As a firm believer in the power of congregation, I wished to host a potluck as a means to unite people over our greatest common interest: food. Food is the most fundamentally integral aspect of our lives as humans, and as we know, different cultures, communities, and families all have different ways of collecting, preparing, and sharing meals. A potluck is an incredible way to share our individual customs surrounding food, thus providing enhancement and richness to the group experience as well as the individual experience, as everyone walks away with new information and inspiration in regards to how they are nourishing their bodies and their families. The sharing of a meal helps to solidify bonds and create a sense of comfort within a group, paving the way for productive conversation and partnerships to develop.
I advertised the potluck as "Open Forum Creative Discussion & Potluck", encouraging patrons to attend with an idea or project they are working on (painting, knitting math equation, business idea, anything). The intention was to create a space for individuals to share their work, facilitating constructive critique and feedback. In retrospect, I realize that I had tried to merge two separate ideas together, which leads to confusion and less effective communication in terms of attracting people to the location to engage in the experience. When we speak of community centers holding events, the phrase "turn out" is commonly used to gage the success of a particular workshop or event. However, I feel "turn out" is more a reflection of marketing and the public presence of an institution, proprietor, or host. For any one who is interested in hosting or teaching workshops, it is important to remember the age old expression, quality over quantity. Personally, I have found and believe that in the spirit of synchronicity and serendipity, the right people arrive at the right time.
Three AmeriCorps volunteers joined me for the potluck, ranging from ages 18-24 and hailing from different parts of the U.S. They shared with me their passion for the program, explaining in detail how it has changed their lives as individuals, and altered their perspectives of their roles on a local and global scale. As individuals, they were able to develop their work ethic and gain a sense of purpose from the work they did, which was often physical. While in Newburgh, the group was working with Habitat for Humanity. (Unfortunately I do not recall specifically what they were doing, but from what they told me of moving large numbers of bricks by hand, I can only imagine that they were helping to clean up and/or restore one of Newburgh's many abandoned historical buildings, or clear space for one of Habitat for Humanity's housing designs). The volunteers explained that doing this hard work for minimal compensation with the knowledge that it was for a good cause gave them a sense of personal satisfaction that was unparalleled to anything they had previously experienced. They expressed that they wanted to continue this work all over the world, healing the global strain by teaching the power of selflessness. The specific niche of how they would do this is essentially moot; whether it be building homes, supplying clean water, or implementing education programs, this act of helping others without the intention of personal gain has a reciprocal effect with the potential of ending suffering, that is, if you are not afraid to imagine a co collaborative world of peace and true equality.
We went on to discuss the logistics of traveling, working, and living as a unit. One of the AmeriCorps members was the mediator, and explained how he was responsible for maintaining morale and facilitating peace and well being within and between each of the individuals. He explained that he offered support, guidance, and insight to individuals feeling homesick or otherwise low, helped alleviate tension between group members, and coached individuals in regards to self care. Another of the AmeriCorps members divulged that she was appointed responsibility of public relations, taking photos and writing out posts for social media, for their core group and AmeriCorps as a whole. The volunteers also shared how they pool their funds together to go food shopping each week, and alternated within the group who cooked and cleaned up. One individual in particular continued to say that at the end of the week, all the food was gone. There was no waste. She explained that she preferred this experience of dividing the responsibilities and sharing meals as a group over her experience within a small, busy, nuclear family. A nuclear family who constantly had a fridge full of food but who never ate together, and often threw a lot of food in the garbage at the end of each week. They each expressed that they preferred this communal way of living over their traditional upbringings because they felt a sense of purpose and productivity that was specific to their unique talents and attributes. They all were able to contribute something to the group that enabled them to operate in service as a collective.
Even without knowledge of the other various roles appointed to the various members of their work group, I found this very interesting and could not help but imagine what would happen if we applied this same structure within whole communities. Of course we have therapists and psychologists, personal coaches, wellness practitioners, doctors, nutritionists, chefs, farmers, spiritual healers, graphic designers, artists, writers, you name it, but how accessible and readily available are they? How restricted by institutions such as the healthcare system and finance in general are they? Very! That nuclear family, and it is safe to say that many families no matter what they look like, are not eating together and throw out excess food at the end of the week because they are working long hours in system that doesn't support them. What would happen if we co collaborated to function and evolve, rather than fight and struggle to earn money and survive?
The experience of hosting this Potluck was inspirational, eye opening, and simply a pleasure. Speaking with these young individuals going through this transformative experience was awe inspiring. Within each of them I saw a strong sense of self growing stronger, coupled with a strong sense of purpose and personal responsibility for the condition of their communities, and of their national and global environment. I offered what I could in the form of snacks, a short hoop dance session during a lull in conversation, and low cost nutritional recipes. My offerings were meager in comparison to what I recieved from the presence and wisdom of these people. It gave me comfort to know that programs like AmeriCorps exist to shape our youth into self assured, proactive citizens. However, like many of our more valued institutions, AmeriCorps is at risk of being defunded. Please go to https://www.nationalservice.gov/about-cncs/donate-now to ensure that programs like this exist to inspire, empower, and educate our youth.
At one point in the height of our discussion, I reached over and took a bottle of water for myself. I opened it and as I raised the bottle to take a drink, I saw that none of my guests had a bottle of water. When I offered the water, they obliged. I handed a bottle to the person nearest to me, and he passed the water to his neighbor, who passed it to hers. I think this one small gesture sums up the lesson of this experience better than my words could.
4/8 The Intuitive Portrait Project
This "workshop" or offering is ultimately a combination of my three favorite things; meditation, mixed media contour drawing, and PEOPLE. While I was traveling I would make extra money by "busking", or doing inexpensive portraits for people, predominantly while in Asheville, NC. Beyond making a few extra dollars and excercising my artistry, what I found really interesting was the CONVERSATION that would happen as I did the portraits. Beyond an excercise in drawing, Intuitive Portriats have become an exercise in listening. Each person has a unique energy, appearance, and story. I really enjoy this work, and hope the subjects walk away with a sense of calm and celebration of their unique and beautiful self.
I just want to add that the first group to join me for this workshop were a group of youngsters from the neighborhood. They sat long enough for me to draw them, but restless as kids are, they started exploring and looking for something to do. I broke up the group portrait and they painted their portraits themselves. It was such a privledge to talk to these kids. I talked to them a little bit about meditation, but mostly listened to them tell me about who they are and what their lives are like, what they want to do. I think it's important for young people to develop a strong sense of self, and I hope this was an opportunity for them, whether or not they realized it, to explore who they are and who they want to be.
4/15 Cathartic Paper Making
I became interested in paper making years ago after having seen beautiful handcrafted papers at a small art supply shop in New Paltz. I often used found/recycled materials in my work, and enjoy the idea of a finished painting having layers and components that have a sort of depth and history. Paper making seemed like the perfect way to create a foundation for a finished piece of art utilizing these ideas. With some research I found that it was actually quite simple, but for one reason or another never followed through. While traveling I happened to meet a very interesting individual, and upon expressing my interest in papermaking they proceeded to show me their own kit that they had made. The synchronicity of that encounter stayed with me, almost like an affirmation from the universe that paper making was just something I should do.
This workshop really blew me away. After giving the attendees a simple demo, they took the instructions and built upon them to express their unique ideas and aesthetic. The work they created was as beautiful and diverse as each and every one of them, and their ability to work together and share was inspiring. At the end of the workshop, one of the attendees as she walked out of the door exclaimed "Thank you for this new skill I will have for the rest of my life!". I stood there for a moment in shock, in the flurry of getting everything together I had forgotten what I was actually doing, and what the paper making workshop was all about.
4/20 Ecstatic Painting
Of the workshops, I was most nervous about this one and whether it would be effective. Ecstatic painting starts with a meditation to help the participants ground themselves, find their center, and tap into a place of non judgement and embracing of their creativity. I then go on to guide the participant's actions with prompts, inviting them and encouraging them to use various colors and mediums in different ways utilizing the fundamental 'laws' of design. I have also been making primitive paintbrushes from found natural materials, so this was an interesting way to utilize and test those materials as well as incorporate the hand made recycled paper.
Ron, one of the attendees, had expressed that he did not paint but was an active patron of the arts, and just so happened to attend his first meditation class the day before. The other individual, Erika, is a practicing artist, so it was a perfect way to see how the workshop would effect someone looking to tap into their creativity as well as someone who perhaps wanted to access their creativity in a different way. I feel the workshop was successful. The attendees expressed that it was an interesting creative exercise, and each seemed to gain something unique to their journey from the experience. I went on to feature their works in the closing reception.
4/29 Keep Dreaming: Closing Reception and Artist Talk
The closing reception was a great way to review and reflect on the happenings of April. I displayed some of my personal work, some lamp concept/prototypes as well as the second phase of my Hexagon Series. I also featured the work of the Ecstatic Painting participants. In retrospect, I would have loved to have included the portraits as well as the pieces of paper the participants had made, but the idea did not occur to me until too late. Even so, I appreciated the opporunity to reflect and speak to Ozioma about the experience.
While this event marked the end of the Dream Effect Fellowship, it was a beginning for me. I took a moment to reflect on the successes I experienced both in design and implementation and what I would do differently in the future. Most importantly, I looked inward. What did I learn? What internal struggles was I grappling with even in the face of the success? While I continue to develop and implement these workshops, I continue to develop my internal self so that I am able to continue to do the work.
Massive thank you and so much love to The Dream Center, The Dream Center team, all the participants, and the beautiful community in and around the City of Newburgh.