“What if we were living our art in the service of skillful lives?” – Wendy Morris
“How can you have an existence that is simple and spacious and outrageously useful?” -Erik Takeshita
“Skepticism means you really care.” – Bill Cleveland
Two months ago…
During nap time, I sit in the dark surrounded by tiny little humans dozing away, and on a small device in the palm of my hand, I read about James Turrell, social entrepreneurship, feminism, gentrification, innovation, crowd sourcing, placemaking, crowd sourced placemaking, private-public partnerships, appropriation, social sculpture, sustainability, the “realest” tweets, vulnerability, baby boomers, millenials, thin privilege, Cindy Sherman, Theaster Gates, the many uses of chalkboard paint, rape culture, revolution on the other side of the world…and my heart beats hard, longing for action. And I sit still and listen to the children breathe in their peaceful slumber. Drinking in the darkness.
Drinking in the darkness. I didn’t get that phrase from teaching preschool. I heard it repeated ten, maybe eleven times, over the span of four and a half months, in improvised warm up exercises led by Wendy Morris at each convening of the Spring 2013 Creative Community Leadership Institute. Rub your hands together, she said. We let the rhythm spread to our shoulders, back, hips, whole body, two dozen souls inside flesh humming along. Stop. Put your hands, warmed from the friction, over your eyes. Drinking in the darkness.
I meant to write more about the Institute a while ago. Somehow the first paragraph above brought me back to that circle. It was originally just going to be a little Facebook status update. I wasn’t even thinking about CCLI. Yet suddenly that phrase came back to me, thinking about the darkened classroom where I hold a whispered vigil every afternoon, writing notes to parents and mixing tempera paint and catching up on an overwhelming backlog of “relevant” and “important” articles I’ve saved on my phone.
Skip ahead to October…
The queue of articles I read during naptime is getting ever longer. Dinnerventions, emotional intelligence research, the new Block E manifestation of Artists in Storefronts, and one or two things I’d rather not bother with about the government shutdown have been added to the mix. Shawn Lent’s “Am I a Dancer who gave up?” is my newest favorite. She talks about how she didn’t give up on her dream to be a dancer, the dream just got bigger. Lately it feels like my dreams and passions are so big I can only see their belly button. And then I have to remind myself to breathe.
Applications are now open for the next Twin Cities CCLI learning cohort, so I figure it’s time to finally finish this blog post.
I stepped into CCLI with one community-art-ish project under my belt and had just passed the one year mark of managing social media communications for Irrigate, one of the first creative placemaking endeavors to be awarded an ArtPlace grant. Basically, just when I had started to figure out the “traditional” business model of being a visual artist in the realm of galleries, open studio crawls and craft fairs, I found myself switching gears (adding gears?) and jumping into the world of arts based community development. The institute gave me some hardcore background and context into a field that, while appearing new and “trendy” as grant dollars and buzzwords like placemaking, urbanism and sustainability get thrown around, is actually a deeply rooted, ancient practice woven into our oldest cultures and traditions. As Bill Cleveland said, “For most of human history these things have been all stitched together.” The separation of art into something “special” and commodified is relatively new in the grand scheme of things.
The Creative Community Leadership Institute put that work into a broader frame, and gave me validation that I can have a place at the table and don’t have to hide behind the “emerging artist” identifier (or rather, pushed me to stop using that as an excuse). Topics included the history of community arts practice, asset-based community development, collective impact, partnership strategies, characteristics of effective practice, logic models, funding models, evaluating community engagement and participation, adaptive leadership, cultural appropriation, cultural reclamation, and sustainability. We listened to a lot of stories. Big, complicated stories from local arts organizations (Intermedia, Juxtaposition, Bedlam Theatre, Springboard, NACDI). And stories from individual people (former and current fellows and faculty) that were just as big and complicated. And beautiful.
We were warned from day one that it would feel like drinking from a fire hose. Anna Bierbrauer reflected “I need a floodplain where everything can overflow and percolate back to me.” The institute was a challenging opportunity and the time commitment should not be taken lightly. For me, it was absolutely worth the time and work, and complemented other projects and trainings I was pursuing. While I wouldn’t say that I’ve hit the ground running with brand new major projects and collaborations right off the bat, I feel so lucky and happy to have a core network of support in the other fellows and the CCLI alumni network. I’ve also stepped back from some responsibilities (I resigned from WARM’s exhibitions committee in February and the board in August, and am almost finished with my Child Development Associate credential process) with the explicit purpose of opening up space for new opportunities to trickle in.
I was claiming to be in an “incubation period” before I entered CCLI and have been wondering how far I can surf on that phrase. It sort of implies that either I will return to a previous way of working, or that one day a new creative practice will just begin, and then I won’t be incubating anymore, I’ll just be doing the work I’m meant to do. But perhaps I already am. I’m not sure what’s on the horizon. I had a great time playing Parcheesopoly this summer. I have plenty to keep me busy until Irrigate winds down next year. I’m finally reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. So, we’ll just see. I’ll leave you now with a scattered little collection of more quotes and snippets of writing that I pulled from my CCLI journal. Here’s the link to the program and application info one more time. Applications are due October 28th.
“The hardest questions require the longest pauses, the greatest sense of gentleness, because it’s the place where we’re most vulnerable.” – Bill Cleveland (I think?)
“Art is to humankind what dreams are to individuals. Art is a revelation of the creative human soul.” – Someone quoting Isabel Allende. (I couldn’t verify it’s authenticity; Allende has waaaaay too many good quotes attributed to her and I don’t have time to wade through them.)
“If we take care of women and girls of color and then listen to what comes out of that, I can’t imagine it getting worse.” – Miré Regulus
“I find myself in conflict when I look at the world in black and white. Because who can say that green is better than blue?” – Nicholas Pawlowski
“Change happens at the rate of trust” – something someone said one time to Erik?
“You’re subject to their metrics unless you have your own.” – Laura Zabel
“Every part of the journey is the most important part of the journey.” – Ha! I have no idea who said this. I feel like it’s a Wendy Morris thing though. Or maybe Bill.
Cold fusion: John Beuche’s point that community can be like an energy source that produces excess fuel.
“I still feel like I am looking for the right entry point into this field that fits me. The Robyn-shaped hole in the placemaking universe.” -part of one of my quick-write exercises during weekend 4
“Do you allow a project idea to have a sunset when you envision it?” – Theresa Sweetland
“The antidote to butt-time is unbutt-time.” -Bill Cleveland, getting us ready to move
Whatever the brain does a lot of, the brain gets good at. Artmaking = a transformative agent that disrupts the traditional pathways and allows us to groove new ones. – Paraphrased from Wendy Morris
“Shipbuilders and swimmers…” – a Bill Cleveland metaphor for changemakers that probably doesn’t mean much out of context. Oh well.
“The first word of my story is connected to the last word of your story.” -?
“Memories of my own experiences with programs and events at Intermedia came flooding back to me like the downpour of rain we could hear pounding on the roof. I love listening to the rain in this space.” – Me, quick writing in weekend 5
“Don’t mistake one symptom of the larger problem as the one thing you need to solve in order to fix everything.” -?
“Is there a way to change the design of this rocket ship while it’s flying?” – also ?
“I know better which microorganism I am in this larger organic, living body of work.” -Me, quick-writing in weekend 5. (Well gee, didn’t I sound confident!)
“I still feel like I’ll end up destitute in the badlands of South Dakota but after this institute I know I’ll have a damn good reason why.” – ?!! Probably Tom Delaney.