This is the fifth post in a series that chronicles the journey of the Community Innovation Labs from conception to design through piloting. This post documents our approaches to rooting the Labs within local communities in our two pilot sites of Providence, Rhode Island and Winston-Salem, NC. Read about the origins of the Lab here and previous posts here, and stay tuned for more updates soon. – Karina
What are we learning about working with local partners in the pilot Labs?
Since July 2015, EmcArts has been working in close collaboration with the local conveners in Providence and Winston-Salem to co-design and roll out the first phase of Community Innovation Labs. Through a series of in-person meetings, day-long intensives and conference calls, we’ve been exploring these key questions:
- How can the Community Innovation Labs pilots become locally anchored?
- How can artists and cultural workers contribute meaningfully to the Labs?
- What opportunities do the Labs present for local skills-sharing, capacity building, and leadership development, so that the impacts of the Labs continue to grow even after the formal program is completed?
In this post, I’ll share some discoveries about the answers to these questions and how we’re working to develop these pilot Labs into locally-owned experiences, developed hand-in-hand with our conveners, local artists, and local facilitators. And, I’m delighted to announce our six local artist and facilitation partners in Providence and Winston-Salem, see below!
What are our big takeaways about rooting the Labs locally?
We learned a lot during the three months it us took identify and hire six highly-skilled, resourceful, and deeply committed local artists and facilitators to be a part of the Lab leadership teams. Here my four key take-aways about what we’ve learned about embedding our Labs in local communities by partnering with local practitioners:
- Don’t parachute in. In order to root the Labs locally, we’re deliberately relying on local skills, connections, leadership and expertise instead of “parachuting in” as national experts. A major piece of doing this has been a commitment to having at least half of the Lab leadership team be local facilitators (artist and non-artist). It’s also meant developing our practice of soliciting input at all key turning points and decision-making opportunities along the way, and practicing deep listening with our local partners.
- Allow time to build trust and understanding. Rooting a complex program like the Community Innovation Labs within a local community requires a lot of time. We learned that in order to appropriately understanding the specific local histories, players, power dynamics and inequities, we needed to listen to a lot of different people — much of which needed to happen through phone calls, in-person meetings and conversations. It was challenging to allocate enough time for relationship building in our process as we juggled impending deadlines, but wer learned that you can’t rush your way to local resonance and ownership.
- Offer training and support as a part of the recruitment process. We knew that an application form would only go so far without some on-the-ground work to build connections and recruit interested community members. So we also collaborated with Michael Rohd from the Center of Civic Practice and Mark Valdez from Cornerstone Theatre Company and Network of Ensemble Theaters to provide a community workshop in each community in September 2015, where local artists and leaders dialogued about the relationships between art, community development and creative placemaking, and learned about the local Community Innovation Labs.
- Prioritize diversity in hiring. The leadership in both cities were conscientious about having facilitation teams that adequately reflected the diversity and demographics of their cities and their Lab — in terms of race, age, place and neighborhoods, gender, class and experience. To this end, it was crucial for the selection process to emphasize and value a broad range of cultural and artistic skills, traditions and expertise. We de-prioritized formal arts education in favor of reaching and engaging a more diverse, culturally-appropriate and resonant applicant pool.
Meet our Local Facilitators!
By October 2015, we were thrilled to have identified two Lead Artist Facilitators and one Local Facilitator in each of our pilots sites. Their names and bios are below! Plus, read on to find more information about how they were selected and what’s in store for them.
Local Facilitators in Providence, RI:
Valerie Tutson (Lead Artist Facilitator): Valerie Tutson graduated from Brown University with a self-designed major, Storytelling As a Communications Art, and a Masters in Theatre. Since 1991 she has traveled the country and world teaching storytelling and gathering and sharing stories and songs. Her repertoire includes folktales, personal and historical stories with an emphasis on black traditions, and first person Bible stories. In addition to telling stories herself, Valerie is committed to providing opportunities for others tell their stories, as well.
Sussy Santana (Lead Artist Facilitator) Sussy Santana is a poet; author of Pelo Bueno y otros poemas (Good Hair and other poems, 2010) and RADIO ESL, a poetry cd (2012). Her work explores the bilingual/bicultural identity through text and performance. She is a board member of AS220 and a founding member of Las Tenoras, a female poetry collective. Her most recent work includes developing the Latin American Artisans Fair at AS220 and the community collective Todas las Fridas/All the Fridas, a women’s circle focusing on empowering women through journaling prompts. Read more at www.sussysantana.com
Kuni Yasutake (Local Facilitator) Kuni is an intercultural communication and engagement specialist, and has spent a decade in consulting in Providence. Kuni is also a certified Executive Coach, an adjunct faculty of UMass-Dartmouth business school, and a food writer contributing to Japanese magazines.
Local Facilitators in Winston-Salem, NC:
Geordie MacMinn (Lead Artist Facilitator) began his artistic career as an actor in his native Los Angeles. His passion for the pursuit of transformation lead him to train as a teacher of the Alexander Technique. Currently, he is a Professor at UNSCA and his interests are in directing and Psychodrama – the blending of theatre and therapy for personal and social transformation.
Jacinta White (Lead Artist Facilitator) is the founder of The Word Project. Having found her way through grief with poetry, Jacinta realized that poetry was a powerful tool and began to devote her time and energy to introducing its healing elements to others. Her published work includes the chapbook broken ritual and Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing.
John L. Moore, III (Moe) (Local Facilitator) is the Principal of JOMA Arts & Consulting, LLC. Moe has acted or directed theatres around the country for nearly 40 years. He went on to develop the African Continuum Theatre Coalition and has held positions at Afro-American Cultural Center, National Arts Stabilization and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
Why Hire “Lead Artist Facilitators” for the Labs?
EmcArts believes that artists have the unique power to unlock entrenched beliefs and open up new ways of seeing. We also believe that artists galvanize their communities in understanding and addressing complex social problems, and help people see beyond quick fixes and tweaks to broader, more visionary transformation. Since the Community Innovation Labs are intervening in major complex challenges, we wanted to involve and integrate artists, and lean on their abilities to transform complex challenges by:
- engaging hearts, bodies and minds
- identifying situations that could benefit from metaphorical thinking
- using stories to counterpoint more traditional data
- bringing diverse groups into meaningful exchange with each other
- generating authentic connections where only disparate interests may have previously been recognized
- reframing the way we see things and loosen up entrench ways of thinking
In the Labs, we wanted to strategically integrate artists — particularly local artists who had a creative practice tied to community-building and social equity, which meant that we couldn’t just invite a handful of creative people to participate in the program. We actually needed to engage local artists in full partnership, and provide them with robust leadership roles in the whole process of conception, design and implementation of the Labs.
How did we identify artist and facilitation partners?
In both cities, we undertook a rigorous process of recruiting and interviewing for the position of local artist facilitators — a paid position that has a key leadership role in the Lab design and implementation. Through co-designing conversations with local Lab champions, we also settled on an ideal (and affordable) arrangement: two local artists and one local non-artist facilitator in each city.
We leaned on the networks and connections of local conveners and Lab champions to recruit applications for artist facilitators. And we hired non-artist facilitators who came recommended by Lab conveners. For all our facilitation partners, we used the following criteria for selection.
We searched for local artist and facilitation partners who had:
- Worked collaboratively in communities, or with a strong desire to build their practice to do so, as opposed to those who create work solely for display or performance.
- Demonstrated interest, passion and previous experience around the core question in each local city. In Winston-Salem, we asked that applicants be passionate about reducing disparities across race and class lines in employment, income, and wealth. In Providence, we asked that applicants be energized by possibilities to rethink community safety and cultural life in Trinity Square.
- Brought a wide range of artistic and cultural practices and skills related to community engagement.
- Were available to commit to several sessions of collaborative design and preparation for Lab, facilitate large portions of in-person workshops, and participate fully for the entire duration of Phase 1.
To recruit applicants for artist-facilitators, we solicited applications through a simple, three question form. All interested cultural practitioners and artists were asked to answer these questions:
- Tell us about your artistic practice. You might reflect on what you create, how you create it, who you create it with, and why. You might also share what inspires you and who you’ve learned from. This is meant to be very open. We want to learn about you and how you’ve made artistic practice a part of your life. There is no word count here – be brief, be lengthy, whatever you have the time and inclination to share.
- If you haven’t already, tell us more specifically about how you’ve worked with communities in your artistic practice.
- What interests you about the Lab and the Lead Artist Facilitator role? How could you imagine your practice being valuable to the Lab?
In the recruitment and interviewing process, we informed applicants that the Labs are an experimental pilot, so that they could be better prepared for an emergent and exploratory process with the Lab facilitation team. We also shared our hopes for attuning the design to the specific skills and needs of the local facilitators.
At the culmination of this process, we received 6 applications for artist facilitators in Winston-Salem and 8 applications for for artist facilitators in Providence. We’re proud to announce our selected partners here, and are looking forward to ongoing collaboration and experimentation with them as the Labs unfold.
What’s Next for our Team?
All six of our local facilitators have been hard at work alongside our EmcArts team and the local conveners and champions. In November and December, they created participatory artistic experiences for Lab members in two workshops on “Workshop 1: Seeing the System” and “Workshop 2: Looking for Leverage”. They created meaningful space and conditions for stakeholders to grapple with their core questions, explore frameworks and local challenges through poetry, theatre, performance, dialogue, embodied activities and creative writing.
In both cities, EmcArts has also commissioned local photographers — AS220 in Providence and Christine Rucker in Winston-Salem — to produce original artwork that captures and represents the first two Lab workshops. We’re excited to publish those soon.
We’ll be sharing updates on our two collaboratively designed workshops, along with original photography and art next. Stay tuned for these Community Innovation Labs posts (and more) early in the new year!