Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people, from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms, punk and popular arts . The Cultural Worker celebrates revolutionary creativity and features a variety of essays, reviews, fiction, reportage, poetry and musings through the internet pen of this creative writer, journalist, musician and cultural organizer. Scroll straight down and you'll also find an extensive historical Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, followed by a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, photographers, film and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Regular readers of this blog will by now recognize the name of the festival I founded in 2006. Below is a detailed account of this year's Dissident Arts excursion....

August 13, 4PM - 11PM The Brecht Forum 451 West Street (between Bank and Bethune streets), New York NY 212-242-4201

Producer/Organizer – John Pietaro, Poetry Director- Steve Bloom

New York, NY: In the midst of reactionary fear-mongering, ongoing war, rising unemployment and a right-wing assault on organized labor, progressive artists speak out for social justice. The Dissident Arts Festival, now in its sixth year, is a platform for cultural workers to create, sing, recite, improvise, act and orate against war and inequity and in honor of the struggle of workers and the globally oppressed. Event organizer John Pietaro, a cultural and labor organizer, is proud to present the Dissident Arts Festival in conjunction with the Brecht Forum.

Festival performers include:
San Francisco’s radical poetry/jazz ensemble UPSURGE!
Explosive post-modern jazz SECRET ARCHITECTURE
Art Deco-damaged protest music RADIO NOIR
Jazz violinist/vocalist GWEN LASTER and her ensemble
Topical singer/songwriter JUDY GORMAN
Political satirist DAVE LIPPMAN

The Festival will open with a screening of the long-blacklisted film ‘SALT OF THE EARTH’; discussion led by film artist KEVIN KEATING will follow

Now a Manhattan mainstay, the Dissident Arts Festival was founded in upstate NY in 2006 with a primary goal of establishing an annual showcase of politically progressive music, poetry and performance art---perhaps the only such vehicle in the nation. This Festival has sought to bring together a wide variety of sounds and styles, tearing down boundaries, bending rules and infusing the arts with the strongest, most radical activism, where folk-protest song meets free improvisation and contemporary composition. Featured among our past performers and speakers were actor/raconteur Malachy McCourt, folk legend Pete Seeger, poet Louis Reyes Rivera, revolutionary hip hop group ReadNex Poetry Squad, protest/garage band The Last Internationale, labor luminary Henry Foner, topical singer Bev Grant, ‘anti-folk’ singer Lach, jazz artist Ben Barson and filmmaker Kevin Keating (“Giuliani Time”). And we presented tributes to Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Bertolt Brecht and Phil Ochs along the way. As of 2010, the Festival became affiliated with NYC’s Brecht Forum, a center of Left education and culture which has proven itself the perfect host of the Dissident Arts Festival. This year, Dissident Arts focuses on the improvisational and modernist heart of Protest Music while also featuring topical folk/acoustic performance, radical film and revolutionary poetry.

The arts ARE a weapon for social change…….
FILM: 4:00 PM – 5:30 – Screening of ‘SALT OF THE EARTH’ 5:30 – 6:15 - Discussion of ‘Salt of the Earth’ led by film artist KEVIN KEATING CONCERT: 6:15 – 6:45 - Gwen Laster Ensemble 6:45-6:55 - Steve Bloom /Mary Ellen Sanger 6:55 – 7:25 - Judy Gorman 7:25-7:35 - Mary Ellen Sanger/Jackie Sheeler 7:35 – 7:45 – NYC Metro Raging Grannies 7:45-7:55 - Jackie Sheeler/ Sara Goudarzi 7:55-8:25 - Upsurge! 8:25-8:35 – Robert Gibbons/ Sara Goudarzi 8:35 – 9:05 - Radio Noir 9:05-9:15 – Robert Gibbons/Angelo Verga 9:15 – 9:45 - Dave Lippman 9:45-9:55 – Angelo Verga/Steve Bloom 10:00- 10:30 - Secret Architecture
Festival Participants – in order of appearance
-Kevin Keating: filmmaker Kevin Keating has dozens of film and television credits over a varied career that has taken him all over the world. His passion for political filmmaking led him to productions with the Maysles Brothers and two-time Academy Award Winner Barbara Kopple, among others. Most noted for his cinematography on the brilliant “Harlan County USA”, Keating also worked on the noted Rolling Stones film “Gimme Shelter” and was staff cinematographer for WNET’s “The 51st State”. Other credits include “The Grateful Dead Movie”, “When We Were Kings”, “On Company Business” (a PBS documentary about the CIA) and “Hells Angels Forever”, which he co-directed. “Giuliani Time” represents Kevin’s most recent project as Producer/Director of a major feature documentary. This work has earned him such accolades as “Communist filmmaker joins unions in NYC to push Obama-Dodd financial takeover bill” (Andrew Breibart’s BigGovernment blog!)

-Gwen Laster: jazz violinist/vocalist; ensemble TBA. Gwen Laster performs and records internationally with a wide variety of artists in the jazz, concert, popular, avant garde and multi-cultural music genres. Artists she has worked with include Shakira (Obama inaugural concert), Alicia Keys, Rhianna, Leroy Jenkins, Anthony Braxton, Joe Giardullo, Shaggy, Aretha Franklin, Joss Stone and Haitian vocalist Emeline Michel. Her chamber and orchestral work includes Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, Harlem Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Sugar Hill Classical Band and The Braxton Opera "Shala". Laster has released two compact discs as a leader; she is currently recording "The Gameboard", based on the readings of Steve Rother's book "Re-member” and inspired by Eastern Philosophy. For more info see

-Steve Bloom: poet Steve is a long-time social activist and poet who lives in Brooklyn, NY. His work has been published extensively in both print and on-line journals. He has been a featured poet at readings as far away as Bakersfield, California. Steve is founder and host of the Activist Poets' Roundtable in New York City and today serves as Poetry Director of the Dissident Arts Festival. “Steve Bloom is a poet worth listening to”—Dennis Brutus, South African poet and political activist. Be sure to stop by for more on Steve

-Judy Gorman: acoustic topical singer/songwriter Judy performs in clubs, festivals, universities, peace & social justice events in over ten countries & forty-nine of these United States and has been on programs with Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, Moby, Richie Havens, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Pete Seeger, Suzanne Vega, Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, Odetta, Susan Sarandon, and was a featured performer on the very first Dissident Arts Festival in 2006. She recently released THE RISING OF US ALL - 18 songs of peace & justice, women & work, struggle and celebration. This follows her disc, ANALOG GIRL IN A DIGITAL WORLD. "Her rich throaty vocals are as affecting as her thoughtful, often political lyrics” – ‘Ms. Magazine’. For more info see

-Mary Ellen Sanger: poet Mary Ellen lived for 17 years in Mexico, and has published short stories and poems in Spanish and English in several Mexican journals, including Luna Zeta and Zocalo. She has published poetry, essays, and stories in online venues, including Poets Against the War, Mexconnect, Mexico Files, and r.kv.ry. Her essay “A Grammar of Place” was anthologized in Mexico, a Love Story. She is currently writing a collection of short stories inspired by the women of Ixcotel State Penitentiary in Oaxaca, Mexico where she spent thirty-three days and nights falsely imprisoned in the fall of 2003. Stories from the collection have appeared in CrossBronx and J Journal, New Writing on Justice (from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice).

-NYC Metro Raging Grannies: labor/anti-war choir The Raging Grannies are an international coalition comprised of local and regional groups of mature women who sing parodies set to familiar tunes to promote peace, justice, human rights and a green planet. The New York City Metro gaggle features Corinne Willinger, Mercy Van Vlack and Sunny Armer and is accompanied by Pamela Drake on guitar.

-Jackie Sheeler: poet/singer/songwriter Award-winning poet and songwriter, Jackie has two CDs and three books under her belt so far. Her most recent collection, “Earthquake Came to Harlem,” was published by NY Quarterly Books in 2010; a CD of original songs is coming out this fall. An occasional blogger and card-carrying activist, Jackie enjoys committing random acts of kindness and random acts of righteous indignation in equal measure. Find out more:

-Upsurge!: San Francisco’s radical jazz and poetry ensemble Zigi Lowenberg- JazzPoetry Vocals/Raymond Nat Turner- JazzPoetry Vocals/Tony Jones- tenor saxophone/ Rudi Mwongozi- piano/Bryce Sebastian- bass/Larry Johnson- drums
UpSurge! is a free-pushing jazz band with two strong poets out front, Raymond Nat Turner and Zigi Lowenberg, who chant, shout, sing, whisper, dance and speak their message. Combining poetry and jazz, male and female, Los Angeles and New York, Jewish and African-American, UpSurge! crosses boundaries, twists expectations, moves minds, and incites action while always holding true to the rhythm. The ensemble opened the historic rally in October 2001 at Oakland City Hall in support of then embattled Congresswoman Barbara Lee after her courageous, lone vote against invading Afghanistan along with Danny Glover, Alice Walker, Ishmael Reed. From a flatbed truck in March 2003 they kicked off the march from Mosswood Park to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The radical repertoire of UpSurge! includes new takes on Jazz standards, folk songs and classic JazzPoetry works. "Tough fun" - Holly Near.

-Sara Goudarzi : poet New York City writer and performer of poetry, Sara was born in Tehran and grew up in Iran, Kenya, and the U.S. Her writing has appeared in The Adirondack Review, National Geographic News, The Christian Science Monitor, and Drunken Boat, among others. She is the founder and co-editor of /One/ The Journal of Literature, Art and Ideas. Her CD, Oryan, Selected Poems of Baba Taher, in collaboration with Kees van den Doel, is available on CD Baby. Sara also teaches writing at NYU and is working on a first novel. Her website:

-Radio Noir: Art Deco-damaged protest music
John Pietaro-Xylophone, Voice/Quincy Saul-Clarinet/Javier Miyares-Electric Guitar/Laurie Towers-Electric Bass
Radio Radio Noir will offer their debut performance at this year’s Dissident Arts Festival. The ensemble reflects the fervent radicalism and sounds of the 1930s even as it embraces the ethics of downtown newmusic.
---Xylophonist John Pietaro
’s work reflects the xylophone soloists of the 1920s and a century of rogue percussionists and revolutionary composers, and is driven by protest songs, out jazz, punk rock and Marxism. He has performed with Alan Ginsberg, Fred Ho, Pete Seeger, the Flames of Discontent, others and writes widely for the Left press and his own blog. He works professionally in the labor movement.
---Clarinetist Quincy Saul , is a performer and social activist immersed in a radical vision of his instrument even as he reaches into its rich jazz heritage. He is a member of Scientific Soul Sessions in Harlem, a research associate for the ecosocialist journal 'Capitalism Nature Socialism', and a writer with a blog at A student of Fred Ho, Quincy performs throughout the NY area.
---Guitarist Javier Miyares-Hernandez
is a performer, composer and producer. Currently he is the creative director of 17 Frost Theater Of The Arts in Williamsburg Brooklyn, and performs with Sineparade, The Phonometricians On Cosmic Fire, and Radio Noir. Visit: for more information
---Bassist Laurie Towers, a featured soloist with the Flames of Discontent, embraces traditions for the electric bass in jazz, R&B, and rock and has forged a ‘lead bass’ style which is reflective of her influences Carol Kaye, James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorious and Charlie Haden. Towers is a feminist, an activist and an entrepreneur and has served as a mentor to at-risk girls and victims of domestic violence.

-Robert Gibbons: poet Robert is a writer living in New York City. He has published in the recent edition of ‘the Uphook Anthology’. In addition, Mr. Gibbons has published in ‘the Palm Beach Post’ and ‘the Riverdale Press’. A performance poet, he has performed all over New York City including the Cornelia Street Cafe, Small's Jazz Night Club, and Nightingales.

-Dave Lippman & Bard of the Bankers: progressive satirist To keep the festival fairly unbalanced, Dave Lippman will present Wild Bill Bailout, the Bard of the Bankers. Lippman is widely known on many coasts and in some interiors for his sharp send-ups of topical subjects ranging from weapons of mass distraction to SUVs and the wars to defend them. He has toured widely in the United States, Europe, Australia, and war-zones of Central America in a 35-year musical career. Ex-CIA agent John Stockwell declared Lippman prescient for writing a song about the Grenada "rescue" a year before it happened; Lippman declared it manifest destiny, based on the size of the island. For all this and more be sure to see

-Angelo Verga: poet Angelo is a poet, teacher, editor, manuscript doctor and curator of innumerable literary events. His sixth collection, Praise for What Remains (Three Rooms Press, 2009), is a long poem set in the crooked footpaths of lower Manhattan. He has been widely published and anthologized, and translated into a dozen languages. His earlier publications include 33 New York City Poems (Booklyn, 2005), 3 Poets 4 Peace (Against The Tide, 2003), A Hurricane Is (Jane Street, 2002), The Six O’clock News (Wind, 1999) and Across The Street from Lincoln Hospital (New School, 1995)

-Secret Architecture: post-modern jazz on the edge
Fraser Campbell – Saxophone/JJ Byars – Saxophone/Julian Smith – Bass/Zach Mangan – Drums
Secret Architecture is a creative improvisational Jazz group co founded by Fraser Campbell (Perth) and Zach Mangan (USA). Since meeting at Berklee College of Music and forming the group in 2006, they have performed successfully in many diverse and creative venues including Ibeam, Roulette, Rochester Art Center and The Cedar Cultural Center , tours of Scotland and live air-shots on BBC radio have created a notable stir for the group in Europe; they will be returning to the continent later this year. Meanwhile back in NY they hold a weekly residence at Caffe Vivaldi, one of New York City’s premier jazz venues. Secret Architecture is a “Working Group” completely free of sheet music and playing with total group interplay. The group have developed their own unique voice with an eclectic range of musical influences ranging from the likes of Ornette Coleman, Olivier Messiaen and Bjork. Don’t forget to visit:

In the midst of reactionary fear-mongering, ongoing war, rising unemployment and a right-wing assault on organized labor, revolutionary artists speak out for social justice. The Dissident Arts Festival, now in its sixth year, is a platform for cultural workers to create, sing, recite, improvise, act and orate against war and inequity and in honor of the struggle of workers and the globally oppressed.

Festival Organizer/Producer/Host: John Pietaro
Festival Poetry Director/Host: Steve Bloom
The Dissident Arts Festival is co-produced with the Brecht Forum
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We’d like to thank all of the revolutionary cultural workers whose presence makes this event possible --as well as all of those who came before us to inspire generations of radical activists to take a stand for humanity, peace and a better world. The battle for social justice without the artists is stripped of its soul.

“In the dark times will there be singing? Yes, there will be singing about the dark times” – Bertolt Brecht.

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