Chapter 4: "by any means necessary"
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.
Community engagement is a long-term process, often exceeding the life of the tangible art that is created. Our challenge is to find ways to maintain the relationship to the communities we enter. Shifting the focus of our goals and desired outcomes from the art to the people, from the product to the process. The subtle shifts of in the behaviors, minds and hearts of collaborators in community-engaged art making (to me) is the real outcome of our work. Supporting that growth through art (by any means necessary) is our ultimate challenge.