Community Art is a term used to describe creative activities that bring together the different people of a community. Community Art gives people the chance to learn new creative skills and to use these art skills to voice their concerns about and desires for their community.
I am honored to be one of five artists selected to work with a Community Art Project in Albuquerque, NM. The multimedia project, funded in part by a NEA/Our Town grant, is called Stories of Route 66 – International District. It is the first part of a years-long project that will impact various neighborhoods in Albuquerque.
A growing association of very different partners came together to realize Phase One of this project. Littleglobe, who for more than 10 years has been actively facilitating community art projects, leads this phase with poet, Valerie Martinez, as project director. Littleglobe’s experience shows that large-scale community projects bring community members together with compassion and tolerance, enabling the community to generate positive developments for the benefit of their neighborhoods.
As a refugee relocation city, Albuquerque’s International District has been a fusion of cultures since the 1970’s. The International District, with 27 different languages, is now home to people from Vietnam, Latin America, Asia and Africa. In addition the district has the largest population of Native Americans in Albuquerque and is home to many Hispanic/Latino, Anglo and mestizo people. It is a district that faces many challenges – high unemployment, poverty, crime, infant mortality, and substandard living accommodation – all coupled with very little political influence.
We began our weekly community art/dialogue sessions on January 12. Each session begins with a circle where one of the team artists leads an activity meant to generate energy and build communication. We clap, we stomp, we make sounds, we share with our neighbor. Then we dive into two different art activities each week.
Our first Sunday together we created a 32 foot long drawing by tracing our hands and then drawing an image of something we love – something we treasure – next to or in our hands. Next we connected our treasure to our neighbor’s treasure. Finally we all walked around the long drawing and added more wherever we felt the desire to do so. Everyone seemed to have a great time and the long drawing turned out awesome. Connections were beginning.
On our second Sunday, 1/19, we continued to develop our stories with creative activities. I led the visual art component in which each person created an “I Am” drawing, including their names, something to represent where they came from, something they love about where they live now and something they love to do. Personal lives, cultures and histories began to unfold.
Monica Sanchez led the theater arts component. She organized everyone into small groups. Each group was to “act” like a family, assigning a different role to each. Then they created three different family portraits around an imaginary family event. We had some weddings, a funeral, a birth, a birthday and some family arguments. Each group acted out their event by freezing in position as if they were the photograph. Roles were assigned in a non-logical way, children were grandparents, men were brides. Connections were made amidst much laughter and merry-making.
On our third Sunday, 1/26, we were so excited to see the trust that was developing between everyone involved. We sensed friendships forming and respect growing. Erin Hudson and Billy Joe Miller both built on the previous week’s activities with their projects.
Erin used video and audio to further develop the story of the treasures they hold in their hands. Billy Joe used props and frames to bring the family portraits they had begun to the next level.
Leaders and helpers from the participants are emerging. Several of the youth have been using the camera and capturing some fantastic shots of our fun.
The diversity of cultures in the International District makes it fertile ground for stories of place, culture and history. Ultimately our weekly sessions will culminate in three temporary public art installation and/or performances. As we meet each week we will build trust and develop new skills. The group will decide what they want these three installations to be. This long process will inform the design and building of a permanent “story plaza” to be built on Route 66/Central Ave by a nationally recognized artist. It is a groundbreaking approach to public art. It is an approach that gives voice to the people of the community where the public art will be. It is an approach that empowers people who often have no power. It is an approach that creates connection through creative engagement.