Monday, January 25, 2010

Art Matters. People make a difference.

Developing a cocoon is a natural and essential part of being a caterpillar. But the time comes when the cocoon softens, wears out, and opens up. What if this is the case for all our opinions, possessions, and even for our ego? What if, when the cocoon of ego opens, instead of the feared abyss we find a butterfly? William Martin, A Path and a Practice

It was an exciting day. The morning was filled with good conversation, workshop activities exploring possibilities and interesting perspectives on what we can do to make a difference.

By the time the Governor General arrived, I was starting to feel nervous. I had intended to go over my notes prior to the Panel discussion, but the day was jam packed and I was immersed in it. The GG arrived. We met and chatted as a group in the Green Room and then it was time to enter the theatre. I sat behind the table in the front of the room, looking out at the audience. The microphone sat in front of me, waiting for me to speak when it was my turn. I prayed it wasn't on yet -- what if I said something stupid while sitting there waiting and everyone heard me. What if I burped (which can happen when I'm nervous) and the whole room heard it?

My mind reeling with negative fortune-telling, I turned to the panelist beside me, a young woman who runs an art program for youth. "Okay, so I'm a tad nervous," I leaned over and whispered.

She looked over. Surprised. "Me too!" she said. "What if I get it wrong?"

I smiled. "There is no right or wrong," I whispered. "Just the truth for you and me as we see it."

I knew how she felt though. My greatest fear revealed, my ego's trip -- what if they think I'm stupid?

In the expression of her fear I found the opportunity to be courageous. I leaned over and touched her hand. "Take a deep breath. Open yourself up to expansion. Sink down from your head, enter your heart and you will be grounded in what is true and beautiful about art for you."

We breathed together for a moment. Connected.

I needed to hear myself speak those words. Normally, I'm not nervous speaking in front of groups, but my head was playing games on me, telling me, this situation was different. I needed to be careful. To watch my words. To take care.

Truth was. It wasn't different. I didn't need to be careful or watch my words. This talk wasn't about what I had to say. It was about saying what was true for me in the power of art to create a world of difference. I needed to breathe, to speak my truth from my heart to connect to the hearts of those in the room. I needed to speak and be unattached to the outcome.

I breathed. And gave my head a mental shake. Aren't I amazing! It was just my ego getting in the way of my being real and authentic. Open and caring.

It came my turn to speak. The organizer had told me that to get the audio visual to play, all I had to do was wave at the technician in the back booth and it would happen. I waved.

Nothing happened. I looked at the organizer sitting in the front row. She smiled back, nodded her head, lifted her hand and waved back. 'Just wave at him,' she mouthed. I waved again. Through the smoky glass of the audio booth, I could see the technician wave back at me.

And nothing happened with the video.

The moderator leaned into his microphone. "Louise. Would you like to begin?"

I smiled and waved at the technician again. He waved back again. Other people in the audience waved too.

Perhaps they think this is part of my talk? I wondered. I tested the idea. I waved again and more people waved back.

Finally, in the press of the moment bearing down reality struck me. The technician had no idea why I was waving.

I laughed and leaned into the microphone. "Could we play the video please?"

And the video began to play.

As I watched the video play, I wondered about what had happened in the room prior to its visual stimuli appearing on the screen.

In the awkwardness of the moment. In our smiling at each other, waving back and forth, laughter erupted and we connected. For just a moment, they wondered, what is she up to? For just a moment, I wondered, what am I going to do?

And in that moment, I forgot about my nervousness and slipped into that place of grace where going with the flow is all I can do as I thought of creative ways to present without my video.

I sat back and let the video presentation of The Possibilities Project play out. I let the people whose voices needed to be heard speak up about how art matters.

The video ended and I began to speak. My notes rested before me. White sheet lined with large black type lying on top of crisp white table cloth. (I'd told the young woman who was so nervous when I saw her neatly typed notes in 12 pt. Times Roman, "I've got to have big type. I can't read the little stuff anymore." And she'd laughed and we both relaxed into the moment.).

I didn't have to be concerned about my notes. I didn't use them. Sure, there were things I missed. Like yesterday's quote from Frederick Buechner. But it didn't matter. I came straight from my heart. Speaking with passion about something about which I'm passionate: The power of art to transform us. To experience joy in the midst of chaos. To deepen our connection to our human condition. To create a sacred space to belong to one another.

During the question and answer period, a native man approached the microphone and chastised us for the lack of aboriginal representation on the panel, for lack of involvement of first nations people in the process.

I sat and listened and let his words sink deeply into me. Is this true? Is this about not including aboriginal peoples? Is this about us and them?

I breathed.

"Thank you for the invitation to enter the conversation," I replied. "I look forward to keeping the conversation going."

Art is an invitation to join in a conversation. To enter that sacred space where us and them, you against me, my difference trumps your indifference, your difference makes me indifferent, is illuminated in the light of, we are not different. We are all One. All connected. All part of the same human condition.

There were no first nations on the panel. No blacks. No middle eastern representation. No Balkan states.

There were just people. People for whom the arts have created a space to make a difference, to shift perceptions, to open minds and spirits to possibility.

And in that room, there should have been no first nations. No blacks. No middle eastern representation. No Balkan states. No white washed Caucasians or black listed homeless folk.

There should have been just people. People interested in joining in a conversation about how to transform our world into a more caring, just, open society where people matter, no matter the colour of their skin, their creed, their ethnic origins.

We were all just people. And through the medium of our creative expression, we sank into reverie, dove into possibilities, and discovered a world of opportunity to make a difference in a different kind of world. A world where, as Dan Pink in his book A Whole New Mind (2005), argues, "left-brain linear, analytical computer-like thinking are being replaced by right-brain empathy, inventiveness, and understanding as skills most needed by business." He goes on to write, "Logical and precise, left-brain thinking gave us the Information Age. Now comes the Conceptual Age — ruled by artistry, empathy, and emotion."

I sure hope so!

When we get out of the way of our thinking we are different, we are separate, we are isolated, when we move aside our differences, step across our cultural clashes and open ourselves up to being creative human beings, we enter that sacred space where Art Matters because People matter most. People matter more than ideology, technology, and all the other 'ologies' out there that would keep us apart and finding difference in our human condition.

I live and work and play in an amazing city. A city where, a year long project called, This Is My City, connected homeless artists with community artist mentors and opened all of us up to the possibility of hope, of change, of being connected through our human condition. That place of grace where miracles happen and spirits take flight.

And it all happened because a group of people under the guidance of a woman named Beth Gignac, along with Dawn Ford, Jody Williams and Aviva Zimmerman and a host of artists cared enough to explore the question, What if art matters and people make a difference -- regardless of what side of the street they walk on?


Maureen said...

Thank you for helping to bring forth the message that Art Matters. It does transform. It heals. I've seen it happen time after time. And it's just the most marvelous witnessing there is.

(P.S. Thank you for taking up my Haiti challenge. So far, I have you and three others. I'm excited about the possibilities of this.)

Joyce Wycoff said...

Louise ... good for you ... an important topic and it sounds like you did it proud. I love the part about your waving at the technician and the audience. Might be worth repeating ... ;-)