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The Mass Media

From Art to Change: Creativity and Public Policy

In October 2003, Kathleen Bitetti spoke with UMass Boston students about domestic violence. - Photo by Shaun Krisher
In October 2003, Kathleen Bitetti spoke with UMass Boston students about domestic violence. – Photo by Shaun Krisher

Kathleen Bitetti, a curator and arts professional in alternative art spaces, has been an art activist in the Boston area for over 13 years. Her art project, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” was on display at the Harbor Art Gallery in October of 2003 to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

I had the chance to interview Bitetti on Thursday, February 19 at the office where she works for a small family foundation in Harvard Square.

“I started making art at UMass Boston in about 1987,” Bitetti explained. She majored in both art and economics and studied art with Ros Barron, Jerry Berndt, and Bart Uchida, and became close with Melissa Shook. Bitetti considers all of these art professors influential to her career because their work changed public policies, making them distinguished trailblazers in the art community. Likewise, the economic professors she studied with, Mary Stevenson, Jeremiah Cotton, Henry J. Ramando, and David Turkla, also helped solidify Bitetti’s passion for public policy and social justice.

Of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” Bitetti stated, “My work may have issues around it, you could maybe call it sociopolitical work, but to me it’s not. Even though my work has an issue around domestic violence, I don’t really put it in a category like that. My artwork is about art; it’s about life.”

“I grew up in Quincy where there was a high rate of domestic violence,” Bitetti continued. Because she believes that art should be able to be looked at by people who are not in the art community, part of her work actually involves “cultural interventions” that allow her to place her work in non-art spaces that are indoor or semi-public sites.

When work is placed in the community, unlike in a museum, the interaction with the viewer is a raw, Bitetti said. The emotional reaction one can have to art has led Bitetti to make the connection between her work and political change, as shown through her association with Employers Against Domestic Violence. She described her message to me plainly, “Domestic violence isn’t neat, it doesn’t always mean [it’s] the woman who’s the victim…to me, all violence is wrong, no matter who’s doing the hitting. I don’t care what the gender is, it’s not okay.”

The has recurring themes of her work include domestic violence, fairy tales, the “American Dream,” gender roles, and the fragility of childhood. In addition to “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” she is currently working on “Forever Hold Your Peace,” “ThePrincessProject.com,” “Pillow Talk,” “Weary Heads,” “Nursery,” and “Lullabies & Fairy Tales,” all of which are site-specific installations or works on paper.

“ThePrincessProject.com,” is an interdisciplinary conceptual art project conceived and spearheaded by Bitetti. It examines gender roles, gender assignment, fairy tales, class structures, mass culture, identity, race and ethnicity, and the “commodification and branding” of individuals by utilizing a vast array of mediums such as digital imaging, sculpture, performance, installation, photography, video, and the Internet.

Bitetti feels that “ThePrincessProject.com” appeals to all audiences, ranging from the general public to the art community, activists and college students to young kids and teenagers and women and men of all ages and backgrounds. The project will reach audiences via the Internet, performances and appearances, exhibitions in public, art, and university spaces, and community-based artist residencies.

Bitetti summarized my interview with her by stating, “There’s a term called economies of scale…my role as an artist is reinforced by being a curator [and] by being a public policy person; it all feeds each other. It’s not really separate boxes in my head, they’re all under the same umbrella.”

Bitetti is going to show aspects of “ThePrincessProject.com” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” in fall 2004 while she is an artist in residence at Artspace in New Haven, CT. Her work is also going to be included in a group show in January 2005 at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA. To keep track of this UMB alumna and her activities, visit ThePrincessProject.com.