COMMUNITY & PUBLIC ART
Highlander, Maryland leadership team visioning a workshop series
FACILITATING CREATIVITY AND IMAGINATION: HOW I DO IT
As an artist working within communities, my role became that of a trained listener, an arbitrator, a person who creates a safe space. When asked “What do you do?” I can only say that I support groups of people in allowing their collective creativity to emerge.
For some people, that is not specific enough. But what I can say is that out of that creativity comes amazing experiences for people - especially people not accustomed to allowing themselves free artistic reign. And others, not used to working in groups - being introduced to collaborative decision making. These can be transformative experiences, moments that give communities, small or large, the opportunity and the space to build bridges.
Community art changes communities. Community art is collaborative effort that sometimes springs to life from a community challenge, or crisis. Other times, the momentum comes from aspiration. They want to create something big - and need to think outside the box!
Art as placemaking. Often, at the end of the process, the art itself becomes a place. It can be a mural, lamp post banners, a mosaic, or wayfinding signage. But it is made by the people and for the people. And it can be a symbol of the place, or of something that happened there.
I am often astonished to see how the work lives in communities for years, untouched by graffiti, a representation of community aspiration and a source of community pride.
MISSION AND VISION
We start with mission and vision work. The truism is that you have to see it to achieve it. So we get groups focused, first, on their core mission. Then we get them thinking about growth and next their level aspirations. Finally, they must consider the transitions and bridges they will need to get there.
A facilitator’s job is to hold the safe space where an innovative solution can emerge. I think of it as a form of weaving. Every participant holds a thread.
As a process, I say that I provide the skeleton, while they - whatever community I am working with - put on the flesh.
Another metaphor might be traditional African/African-American “call and response.” I’m the lead drummer, but there is no music without all the other drummers.
So it is a process that flows back and forth - call and response, call and response - helping people open their minds and think bigger, more creative and bigger visions.
THIS KIND OF ART-INFUSED TRAINING IS USED VERY EFFECTIVELY FOR:
Nonprofit board visioning/building
Educational programming (i.e. community wellness engagement)
Here are some Community Art projects that had high impact and that I particularly loved being part of:
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY. Extremely segregated - economically or culturally - groups that are not normally in conversation with each other.
PRIDE & ENDURANCE. Robert Woods Johnson Community Health Center, New Brunswick NJ, circa 2000. Created by, for, and about the community, for more than 2 decades the mural has lived across from the health center, untouched and safe.
SHOW ME YOUR HOME. Central American Refugees - California, 1998, 2001. This project was an outlet for expression of the trauma endured by Central American refugees who emigrated to the Bay Area during the brutal wars in the late 1990s. It was also an invitation to new community, recreation in a new land.
INDIVIDUAL TO COLLECTIVE. Farm Workers - Florida. We don’t realize that often the people who grow our food - low-wage farmworkers, many of them migrant workers - themselves suffer from food insecurity.
In this community, we conceived a plan for a community garden for four offices in Florida. Each group designed and created their own. I helped them execute: vision, plan, coordinate, build. We brought laborers, farm families, community elders, politicians, and funders all in the room together.
Over multiple sessions, we used the arts -- words, visuals (pencil, markers, paint, chalk, banners - sidewalk, wall, whiteboard) -- to help them develop language around a common vision. Together they created a common image of the future.
GENERATING ARAB IDENTITY. Arab Resource and Organizing Coalition, San Francisco, California. The Leadership Institute at this organization conceived an Arab identity project for the young people in their community.
The goal was to have the young generation more fully understand the challenges the community faces, in their native countries and in the diaspora, as immigrants, or refugees. They needed to help the youth develop a more confident sense of who they are, and be able to tell the story in the world. Starting with themselves, then relating it out: self, family, community, global diaspora.
We employed storytelling and mask making - with strong emphasis on teasing out the empowering aspects of their story to use in their outreach. [PHOTOS]
WOMEN & THE BITTERS. Women, worldwide. This began as a personal art project, but ended up being quite public by engaging multiple communities - because that’s what I do!
I was invited by the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco to participate in a show sponsored by the local Asian American Women Arts Association and organized by women farmers from Vietnam.
The theme was agriculture, and how these women have continued to farm and garden although on the other side of the world, far from their home country. I loved this project and, afterward, wanted to do an homage or charm for those women.
Then I went to Ghana and planned to work on that while traveling. In Africa, I was immediately presented with the ubiquitous image of the African women farmer - she is everywhere you look. And she grows many of the same plants - the bitter vegetables - as her Asian counterparts. So I brought together the symbols and ideas from both cultures in his work created from materials made of plants and fabrics from those places.
Farmworker Association of Florida Apopka Community Garden Project. Artist and interns.
Opening Ceremony at Sacred Roots Herbal Sanctuary Annual Herb Gathering, Maryland.
Arab Identity Mask Making Project. Arab resource and organizing center youth leadership training, San Francisco, California