A Rotary Journal of Creative Community Building

Welcome to CSA&C's Wild Caught Stories.  For the next year this space will serve as a discussion forum for a community of eight thoughtful creative community builders who will share their differing perspectives on culture, community and current affairs. Each discussion cycle will begin with a question posed by one of the eight, then, every few days, one after another, the other members will write in response to both the current question and whatever has emerged in the ongoing discussion. This round is what we are calling a flash round.  As such, responses will be posted every three days.

The Wild Caught authors are: William Cleveland, Maryo Gard, Puanani Burgess, Milenko Matanovic, Erik Takeshita , Alice Lovelace, and Rhea Patterson.

You can follow the discussion and add your own comments below. Past posts are listed by Volume number and question in the Categories section on the bottom right.

The question posed by Milenko Matanovic for this cycle, Volume 6 is:

Collaboration Ruminations?


Collaboration Rumination #1

Wild_phto_MilenkoThe foundation of our work at the Pomegranate Center is collaboration.  Here are a few thoughts about collaboration collected from notes I have written to myself over the years.

Collaboration is a fluid, interactive state where the parts have power to influence the whole while the whole influences the parts.

In collaboration, teamwork and individual excellence are equally required: as in jazz, the greater the individual virtuosity, the greater team virtuosity.

Collaboration should magnify individual greatness rather than deny it.

Collaboration requires coexisting differences, not sameness. Where there are differences there are tensions.

The purpose of tension is to create a field where creativity grows.  As long as there are differences, tension is there to stay.  When one is resolved, another appears.

Working willingly with tensions is the prerequisite for collaboration.

Modern cities and communities are filled with differences—people from myriad cultures, ideologies, religions and world-views, all expressing their values and talents.  These differences (and their inherent tensions) are our greatest, and most untapped, asset.

Collaboration’s purpose is to relate to each other in such a way that typically irritating differences can be transformed into valuable gifts.

To turn differences into gifts requires strength and flexibility.  It involves the confidence to express ideas and the humility to adjust them to those of others’. 

This requires us to stand in one’s center while falling into the unknown-a demanding circus act.

Portrait of Henri Matisse 1933 May 20Portrait of Henri Matisse 1933 May 20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To hear and see without instant misrepresentation and distortion is an act of utmost bravery. Henri Matisse stated long before our pop-culture that everything we see is more or less distorted by acquired habits and ready-made images that are to the eye what prejudice is to the mind. To see through the noise takes courage.

In collaboration we rely on others to help uncover the greater truth of any situation.  One of the most powerful sentences is one of the simplest: And what do you think, observe, understand?

Avoid jargon that is the language of lazy shortcuts and presumed shared assumptions.

We are all smart in some areas and ignorant in others.

Collaboration is about increasing our collective smartness and decreasing our collective ignorance.

This requires a mature degree of self-knowledge where we claim not only what we know, but also our gaps, acknowledging deep oceans of blissful ignorance.

When lazy, we talk only to those who are alike which is just another form of talking to ourselves.

Collaboration is only possible when all parties are willing to step into the empty space beyond pre-existing ideas where mutual discovery is possible.

Collaboration is not possible between fixed ideas.

When we are able to share our different “smarts” we quickly realize that, amazingly, together we know more and that together we are able to accomplish what no one individual or group could separately.

We discover that the results of collaboration meet many important goals at the same time.

Collaboration is next step in our evolution. We are all invited to practice.

Our world is a school where collaboration is the main lesson plan.  We have all been invited to enroll into collaboration kindergarten.

I trust that very soon we will be able to move to the elementary school.

Milenko Matanovic

6.15.12

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Hard Questions for Hard Times: Part 1

This winter National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy published a report on equity and arts funding titled  Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change, that concludes that "The distribution of these funds ($2.3 billion in annual foundation support for the arts) is demonstrably out of balance with our evolving cultural landscape and with the changing demographics of our communities.  Current arts grantmaking disregards large large segments of cultural practice, and by doing so, it desregards large segments of our society."  The following  is the first of two commentaries on the report that were part of an online forum on the report sponsored by Grantmakers in the Arts.

We are living at a time when many of our societies most closely held assumptions are being assailed. Often the push seems to come from the convergence of historic forces outside our control. But in other instances the momentum emanates from more intimate temblors set in motion with intention, by individuals and groups, across sectors, within organizations or communities. Regardless of their locus, the primal tensions disturbing the status quo are no secret.  The disparity between rich and poor, climate change, polarized politics, the clash of tradition and modernity, the pervasiveness of corruption are all adding fuel to the fires, above and below.

One interesting byproduct of this tectonic dance is a widespread increase in what I call “gap awareness.” Until recently, a critical mass of American stakeholders (and stock holders) perceived themselves to be on the safe side of the “haves /have-nots” divide. Now, for many middle class Americans, the gap is becoming personal and long held assumptions about fairness and equity are getting questioned, right and left.  It is inevitable that as global/local economies continue to languish and the inequities and imbalances inherent in our economic, political, and social system become more pronounced, this awareness and the accompanying turmoil will continue to grow. This has implications for every sector, even the arts.

I am a strong believer in challenging my own assumptions—particularly the deeply held ones that help to form my personal worldview. It keeps me on my toes. For some, the NCRP’s Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change report is probably an assumption challenger. For others, it likely adds substance to existing perceptions about a historic resource gap plaguing country’s cultural ecosystem. To be sure, the report presents a pointed analysis of select data; drawing sharp conclusions about what the authors hold is the unbalanced, inequitable state of cultural investment in America. It is clearly intended to provoke, to challenge, to call the question.

Personally, I appreciate this kind of forceful insistence. After re-reading the report the question that it calls up for me is not whether it is mathematically unassailable. I have no doubt that there are many in the cultural philanthropy field that can, and will parse aspects of the report’s data and analysis. For me the meta-challenge it poses for each individual reader is whether the “truth” it holds is concerning and compelling enough to call the questions it raises in ones own back yard. 

Is cultural equity a core value that informs our work? If not, why?

If so, how specifically do we define it and hold ourselves accountable?

If we looked hard at the patterns of cultural investment by our organization and across our community, over time, what would we find?

If there were a significant “gap” between our stated values and this investment history, what would we do? 

I have no doubt that this is what NCRP would encourage arts funders to do. To that end, the report concludes with a “Typology” that can be used by funders to begin a process self-inquiry into the equity issues it raises. It is by no means an easy set of questions. There is no escaping the fact that this kind of reflection is hard work that can be painful and contentious.

At their core, both the NCRP report and the Typology can be taken as an invitation to arts funders to pause and scrutinize many of the assumptions that have framed cultural philanthropy in the US for the past fifty years. If there ever was a time for this kind of rigorous self-examination it is now---most certainly, as a forthright response to the fairness questions raised by the report but, more importantly, because of its implications for the cultural community, and society at large. This is because the report’s thesis describes a cultural ecosystem that is out of balance in a way that threatens both the health and relevance of the entire sector --- all artists and arts organizations, in all communities. So, in the end, the question being posed is not “either/or”, or “we vs. them, but rather how can cultural investment in America truly make sense and be meaningful in the 21st Century.

 

 

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Chapter 6: "come to this work naked..."

Alice Lovelace

Wild Caufht_Phto_Alice Erik’s comments resonate with me and mirror my exasperation with young artists wishing to do “community work”.  My frustration is rooted in the lack of a common set of definition of the term—in its whole and in its parts.

For me, community art is not about making art, it is about exploring connections between the creative process and community concerns, and it is about building relationships.  The art is always a small “a”—a by-product of the process. 

I arrived at this definition and my understanding of the work through many years of service and mentoring that began in the early 1970’s on the campus of Washington University under the guidance of the Pan-African Writers Association.  The process was intense and exposed me to a broad reading list, research skills, and conversations in respecting the knowledge and structure present within any given community while working to expand that knowledge and link it to deeper community engagement.

When I landed in Atlanta in the mid ‘70’s, I was taken under the wings of Toni Cade Bambara who trained me to understand my responsibilities as an artists and the use of the arts as a means of organizing for social change.  Then I discovered Alternate ROOTS and began to work with incredible people like John O’Neal and Nayo Barbara Watkins who taught me to talk less and listen more.

The moral and ethical issues of this work are huge.  I remember long hours of discussion among artists at Alternate ROOTS debating “who owns the products that derives from community based work”.  After a year of discussions, I was very proud when ROOTS came out on the side of the community.  I have done dozens upon dozens of community residencies, which produced wonderful pieces of art and writing, but you will never see my name linked to the products because the products did not belong to me.  Another mentor, painter John Riddle, taught me how to accept this when he asked which was more important me gaining recognition or the work being done.  I knew it was the process and the work that was of highest importance.

Erik says it all when he speaks to the fact that, “Many times people enter community-based work with a desire to help fix things.  While this impetus may not be inherently bad, it assumes there must be a “need” that requires “fixing”.  This is something most artist truly believe, that they are exceptional people with so much to teach others.  They believe they have power and education and want to share it.

My truth has shown me that it is best to come to this work naked—stripped of your sense of power and exceptionalism.  Come understanding that you do not possess anything that does not already exist in the community.  Come understanding that if you are lucky, they will teach you something.  Come knowing that your job is to ensure that the community recognizes it does not need you—that the work is in their hands and that it is their work, not yours.

However, there is another side to the ethics question.  What if you come to a community to work with your ethics in tack and you encounter “community leaders” who want to use you for unethical reasons.  I found myself in such a situation in the early ‘90’s and it nearly ended my community-based work.

I entered into an agreement to work with a program in a town in Georgia with a high Latino population.  The goals as explained to me by school officials was to design and teach a three week leadership program that would allow 5th graders to enter the middle school with more confidence and with the abilities to help their peers deal with the stress and challenges.

I brought out my best processes of visual and literary arts to build community within the diverse group of students, to build trust, to allow them to tap into their deepest truths and concerns and to communicate with honesty and openness.  After two weeks, I was very proud of the way things were moving.  The students were growing everyday and freely communicating their “personal story” and their values.

At the end of the final week, I helped clean up the room and left for my car when I remembered I had left books behind.  I re-entered the building and approached the classroom when I heard several of the teachers talking.  I stopped outside the classroom where I could see and hear them and watched with horror as they went through my student’s personal journals and made notes.

“This looks like a gang sign on the cover, make a note of his name, and let the middle school know to watch him.  This poem is interesting, it seems they may be in the country illegally, we should note that.”  And on they went, turning my work of liberation into a means of surveillance.  I coughed, then entered the room.  They looked nervous and mumbled about how great it was that I could draw so much out of the children.  I left discouraged and ashamed of my involvement.

It made me reflect on a situation years before when working with women in a prison halfway house and the warden asked me to report if the women wrote anything that might indicate illegal activity or rule breaking.  Only the situation with the halfway house was easier to deal with because I knew from the beginning they were unethical and I was able to let it be known I would not be reporting on anyone.

However, this second incident, because of its underhandedness and the way organizers lied to me taught me that I had to worry about more than just my ethics.  It taught me to ask many more questions of people who sought to hire me, especially when asked to work with vulnerable populations. I gave myself permission to say no, even when the project was promising and paid well.  I wonder how many young artists who see this work as a job as opposed to a calling will be able to say no and walk away, even when they come to see the unethical ways their work can be exploited by those in power.

Chapter 5: Clear Intentions

ERIK TAKESHITA

Wild Photo Erik  Last night I had the good fortune to see a fantastic show—Robert Farid Karimi’s  “Self (The Remix)” at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis.  During the post-show talkback session, Robert shared a recent story of doing a school residency when a young girl in a hijab mentioned to him that her father thought the U.S. shouldn’t have killed Osama Bin Laden.  Robert, a Guatemalan/Iranian-American who had been bullied on the playground during the Iranian hostage crisis, quickly pulled the girl aside, encouraged her to share with him but away from others and suggested she be careful, lest she become the victim of the kind of bullying Robert had experienced as a child. 

This is the rub and a good illustration of the kinds of challenges inherent to working with the community.  While we encourage people to have voice and a sense of agency, we must also recognize that there is may be a time and a place for everything.  It illustrates that there can be unintended consequences of our work—be it a young girl unwittingly tempting bullies or the gentrification of neighborhoods by making them cool, hip, and often expensive, arts districts. 

It has been said: “With great power comes great responsibility.”  I truly believe in the power of art and culture to transform lives.  If it has that power and if we, as community-based artists are helping to unleash that power within people, we must also accept that we have a great responsibility.

I appreciate Maryo’s “5-why” inquiry.  This type of self-inquiry is critical prior to doing community work and cannot be understated.  If we are to wield such great power, we must be clear about our motivations and our intentions.  What is driving me to do this work?  Is this about me/us or is this about the people in the community?  What are we seeking to do? Why? Why? Why?  Why? Why? 

Community-based work is fundamentally different from working in a studio.  When doing studio work, the medium may be clay, paint, music, movement, writing or spoken word.  However, when doing community-based work the medium is, well, the community.  It’s other people.  We are seeking to affect people and their lives.  While we aspire to have a positive influence, we must recognize the potential that this might not always be the case. 

Many times people enter community-based work with a desire to help fix things.  While this impetus may not be inherently bad, it assumes there must be a “need” that requires “fixing.”   Furthermore, people may assume that s/he has the answers—along with education, credentials, resources, or other positional authority to prove it. 

This is exacerbated when the would-be-helpers are not from or of the community, yet s/he makes assumptions about the communities “needs” and “deficiencies” and does not take the time to understand the community’s history, assets, hopes, dreams and desires.  The “helper” may also not take into consideration the temporal nature of their engagement—the fact that while they may be here today, they could be gone tomorrow.

To be effective and responsible community-based artists, we must be clear about our intentions and why we are doing this work.  We must take the time to understand the people and communities where we are working.  We must acknowledge and be constantly cognizant that we are “outsiders” and will, most likely, leave.  While we can promote and help unleash incredible power within people and communities, we must help them to use that power and voice responsibly in ways that do not put them in harm’s way.  In short, we must do no harm and always try to leave the world a better place because we existed. 

Chapter 4: "by any means necessary"

RheaPatterson RHEA PATTERSON

The work we choose to do as creative community builders assumes that art is not only an aesthetic product, but in fact a vehicle for change, growth, and healing.  It is easy to loose sight of the responsibility we have to the process and the long-term outcomes of effective community engagement.  We so often are forced to create rigid timelines and structures for our creative engagements. Community-engaged art making sometimes falls victim to own organizational goals or funding limitations.  We the people in the process, in the art, witnessing the art are the ones who are affected by these constraints. 

I have been working for years with a dynamic duo of sisters who call themselves Angela's Pulse. One a choreographer and the other a director, they have dedicated themselves to a project called Blood Dazzler for almost 5 years.  Blood Dazzler investigates the sociopolitical fire storm left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina through poetry, dance, and multi media.  Operating on little to no money or an umbrella nonprofit organization, I have witnessed their forced fiscal creativity become an asset to the art, the artists, activists and Katrina survivors.  With a honed focus on the project and its community impact, the project has morphed and evolved organically in response to the community it seeks to engage.  So, what becomes clear is the responsibility to people by way of the art.  Blood Dazzler becomes more than a physical, theatrical, poetic collaboration.  Navigating the racial and socioeconomic repercussions of Katrina, Blood Dazzler has expanded into a movement, a community of Dazzlers, a vehicle for dialogue, growth, resurrection, and healing.

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Chapter 3: Hands Are Handy

Wild_phto_Milenko Milenko Matanovic

On the most basic level, art is about joining ideas and actions, minds and hands.  Insights come from both sides.  Some insights come from intuition and make their gradual ‘descent’ into concepts and then, gradually, into realization.  Other insights are born in action and make their journey in the opposite direction, eventually ‘ascending’ into new insights and wisdom. 

The way things are, we favor the descending mode almost exclusively: intuition gives birth to concepts that, in turn, energizes emotions. Eventually, at the very end of the process, hands follow as obedient servants to this hierarchy of commands.  Whole societies are structured around this order, as well as business and movements, while the wisdom of the hand is put aside. 

I’ve earned a new appreciation for the ‘ascending’ principle where hands inform passion and ideas and concepts.  Important insights are born when hands are engaged. In my work with communities, after people talk, we ask them to do something with their hands to sort things out. We place large sheets of paper on the tables, put markers in people’s hands, and ask them to sketch out the concepts they discussed.  And conversations become more informing and productive.  Concepts are clarified sooner.  Agreements are negotiated faster.  People become better problem solvers when the experience and wisdom of their hands compliment their minds.

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Chapter 2: 5 Why's

Maryo Ewell

Wild_Phto_Maryo It's so easy to lose sight of big ideas, when we are grappling with scores of e mails that need answering and details that keep cropping up and little fires that need quenching.  You go to sleep at night thinking, "Ha! I answered 60 e mails today and revised two budget forms" because these, at least, are concrete things that you can measure.  But however comforting, it is false progress.

I took a community development class long ago. Bernie Jones, the professor, said to us: "If you are going to mess with human beings' lives, you must first be very, very clear about why you want to do so.  Affecting, influencing, people and their situations is volatile, often dangerous.  You must not dare to try and do that without a framework of personal, ethical clarity."

So we had to partner with a classmate and ask, "Why do you want to do community development work?" After your partner answered, you asked “Why” again, probing the answer a little.  And then again.  And again.  By the time you answered the fourth or fifth “Why,” you were talking about things so deep in your soul, so essential to the reason of your existence, that you found yourself talking about concepts like god or love or something else that you believed, with every fiber of your being, to be at the root of life. Very deep, emotional stuff.

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Chapter I: "...how can you take it away?"

Wtc Photo 06
In the spring of 1984 I was running a workshop for 15 aspiring songwriters at the California Medical Facility, otherwise known as Vacaville Prison. The class had been truly inspiring. We were only four weeks into it, and a dozen amazing songs had already been penned. One morning, as I was unpacking my things, one of the more prolific tunesmiths named Joe approached me looking uncharacteristically sad and  vulnerable. “You know Mr. Cleveland,” he said, “I almost didn’t make it this time.” I answered smiling, “Well Joe, you’re on a roll here, so I’m glad you did.” He moved closer. “No man,” he spat out, I’m saying I almost didn’t make it.” 

I realized then, that Joe was not just doing the prison “okidoke.” I motioned him over to the corner of the room and looked him straight on. “OK, Joe,” I said, “What’s going on?” He slumped back against the grey wall, looking down at his feet. His voice was heavy, like someone talking through pain. “I’ve been real low lately. Every morning for the past week I’ve been waking up thinking about whether I can handle one more day in this hole. This morning, the feeling was awful bad, know what I mean? But then, I got to thinking about these songs, so I decided to give it another go.”  

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Chapter 8: Lifelong Learning

Wtc Photo 06 I often use stories to communicate about the role of art in community life. I have found that stories can be a good way to link discussions about community arts practices to the people and places they impact. And, if the stories are shared with grace with an open heart and mind, people usually get a lot more from their telling than from a ponderous pile of facts and opinions.

One of these stories is about a shaman 10,000 years ago who is leading a community in its preparation for a critical hunt. I have used this imagined saga to remind folks that, for most of human history, the activities considered central to community well being (healing, blessing, mediating, mentoring, commemorating, interacting with the spirit world, etc.) have been facilitated by people who have used what we now call “art” as an important part of their practice. At times, I have referred to the shaman as the pre-art artist.

Some weeks ago I had the privilege of helping to facilitate a two day gathering of artists and arts administrators who have been participating in a multi-year leadership development program for small/midsized arts organizations in Minnesota. This retreat was convened to give the participants an opportunity to mutually explore some of the burning issues that had emerged during their time together in the program. As you can imagine, a lot of stories were shared.

During one of the many breakout sessions the conversation turned to how difficult it is for the arts community to advance the notion that artists and art making are essential for community health and vitality. At one point in the discussion, I shared the idea embodied in my shaman story, referring, once again, to the “shaman” as the pre-art artist who, relatively speaking, had only recently been moved out of a central role in community life.

When I finished, a woman in the circle indicated that she had something important to say about my description and use of the word, “shaman.” She said that many in her Ojibway community and the broader Native American community regarded the use of the term, “shaman” as both disturbing and disrespectful. She went on to say that the widespread use of a word that had been appropriated from one particular community (the Tungusic people of eastern Asia) to represent the diverse and complex global universe of sacred indigenous practices and roles, had created a picture that was both simplistic and distorted. She said she just wanted to let me know how it was.

My first response was, “Wow!”  Part of me wanted to imagine that she was talking to someone else.  I’m thinking, “Hey, I read all those books, I did my research, I’m not a callous person—and heck, its just a word” But, of course I know very, very well that there is no such thing as “just a word.”  Words beget the stories that define history and shape the beliefs and actions that often determine its winners and losers. And, here in front of me was a respected writer and community leader saying in a very forthright, but courteous way, that this particular word mattered a lot to her and many others.  I looked around the circle and mumbled something like, “I’m sorry. There was no offense intended. “  The discussion quickly moved on the other things, but I did not. I was back in school and that moment marked my first day of class. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, I read quite a bit and I talked to a number of people. One colleague, gently, but firmly reminded me that she too had brought the “shaman” issue to my attention some years ago. I had no recollection of the conversation, but knowing her, did not doubt that it had taken place. That I had had not taken it in revealed that I was dealing with more than ignorance on my part.

Some of my reading took me back to the roots of my incomplete education. Many of these books and articles referred to “shamanism” as a coherent set of beliefs and practices manifesting across many cultures over tens of thousands of years of human history. I was struck by the numerous descriptions of “shamanism” in the context of modern psychological theory in what seemed like an effort to ground “primitive mystery and magic” to a knowledge base that had been scientifically validated. While none of what I reviewed cast indigenous spirituality in an overtly negative light, I could see very clearly how I had come to view “the shaman” as a singular priest-like presence whose practice was both ubiquitous and uniquely different and apart from more modern religious observance.  

The “new” information I encountered came in many forms. I talked to a number of people, native, and non-native, to discuss the word, its use by anthropologists, historians and educators, and how it is regarded by Native Americans, and others. These conversations also explored the power of words and our responsibility to question assumptions about how they will be taken when they are used. Many of my “tutors,” also recommended texts they thought might be helpful.

One article in particular, called Shamanism, New and Old, by University of California at Davis professor Jack D. Forbes, encapsulated much of what I learned from the various sources I encountered. In his article Forbes first makes it clear that  “indigenous people refer to their own holy people and curers by other terms such as doctor, medicine person, spiritual leader, elder, herbalist or diagnostician, recognizing a wide variety of callings and skills.”  Others I spoke to added that the roles and activities often defined by anthropologists as the province of the “shaman” are often carried out by different individuals or whole communities depending on the context or circumstance. Forbes’ piece also describes how the labeling of indigenous spiritual practice as “primitive,” “pagan,” or “shamanistic” has contributed to a “misunderstanding of and denigration of non-European cultures.”  With regard to shamanism he points out that the definition of the term found in Webster’s dictionary could just as accurately be applied to mainstream Christian religious practice. He goes on to say:

“The fact of the matter is that there is no such religion as ‘Shamanism’ since all of the religions of the world make use --perhaps equally-- of the tools of the ‘shaman’ including liturgy (ritual), songs, incantations (recited prayers or formulas), and direct contact with the spiritual world (visions, ecstasy) in order to bring about changes on the physical plane.”   

Many, including Forbes, also talked about the ironic, but, but equally problematic byproduct these oversimplified and inaccurate representations, namely the more contemporary practice of romanticizing and commercializing indigenous spiritual life.  These programs, workshops, retreats, etc., organized by non-natives (and some natives), often mix Native American and eastern spiritual teachings as though they were one and the same. In the context of a history of serial betrayal, stolen homelands, and genocide these multi-cultural spiritual appropriations are regarded by many Native Americans as particularly insensitive.

I am aware that there is a wide range of opinion among indigenous peoples regarding these complex issues. My task these past few weeks has been to sort through what I have found, and come to my own sense of what is right. I was prompted to look at these issues because something I said was disturbing, and yes, hurtful to a colleague I respect.  I am thankful that she had the courage to speak her mind.  That I did this out of ignorance is no excuse. I feel strongly that ignorance perpetuated by “well meaning” people is often far more dangerous than venal misrepresentation. What I have learned during this time of questioning has made a strong impression.  It has deepened my understanding of the power of words and stories to both hurt and to heal.  It has also strengthened my commitment to question my own assumptions about people, and places, and experiences, that, for whatever reason, lie beyond my ken and, most of all, to continue to acknowledge and learn from my mistakes.

 

 

Chapter 7: Artists Will Create the Future

Those that can not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it” This seemingly “conventional” wisdom seems like the right place to start an exploration of the future.  Here in the United States, we have lost our connection with the past.  Our actions today seemingly have no connection to past actions or future consequences.  We have become so detached from both our history and our future that we, make decisions in a vacuum without any consideration of those who have come before or those who will come after.   

It is ironic.  The United States of America, this country founded on the notion of freedom from religious persecution and the tenants that “All men are created equally” and are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” should find itself embroiled in political debates and policies regarding how to enforce immigration laws or banning gay marriage that are so antithetical to these foundational beliefs.   

We know that our system of regulation is far better at protecting rights – such as free speech, right to assemble, right to a fair trial, and even the right to bear arms – and not as effective at restricting one’s rights (e.g. Jim Crow laws, Chinese Exclusion Act, Prohibition, etc.).  And yet, we continue to pass laws seeking to restrict an individual’s pursuit of happiness or equality.  Even worse, we make these actions based on the whim of the majority (or at least those with the loudest voices, the most resources and greatest access to power) rather than grounding our decisions in an understanding of the mistakes of the past and carefully evaluating how actions taken today will be judged by future generations.   

Change is the only thing we know for certain about the future – the world is constantly and will continue to change.  We must learn from our past to create a better future.  We have more pressing needs and issues.  

Perhaps no better example of this is the BP oil spill in the Gulf.  We have a problem.  We have a demand for energy that is not sustainable.  We are utilizing technology that is outpacing our ability to safely and responsibly use it.  This is not unlike ancient inhabitants of Easter Island stripping the land and dooming their future.  Are we, in the modern age doomed to go down that same path?  Is that what our future holds for us?   

Perhaps.  Yet we have free will and can determine our own future.  While failure to remember the past dooms us to repeating it, if we are able to remember and learn from the past we can most certainly create a better future.  Albert Einstein is credited with saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  We must change the way we have been acting, the choices we have been making, to create this new future.   

To paraphrase Thomas Edison, after he finally found a way to make the light bulb work after thousands of attempts, it is important for us to not think of our past mistakes not as failures but as opportunities to learn about what does not work.  We have lots of examples of what doesn’t work – demand for energy outpacing the supply, racist laws and unjust legislation.  We need to focus on doing things differently, better, and right.    

To do this we need artists – those who can see that which doesn’t not yet exist and specialize in the generative process of creation.  As Milenko so aptly stated in a previous post, “imagination is powerful” and if we can imagine it, we can realize it.   

So, when asked what I see in the future, I don’t know the specifics.  I don’t know if there will be flying cars or colonies on Mars, another ice age or melting of the polar ice caps.  I do envision, for the sake of the children, the grandchildren, their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren a future in which we value all people and their contributions; see a diversity of opinions as an asset, not something to be squelched; teach children critical thinking – not just rote memorization; “live within our means” in terms of resource consumption; realize we are part of a much broader natural system; and realize we have a responsibility and an obligation to be good stewards of the planet for future generations.   

I know that for as long humans exist, there will be art.  Art spans time.  A vase or basket, painting or scroll, music or song, dance or ritual that was beautiful, meaningful and important thousands of years ago still is so today.  I also know that it will be the artists – the keepers of these traditions, knowledge and ways of being – that can, must, and will create our future.