Arts Join the Conversation on Immigration




“Immigration lawyers believe the State Department has been denying more artist visas after President Trump ordered heightened vetting for all visa applications earlier this year,” writes the ARTery’s Maria Garcia.

President Trump’s second executive order on immigration, called for "immediate implementation of additional heightened screening and vetting protocols and procedures for issuing visas." For international artists, this meant increased difficulty and uncertainty in an already highly subjective process.

Arts groups wishing to bring international artists to the U.S. must file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, must prove the artist will have contractual employment in the U.S., and must prove that the artist is "renowned".

It is the subjectivity of this last qualification which allowed federal authorities to deny entry to the Boreas Quartett Bremen this May - Garcia’s main example for the increased scrutiny on visa applications. The four female members of the German musical group were scheduled to perform at the Boston Early Music Festival and were forced to cancel because authorities deemed them inadequately renowned, despite much evidence to the contrary

Immigration has been a contentious topic across all platforms in the wake of the 2017 Presidential race, and the arts sector is no exception. Here at MASSCreative, we’ve been following how the arts have been intersecting with the immigration crisis discussion. Here are a few key examples:

In February, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College launched its "Art-Less" initiative to call attention to the many contributions of immigrant artists. 

On April 26, an exhibition by Nari Ward opened at the ICA. Entitled “Sun-Splashed,” the exhibit focuses closely on the naturalization process and attempts to convey aspects of the experiences of those seeking U.S. citizenship.

On June 8, in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month, Mayor Walsh announced the photo exhibit “The Faces of Syrian Refugees” at City Hall. The exhibit, produced by Boston-based photographer Michael Cohen, consists of life-sized color portraits and personal interviews with 20 Syrians – some of whom are now working in arts and culture -who have fled war and relocated to Europe and North America.

Dorchester artist Nora Valdez’s project “Immigration Nation,” similarly addresses issues of displacement. Made from over 400 suitcases, each individually crafted by immigrants who came to the U.S., the installation will be on view at the Urbano Project in Jamaica Plain from May 24 through July 30. 

For those seeking sanctuary in the U.S., for residents applying for citizenship, for immigration legislators, and for artists abroad - the future is uncertain. But it is clear that the arts play and must continue to play an important role in the conversation.

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