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Dudley Cocke, Kim Yasuda Receive 2017 Randy Martin Spirit Award

By Holly Zahn | December 13, 2017

Imagining America (IA) unveiled the recipients of the second annual Randy Martin Spirit Award at the 17th annual national IA conference hosted by UC Davis. The 2017 award winners, Dudley Cocke and Kim Yasuda, are both civically engaged scholars and artists, and longtime members of the IA national consortium.

The Randy Martin Spirit Award, created in 2016, recognizes individuals who embody the unique qualities that made Dr. Randy Martin such a beloved and valued member of IA. Martin was the founding chair of the Department of Art & Public Policy in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“Randy, to me, was whimsically serious, deeply sky-bound, and critically inclusive,” said Kal Alston, interim executive director of the Community Folk Art Center and vice chair of the IA National Advisory Board, who served on the award selection committee. “He could always get me to think again, even about things I thought I knew — and always with such wisdom and joy. Both Kim and Dudley are deeply creative and community-embedded; they bring joy and connectedness wherever they go.”

Dudley Cocke and Kim Yasuda don honorary red clown noses after being presented with the 2017 Randy Martin Spirit Award on October 13 during the annual national IA conference in Davis, California.

Following a presentation by 2016 Randy Martin Spirit Award winner Anne Basting, National Advisory Board members Carlton Turner, executive director of Alternate Roots, and Adam Bush, provost of College Unbound, presented the winners with honorary red clown noses on October 13, 2017. Martin was a trained clown, as well as a dancer, social activist, and economist.

Award recipients are selected based on demonstration of consistency and originality in scholarship, artistry, pedagogy, mentorship, and leadership, but also for exuding the kind of generosity, sincerity, humor, and curiosity for which Martin is remembered.

Dudley Cocke is artistic director of Roadside Theater, and from 2012 to 2014 he also served as acting director of Appalshop, the award-winning Appalachian arts and humanities center in Whitesburg, Kentucky, of which Roadside is one part. Roadside is a professional ensemble creating and touring nationally original Appalachian and intercultural plays.  Its artistic collaborations with a half-dozen African American, Native American, and Latino ensembles span decades, and its deep community residency process based on the idea of local life increasingly revealing itself has inspired the founding of new theaters.

Cocke’s relationship with IA extends back to 2006 when he joined the National Advisory Board at former faculty director Jan Cohen-Cruz’s invitation. He began collaborating with Cohen-Cruz in 2002 when she was a professor at NYU They joined forces with Cohen-Cruz’s colleague, Randy Martin, to fight for a more prominent place for grassroots, community-based performance with social justice at its center.

“I had previously been on a number of national boards and could see right away that IA had the opportunity to think more intentionally about its democratic vision for higher education and how to get there,” said Cocke. “Randy also joined the NAB, so we continued to work as a team. When he died in 2015, we had been working on projects together for 13 years. Some of the projects were intense, and Randy’s sense of humor was infectious.”

Their final project together was Cocke’s chapter “Seeking a Theater of Liberation” in Martin’s book The Routledge Companion to Art and Politics, published shortly after his passing.

Kim Yasuda is an artist and professor of Public Practice in the Department of Art at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). She served on the IA National Advisory Board for two three-year terms followed by a term as vice chair.

Her research occurs at the intersection of her university teaching and her public art practice, shaping pedagogical experiments that explore the junction between institutional knowledge production and a creative practice. Yasuda has created numerous projects together with her students, working on temporary public interventions and permanent urban renewal projects in the student community of Isla Vista, an unincorporated area of 21,000 inhabitants adjacent to the UCSB campus.

“In my mind, Randy and his spirit continue to inhabit this circle of possibility and inclusion that he helped to create,” said Yasuda. “He left it wide open for each one of us to be a part of; to draw strength and solidarity, as we confront the challenging work ahead of us. This award is among the most meaningful that I have received in my professional life, as both artist and academic.”

As part of the award, Cocke and Yasuda are invited to share their work at the 2018 IA national conference in partnership with members of the IA staff and National Advisory Board.