What Can Movement Builders Learn from Artists?
What are you feeling?
What is that feeling about?
What does it have to do with your work?
These are three inquiries that Sharon Bridgforth, one of our two artists-in-residence at IDEX, offers while guiding us through the creative process of art making, truth telling, and community building. These three questions for self-reflection brings us back, every time, to the present moment, from where all feels possible.
Through the gifts of presence, vulnerability, courage, and improvisation, Sharon Bridgforth and Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones – accomplished interdisciplinary artists in the theatrical jazz aesthetic, scholars, and incredible humans that they are – are accompanying our organization as we see the transformative potential of witnessing each other in community.
We entered into this process with trepidation but also great excitement, for we knew something powerful was about to happen. By Day 3 of our workshop, IDEX staff — every one of us — were performing deeply personal and intensely vulnerable works. Dance, spoken word, visual arts, narrative, performance — we laid our souls bare. Not just to each other, but to strangers.
To stop and consider that many of us did not consider ourselves “creatives,” this was astounding to all of us! How did we get there? Here are just four things we’re learning in this experience that could be useful within the Move to End Violence:
1) Trust in ourselves and our bodies
We started through movement, so we could access the stored intelligence in our bodies, the wisdom that is beyond cerebral. Omi showed us that freeing the body helps free the spirit and we were invited to get inside of our brokenness.
“What did you discover?” asked Omi often after a particularly challenging exercise. We discovered how fragmented our whole selves can be in this work of social change, and how critically important it is to integrate ourselves if we are to do the demanding work of holistic social change.
“Your broken heart is the place of magic, of healing, of transformation,” reminded Sharon. To tell the truth, to dig deep, to go to sometimes dark or painful places, to craft personal experience into something one can share – is the source of art. This courage and this deeper connection to ourselves, our experiences, our stories, lays the groundwork for healing.
2) Trust in each other
Underneath so many conflicts is a longing for greater trust. One of our guiding principles in this creative process was to see each other anew and be curious about each other as artists. In practicing that curiosity, there’s deeper honesty, authenticity, and rigor because our egos had to melt.
For us now, once our most intimate stories have been shared, crafted, and performed, there is no going back to a defended way of living or working.
The process of opening ourselves up and holding the space for others’ vulnerability with generosity, non-judgment, and safety, has already enabled some innovative and introspective moments as we’ve been looking at our strategy and plans in new ways. Already, our staff meetings and planning sessions are flowing easier. Even new staff at IDEX have come away with so much trust in their brave and loving colleagues.
3) Trust in the process
We fell in love with the creative process. We welcomed the call to experimentation with forms of expression other than the ones we know well. We crafted our drafts into authentic pieces of art and invited collaboration from each other.
Our artists-in-residence reminded us to stand inside our traditions/lineages but also as innovators in those traditions. Artists demonstrate to us that generating unity, deeper conversations, strategy, new initiatives, and meaningful collaboration from whatever is available is what can come from trusting the process.
Social change if fraught with uncertainty and ambiguity, but by “trusting the process,” as we are reminded, we learn to learn, to show up, and to embody what we know to be true.
We discovered that this creative process, when we transform our greatest challenges into works of beauty, also generates great joy. This joy is liberatory for the artist, as well as for the audience. Grief can co-exist with laughter. We celebrated each other through ritual, ceremony, performances, food, music, and dance.
Raising resources is not easy. Building alliances and deepening relationships takes time. At the same time, they are all sources of joy. If we emphasize on the joy, we will move forward and more creatively with our work, shedding the martyrdom sometimes inherent in our work.
IDEX committed and recommitted to great joy in all we do, as a tribute to our partners, our ancestors, and to our collective strength. As someone shared at the end of the program, “IDEX is showing the world what’s possible when the masks come down.”