roadside Theater two years ago,” Brooks said, “I’ve learned to trust in the value of first-voice storytelling and its power to open us to being – if not friends or political allies – then neighbors. Which may be something like ‘colleagues’ to whom we’re accountable in our hard public work of learning to remember and invent the world together.”

Lecture and discussion topics included Performing Our Future, a national creative placemaking initiative Appalshop has launched with partner organization Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life; Roadside Theater’s community cultural and economic development practice; and Roadside’s collaboration with Appalshop’s Letcher County Culture Hub

Brooks’s presentations mark a new phase of collaboration for Roadside and Virginia Tech, whose VTArtWorks initiative will engage Ithaca, NY-based digital design cooperative CoLab to create a web-based organizing site to catalyze and support the creation of community-based plays, showcasing the work of Performing Our Future as a development model. The site, currently in development, will connect artists and cultural organizations with each other, with humanities and social science programs in higher education, and with other institutions exploring the role which theater plays in advancing justice in communities with histories of cultural and economic exploitation.

Listen to Brooks’s Community Voices  talks here: The Roundtable | The Podcast | The Evening Talk