Category: Blog

My Experience at the Black Women’s Wellness Retreat

six women sit and stand together in the woods in front oof a small waterfall

Published on July 23, 2021

by Lakeisha Frith

 

The Covid-19 pandemic was a rollercoaster of emotions and frankly a lot to digest. In March of 2020, life as we all knew it changed forever. I never stopped, never paused, I just continued to plough through. Rolling along with every change in both my work and personal life. I kept myself busy from morning until night with zoom meetings, new recipes, workout clips on YouTube,   and staying connected to those outside the four walls of my apartment with social media. When I look back, it seems like a blur, like part of a bad dream that is slightly comforting because I was one of the lucky ones. On top of the pandemic, there were the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black lives that mattered that I grieved for.

Staying busy has been a security blanket for me my entire life. If my mind is active, and I am engaged in a project, I do not have time to think about what is wrong or not working or a worldwide pandemic! I got through by popping in my headphones and going for long walks through my neighborhood during zoom meetings. I never stopped working, I just pivoted and continued. Some days were downright exhausting and felt longer somehow in the virtual space, but I got through it, or at least that is what I told myself.

Once 2021 came along I was completely mentally and emotionally fried. I shut down at work, no longer could I explain why Black lives mattered to my colleagues or how we should respond as an institution to the Black men and women being murdered by the police. Family and friends kept reminding me that I had a paycheck and was able to continue working during a pandemic. “Be thankful,” they said. Truthfully, I was burned out. I was out of new ideas, and every project felt as if I was adding more layers to my already heavy load. I received an email regarding the NYCAIE roundtable Face-to-Face virtual conference and decided to register. It was at this conference that I came across a post for the Black Women’s Wellness Retreat. I clicked on the link and spent the next two hours applying. I needed this. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I needed it. I had not traveled anywhere since 2019, and the last time I traveled it was for work not pleasure or a retreat. I also could not remember the last time I had focused on my wellness and truly making myself my priority. One of the questions asked if I had ever been to a retreat? and my answer was unequivocally no.

” Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth. It is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.” University of California, Davis.This definition of wellness really resonated with me. The words that stuck out were active, choices, change and growth. I made the choice to focus on my wellness and attend BWWR2021.

On the first day of BWWR2021, I arrived at Target in Brooklyn around 8am. One by one, beautiful Black women artists and educators arrived. A little apprehensive at first, we all began to quietly speak to one another and then excitement filled the air. Every single step of the weekend was organized, thoughtful, and beautifully executed.

Lakeisha smiles and stands on the patio with lake in the backgroundFrom the moment I arrived at the Charm & Peaceful House, I felt my body relax and peace embrace me like a warm hug. The group of women in my house—artists, educators, actors, writers, musicians, dancers, designers, and just badass strong women—were open, strong, and were in a process of change and growth. The house we stayed in was over one hundred years old and had a one-acre garden in the backyard. It had history and bones, while being warm and inviting. There was a huge back porch with a chandelier, cozy furniture, and a dining table.  That porch became our stomping ground and haven for the weekend. We took our Zumba & yoga classes there, ate our meals, and got to know one another on that porch. Our first evening there, curious and friendly, a deer approached as we sat on the porch.  I took it as a sign that we were meant to be there at that moment, and we were welcomed.

There was so much love and care put into the planning and schedule for the BWWR, from the welcome from Toya Lillard (whose Facebook show Black Women are Reliable Sources, I am completely obsessed with), to the Zumba class and virtual dance party the first day, to the snacks, care packages and healthy meals. Everything was done with thought and care. I liked that we had the freedom to participate in as little or as much as we would like to. We could attend virtually or participate in person with the women in our houses.

One of the highlights for me was the virtual reiki session. I will admit that I was skeptical at first, but the hood healer aka Reshena Johnson was nurturing and professional. I felt relaxed and ready to let go and be present for the weekend. On Saturday, myself and the ladies of the Charm & Peaceful House decided to spend our house community gathering time going on a hike. We drove to the Falling Waters Preserve and did a 3.5-mile hike in the woods. We celebrated one another, we rested when we needed to rest, and we continued. We walked the entire preserve and spent time by the river and waterfalls just taking it all in. I will never forget this moment. Being in that space with other Black women who come from similar backgrounds, seeking rest, seeking peace, and getting all that we needed and more from the waterfalls. Taking the time for ourselves, our wellness, supporting and guiding one another, respecting ourselves and each other. The feeling of accomplishment I felt when we all passed the threshold at the end of the hike is beyond words. That afternoon, author jessica Care moore came over to the Charm & Peaceful house to share love and sign copies of her latest book We Want Our Bodies Back. It was an idyllic afternoon. That night, we had dinner with the “Saugerties Lighthouse” crew at a house overlooking the lake. We fellowshipped together while eating dinner, laughing with full bellies, and dancing. We took in the talent show, lifting one another up, and celebrating ourselves. It was truly a night to remember.

Since that night, I have not been able to get that lake house out of my mind. How could I create this feeling of peace and wellness when I returned home? How could I spend more time in nature, taking care of myself; mentally and physically? How could I make time for my wellness?

I realized that I always had the time. It has been my choice to put everything and everyone above myself, I have created this feeling of being busy and not having time. But there is always time for what we make a priority. I found the time to take this trip (despite mentally canceling at least 10x ‘s a day before leaving). I find time to do my job and to take care of my family, but I cannot find the time to take care of myself? Time, I found, is a choice. There is time to do the things our body and minds crave, but we must make it a priority. We must make time to rest, to grow, to change and not make excuses or cancel on ourselves. We would not do it at work, and we would not do it to the ones we love, so why do we do it to ourselves?

It has been a few weeks since I attended the BWWR 2021, and I have not been able to stop talking about it. I felt loved, I felt seen, and I felt appreciated. I was in community with other Black women for the first time since the pandemic, and I made the time for myself and my wellness. I owe it to myself and to those women to continue the wellness journey, to rest and retreat when needed, and to take care of myself. It is only when we make the decision to do this that we can be there for others and truly manifest what our heart desires. I am forever humbled and grateful for the opportunity and experience that the NYCAIE Roundtable provided me with this Black Women’s Wellness Retreat.

*****

ABOUT LAKEISHA

Lakeisha is in the woods, standing in front of a waterfall, smiling

Born in Miami, violinist Lakeisha Frith is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and Humanities. Ms. Frith began working with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony in 2005 as the String Orchestra Assistant and as an instructor in the GMYS Preparatory Program. In 2006, she started running a 3-tiered string program with upwards of 60 students at Pinecrest Elementary School. In 2015 she was promoted to Assistant Executive Director of the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, her duties included managing the preparatory, summer camps, and grant compliance. In September 2016, Ms. Frith became the Manager of Education at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts where she works in conjunction with resident companies, arts partners and Miami-Dade County Public Schools to enhance the arts education experience of all students and teachers throughout Miami-Dade County. Ms. Frith is an adjudicator for The Children’s Trust Young Talent Big Dreams Competition, a panelist for Miami Dade Cultural Affairs, and a member of Women of Color in the Arts. Lakeisha Frith maintains a private lesson studio and enjoys teaching and performing.

 

Ain’t Nobody Got Grey Arms

Aminah is a brown skinned person wearing a blag wide brim hat and white long sleeve shirt with hands outstretched
Photography by Anthony Francis

by Aminah Decé

Wind is rushing through the skies delivering urgent messages to the corners of Arroyo City.

The hypnotic push and pull of the waves are a sensual lullaby to the acrobatic fish who stretch as they prepare for their breakfast dance with the pelicans.

I am sitting, swaying to this melody reflecting as the last days of the Nepantla Residency creep upon me. I have never spent this much time on a pier. Not a private one. It is divided into sections of three. The wood rots on either end keep secrets of our hostesses’ family; her childhood and its past life. A hurricane paved the way for new wood. I still see marks and instructions left by the construction crew. My condo is about this size I’m sure.

I recall the evening I drove up to the site. The two small houses could be mistaken for Monopoly homes on the urban side of the board. They were modest. Tattered white and blue tint dressed the exterior walls while scenes of The Last Supper sat below the ceilings. Summer camp ran through my bones. Except, I was here by choice and my life would change forever.

Under the lights of a dazzling night sky, on the old section of the pier, I introduced myself to the first fellow resident who arrived. She is from the Valley. She is home, comfortable, and enthusiastic about Queer and Ethnic Studies; all things Indigenous, Black, and Brown. Black and Brown.

More residents trickled in.

More introductions, theories, identities, labels…

More Black and Brown.

More African American, Black Folks, White Folks; mas P.O.C.

I listened and observed, learned the lingo of the LGBTQIA+ community I am presumed to exist within. Amidst the chatter, I picked up a commanding voice, expressing the importance of respecting the choice of gender identity. According to the story, a parent was taking birthday photos of his son in pants and a dress just in case they chose to identify as a woman in the future. “They will be grateful to have baby pictures they can choose from.” How considerate, I thought. I was forced to wear clothing that made me feel uncomfortable; pants and dresses. I have childhood photos that I still shudder at the remembrance of; pants and dresses.

El chisme contiñuó, “Misgendering an individual is violent. Violent por que it perpetuates homophobia.” I glanced above the rim of my glasses, stretching my pupils like fingers over a border wall. “Misgendering is violent and perpetuates homophobia?” I asked between my silver spoon and Cocoa Rice Krispies. “Si. It’s traumatizing to be called something you’re not,” she exclaimed.

Immediately I began to disassociate and time traveled. I was bullied in junior high. My mother was in the Army and we moved often. I had been accustomed to starting anew every other year or so, but this school, these kids were different. I met them in 3rd grade, made friends, then moved before we took class pictures. Fate would reunite us in 6th grade. Unfortunately, time did not make the heart grow fonder. I remembered them, each one, but I had been forgotten. So much so that I was the “new” girl and ripe for pranks, isolation, and name-calling. I brought this to the attention of the school counselor, the principal, and my family. I learned that I was too sensitive and needed to develop a thicker skin. “Sticks and stones break bones” I was told and that I would find difficulty in life being overly concerned with what others said about me. I did not know then that the name-calling would continue. I did not know that the world identified me as Negro, Black, African-American, a P.O.C, Queer. Oh, what a struggle it has been to shed light on the violence and trauma.

I found refuge in Spoken Word and Poetry. The visual arts saved my life and led me to Nepantla. Between eating, singing, dancing, freezing, crying and sharing stories I had been quietly crafting my art series for critique. I shared a graffiti piece; my love for letters on canvas. It was a collage of text, vinyl records, acrylic paints, and legal documents made to conjure the past; a moment that dominated two years of my sanity and had currently held space in my art studio. I carried the burden for ten years, from California to Texas, between storage and four homes… Finally, I was processing and receiving feedback.

The aesthetic earned rave reviews with constructive suggestions for improvement and as expected, the narrative of police brutality and legal injustice sparked a fire of P.O.C discussion.

“BLACK AND BROWN!”

“MAS AFRICAN AMERICAN, BLACK FOLKS, WHITE FOLKS!”

“As a Queer, Black Woman facing racism you…”

I interrupted; I normally let these identifiers go. “Sticks and stones” I learned, but I had been silent long enough. After thanking my peers for their feedback, I put the proverbial foot down and informed them, “I am not Queer or Black. I do not identify with those terms and I do not believe in racism.”

There was a slight hush; an awkward pause. I thought I heard someone swallow their disbelief.

“Of course you are.”

“What do you mean?”

“The world sees race. Society sees you as Black so…”

I knew these questions would come, but I did not anticipate the shock and awe at Nepantla. After all, this was Las Otras. Unquestionable acceptance towards one’s identity was the constant topic of discussion since I had arrived. Though I am passionate about the topic, it brings anxiety también. Explaining is difficult. Rome was not built in a day.

I fell back on my training. How would I navigate these delusions with my students? Scaffolding, background knowledge, visuals, manipulatives…manipulatives! I found three crayons; black, brown, and white. I held each against the copper tone of my mothers’. My heirloom.

“Which one of these crayons best represents the complexion of my skin?”

The clock ticked five times, ten…twenty times. I knew not to interrupt the thinking process.

“Um, brown?” someone hesitated.

I saw confusion and amazement mushroom cloud around the room. It was like…coming out. There was more I wanted to say, but my work for the night was done. These revelations are heavy and so I chose to let the dust settle. The residency was just beginning.

I am an advocate for arts education. Yes, it is important to teach others the value of self-expression and the skills to develop artworks, etc., but what I love the most is utilizing the arts as a tool to investigate the legitimacy of concepts that plague society and create division among its populace. Concepts, like race, that uphold structures of generational supremacy, violence, and injustice that we have foolishly accepted as law. There are vast studies on the topic, some long before I was born, so I acknowledge the works of those who have preceded me. These thoughts of mine are not new and I assert no claim of discovery. What I do feel is a need for simplification. How can we ingest such a large creature? One that is fighting to live in hearts and minds? I suggest that through the study of the elements and principles of art we can do more than train our eyes and hands for aesthetics and craft, but also unlearn the curse of supremacist divisions. With just a few crayons, I found that I could ignite a bit of curiosity inside and outside of the classroom. It takes only a small seed of doubt of the established norm to slowly lift the veil of ignorance surrounding race and racial identity.

It is one thing to be anti this or pro that and another to effectively transform perception and behavior. Amid protests, riots, lawsuits, etc. are rigid minds who believe what they believe and know what they know. No matter which side of the line we ground ourselves upon, what we know are masterful illusions designed by master criminals with goals of acquiring power, profit, and leisure. How mighty are they to have convinced us that Santa Claus is real? That there is such a thing as Black and White people?

One of my students’ favorite activities is finger painting and through color theory, I challenge their perceptions. All visual arts instructors have a lesson on value. We teach our students that value is the brightness or darkness of an object and proceed with demonstrating a range of value via a scale.

My students are prepped and already thinking about their racial identity and the value that they derive from it. Some students identify as White; others Black. They dip their fingers in White paint and scribble across a few pre-drawn boxes. They titrate, add a little bit of Black paint, run their fingers across the next box, and repeat until the last one is completely Black. They are excited that they’ve created a value scale based on their racial identity. I encourage them to compare their arms to their art.

“Which box looks the most like you? Which box represents your value?”

They eagerly guess which square they fit in, review every single tone and laugh with each other until there is complete silence in the room.

“Ms. don’t none of these boxes look like our arms. Ain’t nobody in here got grey arms Ms.”

 

About Aminah

Li’ilt Nidan, Parham La Tasha Aminah Decé sprang from the soil of The Great River, Biloxi. Aminah celebrates a diverse heritage, tracing her lineage through many rich cultures including, the Medjai Warriors of the House of Shewa, Nubia, the Bantu peoples of the Ivory Coast, and the Mound Builders of Mississippi.

Aminah is trained at the World Combat Academy, Institute of Martial Science, and maintains degrees in The Humanities, Fine Arts & Art History/Criticism from The University of Texas, San Antonio. Under the pseudonym P16, she began her artistic journey as a slam poet in Killeen, Texas.

Through a variety of media and performances, Aminah expresses her personal experiences and discredits the concepts of race and supremacy. Contributing as a researcher and curator for the Institute of Texan Culture initiated the birth of Progrés Studios, The Social Soulstice, and A OK Art House. Aminah utilizes these entities to collaborate with artists and organizations to create Happenings and to facilitate visual and literary art workshops in the community. Aminah also served as a visual arts instructor for Judson Independent School District for seven years, sharpening her skills as a curriculum writer and mentor before transitioning to a full time Teaching Artist. Her mission is to assist herself and humanity in mastering their academic, socioemotional/metaphysical, and self-control traits. She finds that the serious study and application of the Arts heal and empower minds to manifest satisfying and productive lives.

Aminah is also a member of Return of the Matriarch, a musical group completed by San Antonio’s Poet Laureate, Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson. Together ROTM has featured their message of youth and women empowerment at South by Southwest, Luminaria, The McNay Art Museum, San Antonio Art Museum, The Carver Community Cultural Center, and various schools and universities in the Central Texas region. Return of the Matriarch is currently preparing for the release of their long-awaited album, Queendom Come.

“I would not be where I am without the support of my village; without beings guiding and assisting me in maintaining balance. Art is life. I live a little, teach a little.” -Aminah Decé

Falling

by Meghan Grover
Published on March 16, 2021

How do I hold a systemic analysis and approach when each system I am critical of is peopled, in
part, by the same flawed and complex individuals that I love?
This question always leads me to
self-reflection.
If I can see the ways I am perpetuating systemic oppressions, if I can see where I learned
the behavior and how hard it is to unlearn it, I start to have more humility as I see the messiness of the
communities I am part of, the world I live in  -adrienne maree brown, We Will Not Cancel Us

 

February 2011

I live in Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. 

I enjoy playing in creeks, watching Grey’s Anatomy, and going to football or basketball games every Friday night.

I want to be on Broadway.

I go to a public school in Chesterland. Like Chagrin Falls, it is almost 100% white. 

I’ve been raised Christian, like my mom. My dad is Jewish. I don’t really talk about that. 

My family is “comfortable” financially, which I think means I have more money than other people?

I am very, um, sometimes, attracted to… girls… no! Stop. That’s not allowed here! I LIKE BOYS ONLY!!!! 

I get A’s in school. I do wish school were more challenging but… I don’t know… I feel good when I get perfect grades? When I’m perfect. 

My theater teachers have changed my life. They make me feel like anything is possible. I can help people through art. Art helps us see that we are all one, all connected. Theater makes the human condition universal and we can all relate to each other. 

And even though I get anxious and depressed so much that my stomach hurts

And I am always in a state of competition and convinced everyone hates me? 

And boys in my school are rating me on a scale of 1-10, which I know is a natural thing boys do, but still?

And I’m starving myself because I need to look as skinny and disciplined as possible. 

I SMILE! 

I giggle. 

I’m enthusiastic! 🙂

I perform joy with perfection.
I want to change the world with theater and make other
people happy. 

November 2016

I live in New York City after graduating with a BFA in Acting. 

I cried all day after the announcement of Trump’s victory. I knew there were individual racists but not like so bad that Trump could win? 

I am a teaching artist now, and I want to make a difference in the world. I travel all over New York City, and I make original theater with young people. These are my first times being the only white person in a room. In some of the schools where I work, there are classrooms of 40 students with stressed and exhausted teachers. There are few resources for programming, supplies, and extracurricular activities. 

Today is a special day at an after-school middle school program that I have spent hours planning for. We are creating commercials. 

Three young people jump up with enthusiasm to go first! We give them a 3-2-1-Action, and they are dancing in a park, laughing and singing. They play sounds of sirens. They stop. They look at each other with fear. They grab a bottle and pretend to spray their faces with it. It makes them smile and relax. They say, “Our faces are light now. Cops won’t get us. Buy skin bleach, stay safe.” 

No one claps. The students all look at me, their white teacher, for something. Some support? Some answer?  I am silent.

A student watching cries. He says, “I will never change my identity!” Other students comfort him and their bodies tense.

I say, NO ONE SHOULD EVER HAVE TO CHANGE THEIR IDENTITY! NO! WE LOVE OURSELVES WE LOVE OURSELVES! 

And I just want to make things right but things aren’t right. 

They are not “universal.” 

And I hate myself both for not being a perfect teacher and for my need to be perfect making me want silence.

I cry on the J train and a cop asks me if I’m okay. 


May 2020

There’s a pandemic. I’ve been sheltered-in-place in Crown Heights since March. 

People are alone, isolated. Suffering. And even the people who do have wealth and safety and healthcare, a lot of them are still sad. This sadness was here before the pandemic, I think. It was just hidden beneath the distractions of our jobs, our new materials and technology, our busyness: smiles and enthusiasm.

Since the beginning of sheltering-in-place, I have been paying more attention and joining activist organizations and mutual aid efforts. It took all my jobs being cancelled to do this… but I did. And I feel… focused… I have started to feel closer to identities that I used to hide: my Judaism, my queerness, my access to wealth. I have started working with other upper-middle class folx on wealth redistribution and am having hard conversations with my family about it, and it feels… powerful, complex… imperfect. 

But now I feel panic. 

In March, Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman, was murdered by the police in Louisville. I didn’t find out about her murder until George Floyd, a Black man, was also murdered by the police in Minneapolis this May. 

Protests are happening all over the country.

When the police charge at us with shields and batons and guns because someone threw a water bottle? 

I shake.
I run!
I get in a cab!

I cry for my ignorance that has allowed me to perpetuate these systems for my entire life. I cry for my inability to keep my white body between police and Black and Brown people.

I cry for the fact that I left and am now crying white tears.

Back home, people are boarding up their businesses because of a planned protest. The protest is cancelled because, uh oh, violence could happen! Nearby, about five young people hold a Black Lives Matter protest. In response, there is a large Blue Lives Matter protest.

I have challenging, infuriating conversations with people from home about this, hearing about how Black Lives Matter is a
terrorist organization. I shut a lot of people out. I cancel them. I shame them. 

I don’t feel like I did in the beginning of the pandemic, where I could sit in imperfection. 

I want to stop crying and just make things better now. I want bad people out! 

I post a lot of anti-racist articles online with lots of other white people! It starts to feel like a performance. 

 

A moment now 

I’m still in Crown Heights physically, but I’m virtually in the midwest, making art with people on zoom. 

Before the pandemic as a teaching artist, I collaborated mostly with Black and Brown young people, with people with developmental disabilities, with senior citizens, and with people who live in rural towns. But I have not been a teaching artist with white, upper-middle class, able-bodied, neurotypical suburban people like me.

Why…???? 

I make the excuse that there are not theater programs where I grew up that examine politics and social justice. I only ever did eurocentric, conventional theater processes where I memorized my script and performed without interrogating the pieces on a systemic level.

I also have not wanted to work with privileged people. 

They already have enough opportunities. And they make me angry and emotional, and I don’t like that. 

They remind me of who I was (…and am!). 

I think of myself in 2011: a young woman who wanted to change the world with theater and yet had no idea what that meant! And despite all my privileges, I felt deeply unhappy and anxious, as did lots of other privileged people around me. I was not able to recognize how this system affects all of us, even those who benefit the most. There’s so much pain and competition and scarcity.  And playing pretend. 

How do I leverage my upper-middle class whiteness to move other white people to be in solidarity with and listen to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color? 

How can white people heal, not to overshadow, but to join the collective liberation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color?
Part of healing is giving up power.

I’ve reconnected with high school teachers from my hometown.

In collaboration with classmates at CUNY, I have been creating virtual projects with my teachers and their students. We created a ‘Theatre in Education’ 5-day program for high school juniors and seniors based on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. I am also working on a theater devising project for midwest high school students to imagine and enact the future they want. 

In both projects, the young people have expressed excitement about the chance to discuss difficult issues and their potential change in the world. They’ve also expressed hopelessness about what they can do, which makes me feel eager to build spaces where they feel they can transform themselves, one another, and this world. 

It feels amazing, difficult, and terrifying to connect with people where I grew up; to be an insider in a community for the first time as a teaching artist. 

Although my work so far in Ohio has felt mostly positive and inspiring, I challenge myself to keep going when it does not feel so good. I want to support spaces with people who will share views that I consider hateful. And work through that pain as we all learn together, as we heal together. 

I make mistakes.

But I keep learning. 

And I keep adapting. And I keep GOING and showing up! And sometimes not showing up but then showing up again. 

This is going to be a lifelong painful glorious journey. 

Of learning,
of messing up,
of learning,
of messing up,
of learning

I cry tears that drive me,
not halt me in guilt and self-pity.
Tears of fury, empathy, solidarity, love. 

Scarcity falls
Fear falls
Chagrin falls

About Meghan

Meghan Grover (she/her/they/them) is a teaching artist, performer, and director with a passion for devised theater, process dramas, and community-based work. Meghan is the co-creator and facilitator of ‘Devising Our Future,’ which creates original theater with high school students that centers their dialogue, ideas, and actions toward a future of social justice. They are also the co-creator and facilitator of the ‘Defrost Project,’ which focuses on community-based work in rural Minnesota. Meghan loves making and performing process dramas for people of all ages too… she describes process dramas as being like ‘Social Justice Dungeons and Dragons.’ Meghan has worked with Convent of the Sacred Heart, Park Avenue Youth Theater, Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, NYC Children’s Theater, Bluelaces Theater Company, AMIOS, Hook & Eye Theater Company, and more. They graduated from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program and are currently getting their MA in Applied Theatre at CUNY.

NYC School Reentry Questions from Arts Organizations and Artists

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 23, 2020
CONTACT: Kimberly Olsen, kolsen@nycaieroundtable.org

Published on September 23, 2020

Inspired by the Council for School Supervisors and Administrators’ 141 questions the NYC Department of Education must answer before reopening schools, NYC Arts in Education Roundtable Advocacy Committee has put together a list of 48 questions our members should consider as they plan and prepare for the delivery of arts in education services in the 2020-2021 school year. We know these are tough questions, but we hope in sharing that they can be used as a resource. In addition, please review the education resources following these questions and share with your networks.


Defining Legalities around pre-recorded materials:

  • What and how will you pay teaching artists for creating pre-recorded videos? How does this rate differ from in-person teaching?
  • How will you charge schools for their use (one time fee or pay per use)?
  • What rights do teaching artists have to use or share the videos?
  • Given the intended purpose, should pre-recorded materials only include royalty free music and photos?
  • Do you have a policy on the use and/or citation of music, photos and videos used in pre-recorded content? 
  • What responsibility do arts organizations have in citing the teaching artist when sharing videos/clips or screencaps in published or publicly-facing materials?
  • What measures can you take to ensure content isn’t downloaded, stolen, or shared without permission?
  • Have you communicated with teaching artists/staff about intellectual property? Have teaching artists been given a platform to discuss this topic with staff? 
  • How is intellectual property/copyright addressed in a teaching artist’s contract, and what are your action steps if a teaching artist would like to negotiate the terms?
  • Can teaching artists share their own content with other organizations or as portfolio pieces?


Safe reentry guidelines: 

  • How do you plan to deliver arts in education programs for the beginning of the school year (synchronous or asynchronous)? Will this be an organization-wide policy or will it vary by program or school? When do you plan to revisit this decision, and who will be involved in the conversation?
  • If offering remote learning, do you plan to use one or both styles of service delivery (synchronous or asynchronous)?  Will teaching artists and staff receive training in this area prior to teaching in the style? 
  • Do you plan to deliver arts in education programs using a hybrid or blended teaching model (online and in-person)? Will teaching artists and staff receive training in this area prior to teaching in the style? 
  • What does “onsite” mean for teaching artists and/or staff who are not comfortable working in-person or who are immunocompromised? Will this impact their employment? 
  • Will your organization provide health insurance or a health insurance stipend if in-person work is the only available option to part-time staff or independent contractors?
  • How are you assessing teaching artist/staff safety and comfort with returning to in-person work? 
  • How are you preparing teaching artists to re-enter the classroom being mindful of the trauma experienced by all parties (including students, teachers, and teaching artists themselves)?
  • How are you addressing social-emotional learning with your teaching artists and staff?
  • What actions are you, your organization, and your teaching artists taking to intentionally support Black, Indigenous, and communities of color in your work?
  • What procedures are in if a teaching artist working in-person is exposed to COVID-19? What procedures are in place if a teaching artist gets COVID-19? How will you communicate this to those who may have been exposed through your programming.
  • Are you requiring teaching artists and/or staff to get tested for COVID-19 at the start of an in-person residency? If yes, how frequently are they being tested? If a fee is incurred, will it be reimbursed by the organization or is it the responsibility of the individual?

 

DOE and School specific on-site guidelines:  

  • Have you read the NYC Department of Education and NYS reopening guidelines as it relates to arts education and visitors? Has this information been shared with your teaching artists and staff?
  • What happens if your visiting teaching artist or staff member witnesses a school not adhering to city/state guidelines? Is there a procedure already in place? Has the procedure been shared with your teaching artists and staff members? 
  • What do teaching artists need in order to be given entry in a school building (i.e. temperature checks, PPE equipment)?
  • Will you provide your teaching artists and/or staff with PPE or other safety equipment (i.e. hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, face shield)?
  • What are the protocols when staff, teaching artists, in-school teachers, and/or children refuse to abide by the safety rules (i.e. wearing a mask, social distancing)?
  • How will you train teaching artists to properly clean or store materials?
  • How will you adapt your services and programs so that students/participants do not share materials?
  • How can teaching artists creatively maintain 6+ feet between students during low-level activity? How can teaching artists creatively maintain 12+ feet between students during moderate-level activity (such as singing or dancing)?


Working remotely:

  • Will your school require you to use DOE Zoom and Google Classroom accounts? How will you support teaching artists in gaining access to these systems, specifically an external email address? 
  • What will you do if a school does not allow your teaching artists or organization to use their DOE Google Classroom account because they’re unable or unwilling to create separate email accounts for vendors?
  • Are you tracking external DOE email addresses for your organization? Is there a system to place to support your teaching artist in tracking log-in information for different schools and/or classes?
  • How will you assess student access to technology without drawing attention to specific students?
  • How will you assess student access to technology without drawing attention to specific students?
  • How will you assess teaching artists’ access to technology? If additional technology is needed to support delivery of services (i.e. camera, laptop, tripod, ring light), will you provide those materials?
  • How can your organization support digital access needs (i.e. captions on videos, language access [multilingual educators, translations, co-teaching in different languages], sensory items & objects that could be delivered to someone’s living space to support focus)?
  • If videos are pre-recorded and then posted on a Google Classroom, how are you tracking if the content is used?
  • How are asynchronous videos delivered to students? Are teachers assigning it as “homework” or do teaching artists/organizations have direct contact with the students and their families? 
  • How should teaching artists return materials that they still have from the 2019-2020 school year? How will you retrieve materials left at schools during the 2019-2020 school year?
  • What should your teaching artist or staff member do if they are alone in a virtual room with students?
  • What supplies or materials will teaching artists and staff need to teach from home?
  • If discipline-specific materials are needed to teach a remote class, how will those supplies be distributed to students?
  • What happens if a teaching artist is unable to work (i.e. attend a scheduled class or deliver a video on-time)? Will that work be rescheduled, cancelled, or will you call in a substitute?
  • Are you/your teaching artists prepared with language on how to address student comfort levels with turning on their camera? How are you modifying curriculum to ensure other access points for students to share work and collaborate?

 

Communication:

  • If each school has a standard COVID-19 procedure for staff to follow, how will this be shared with teaching artists in advance to safely enter a school and a classroom?
  • What channels are available for teaching artists and staff to connect with their colleagues, share ideas, and voice concerns? 
  • Have you communicated with your teaching artists since last school year? How frequently and through what methods do teaching artists receive information about their organization of employment (regardless of whether they have work confirmed)?
  • Are teaching artists included in company-wide emails?
  • What methods are you using to get feedback from parents and students that allow teaching artists to be agile and nimble as changes emerge?
  • What methods are you using to get feedback from teaching artists and staff? Are there channels for teaching artists and staff to share information/feedback anonymously?

 


 

Additional Resources

NYC DOE Arts Education Resources:

 

General Education Resources:

  • NYC Principals’ Union lists Questions on School reopening: click here 
  • NYC Safety Guidelines for reopening: click here 
  • Cuomo announces decision on reopening NY State schools: click here 
  • DOE accounts for CBO Partners: click here
  • CDC Strategies for Protecting K-12 School staff from Covid-19: click here

 

Out-of-State Arts Education Guidelines:

  • NJ Arts Education Reentry Guidelines: click here
  • Arizona Arts Education Reopening Guidelines: click here 

 

Legal Resources:

A Tribute to Paul King

Paul King with slight smile wearing glasses, brown blazer and blue collared shirt against a black background

Published September 24, 2020
(Originally shared September 16, 2020)

The New York City Arts in Education Roundtable presents a remembrance to a great friend to the Roundtable, Paul King, former Executive Director of the Office of Arts and Special Projects. This video was originally shared at The Roundtable’s Kickoff event, “Bridging the Divide: Making Connections Between Personal Impact and Communal Change.”

The Lost Art of Boredom

By Melissa Shaw

Posted on Thursday, June 11, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists.

Novelists are geniuses at staying still and seeing what comes next. I am most likely to be engaged in is staring. If staring ever becomes an Olympic event I am bringing home the gold. While other people go to work, I stare out the window, and then for a while I stare at my dog. I stare at blank pieces of paper and paragraphs and I stare at sentences and a buzzing computer screen. While others are doing things with their lives, hours and hours of my days are spent with my eyes glazed over, waiting, trying to figure things out. 

– Ann Patchett

 

When I was younger it was a lot easier to have nothing to do. There was less to watch on TV, fewer places to go, FOMO didn’t have a name yet, and although there was a rudimentary Internet around in the 90’s, I was not from a family that ever had a computer and the ear splitting dial-up connection of yore. AOL chat rooms, one of the only ways to chat on the internet then, was a stolen pleasure in other people’s homes. Through all of this, I was given a gift that is so much harder to find and embrace these days: boredom. 

 

For many of us, through Quarantine, there is a new air of and potential for boredom around us. Most of us are in our homes wondering what’s next? What do I do now? In this time to have an opportunity you should not miss- to do nothing for a while and see what comes of it. 

 

Think back to when you were a kid. I know when I think back to having a lack of things to do, my sister and friends and I would come up with original games, and fantastical romps through made-up worlds of our own devising. We were monsters and fairies and ran off of storm doors pretending we could fly. Even through high school, when I went to the haven of my room and shut the door I would listen to music, lip sync, dance alone, collage, journal, play dress up and dream of what might come in my future. This was a fertile time for my mind and creativity. If only we had Tik Tok then, I would have been a star. 

 

My personal space to create was born from these nighttimes and weekends unfilled with school, or other people’s voices, or demands on my time. 

 

To this day, I come up with my best plans or ideas when I stare off into space or when I’m stuck in my car singing to whatever song comes on the radio. 

 

Your boredom can be a gift -you just have to let it be. From the Void of Boredom will come your great idea, invention, piece of writing, drawing, or video.  You just have to open the space to let it in. 

 

The problem with most of us these days is that at the very hint of boredom, we move to strike too quickly to fill the void. We check our phones and wonder what other people are doing or thinking. Don’t worry about it sweetheart. You’re where the party is, always.

My advice. Be bored. Be with yourself. Sit on that mountain and the lightning bolt will come. Give it a try. 

 

Think, if you will, of a pimple (stay with me). When you first get a pimple, you are most likely bummed. Drat. This is inconvenient. This is not what I want! I do not want a pimple. You don’t, but there is nothing you can do. You must wait. That pimple is your boredom.  Oh sure you can try. You can fuss, and muss, and apply creams, and wash your face a million times, but you know the rules of a pimple quite well by now. You can’t rush a pimple, you have to give it time, because you know there is going to come the Great Pimple Moment. Slowly, surely, the moment to pop the pimple will arrive. The ugly pimple of boredom will be ready, and so will you. You will get the satisfying moment of release (don’t pretend there aren’t entire youtube channels dedicated to this.) This Great Pimple Moment holds the release to the next phase of healing and the inspiration that something good (the pimple fading!) is at hand. From your angsty patience will come the revelation. 

 

 A lot of research has been done about boredom and creativity. In this article, Clive Thompson writes for Wired that “Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. “Boredom becomes a seeking state,” says Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench. “What you’re doing now is not satisfying. So you’re seeking, you’re engaged.” A bored mind moves into a “daydreaming” state, says Sandi Mann, the psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire who ran the experiment with the cups. Parents will tell you that kids with “nothing to do” will eventually invent some weird, fun game to play—with a cardboard box, a light switch, whatever. Philosophers have intuited this for centuries; Kierkegaard described boredom as a prequel to creation: “The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings.” 

 

Pace around your room, listen to songs and fall in love with the images in the lyrics, flip through magazines, put down your phone, stare into space. Give your brain time to rewire. 

 

 

As Ann Patchett says in her graduation speech from Sarah Lawrence College the year I received my MFA in Theatre, Say still. See what comes next.

 

*****

Melissa Shaw is a writer, theater artist, and facilitator living in Brooklyn.  Her work has appeared in Hey Alma, Litrony, The Writer’s Rock Quarterly, and in the forthcoming Lyrics, Lit and Liquor anthology. Melissa was a member of the 2018 Writers in-Performance Lab at Tribeca Performing Arts Center in 2018 and is an associate artist with Falconworks Artist Group. She holds an MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College.

Screenshots from Quarantine

By Chaya Babu

Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists.

The days are all the same but I’ve never been good at time any way. I take walks around the neighborhood to punctuate things, stopping sometimes to sit on the grassy medium along Albermarle under the trees. Yesterday I journaled about how the leaves look translucent when the sunlight pierces them — distinct from the glassy look of a fish, more like gossamer, ready to come apart at the slightest touch. The day before that, about Venus stationing retrograde in Gemini. This is my universe right now: the ten-block radius around my apartment and, in turns, a more galactic drawing of my borders. 

 

“All I learn on Zoom is pig latin.”

 

And a new rhythm of conversation with my almost-nine-year-old nephew. The days have this now too. His face bright with his bad homemade haircut on a screen in my Brooklyn studio, sometimes right after the school day ends too but always for a bedtime story. Between 6:30 and 7pm he FaceTimes me. 

He has on occasion given me the courtesy of informing me that he’s about to do so. It’s not a heads-up as he doesn’t leave time in between the message and the call for me to let him know if I’m free; it’s more just an announcement of himself.

 

“Abu-bay,” he says. “That’s what your last name would be in pig latin.” As if I wasn’t well versed myself thirty years ago. I let him teach me. 

 

 

Vihan is my sister’s child. I always thought he would be 11 or 12 before he had his own device with messaging capabilities. Like so many other changes, COVID-19 sped that up. I’ve relished this development. He’s old enough now for us to laugh at the same jokes (sometimes), and to agree on whether a story is actually scary or not (yes I have cultivated in him a strong inclination toward art about ghosts and maybe killers and baby spiders crawling out of human faces). When I got that first “hey” two weeks ago from an email address that was his first and last name plus a 2011 tacked onto the end, I felt a soft heart-blooming that is so much more palpable now that the earth is quiet. A minute later, he was blowing up my FaceTime. We haven’t missed a story night yet. 

 

I’m reading Dear Mr. Henshaw to him. I never read it as a girl, but a friend gifted it to me recently with his own fanmail in the form of a note tucked into the front cover about his high hopes for my book publishing future. Vihan is taken with Leigh Botts’ transition from writing letters to Mr. Henshaw to writing in a diary with each entry addressed to Mr. Pretend Henshaw. He tells me from his little rectangle world on my iPhone that he can understand why it’s hard to write in a diary because he likes to write but doesn’t always see the point in writing to himself.

 

 

I’m not writing at all. Not beyond my slips of noticing the light, catching the way an ant crawls across my knee, the way my hair has grown wild or my whether my breath goes in deep or shallow. As my brain tries to make sense of what’s happening around us, even as I don’t think about it consciously, it feels that it has nothing left to make sense of anything else. It has nothing else to make sense of through language. I think about stories I might like to tell, essays ideas that had been swirling before, my manuscript draft that is waiting for my discernment and hand with red pen, and the fact that I now have all the free, open, boundless time an artist could have dreamed of. But the days blur together in a way that collapses the clock, and I can’t remember why I once believed there was a purpose in putting these thoughts on paper. I can’t remember why I once believed I knew how. 

 

 

I get good morning and what are you doing now? messages from him at 7am. I’m still asleep then. His good morning emoji game is on point though.  

Sometimes he sends me dispatches from the middle of his day.  

If I tell Vihan I’ll call him back in five minutes but I take seven minutes instead, I get back to my phone with three missed FaceTime calls and a message asking why I’m not picking up. I have to explain to him that if a grownup says five minutes, they usually mean fifteen or twenty. He thinks about that and decides it’s absolutely true. 

 

 

Vihan knows that I’m “a writer,” but only in the abstract. Sometimes he asks me questions about the publication process, but he doesn’t know what kinds of pieces I write, about what, why I do it as my work when it means I live in inside a 500 square foot perimeter while his life happens in the expanse between an Upper East Side townhouse and five acres of green and shadow and crisp air in Westchester. Usually he’s only up north on the weekends but now he’s been there for two months. One day on our FaceTime, after we read a few entries from The Diary of Leigh Botts, I show him my quarantine journal. 

 

“You wrote ALL that just since quarantine started?” he asks. 

 

It’s a soft bound book with a white cover. A gold bee is etched into the front. Vihan requests that I read a page to him. This feels hard. I open to lines and lines documenting my emotional state and the roots of my tendency toward somatic dispersion; somewhere there’s a missive about the direction the dandelion seeds danced in the wind on Ocean Parkway, somewhere else a bulleted list of numbers counting death. 

 

I find something remotely legible and not entirely inappropriate, even if beyond his level of reading comprehension. It’s dated May 5. I read: 

 

“I have lost my way and I know it. I used to know, just from the pulsing within, what came now, and next, and next. Now I trust nothing, always monitoring the okayness, measured by — not me. It has been so sad. This place. Thinking that the current and flow of my own body could be so wrong. An error. Carved into the bed of my feelings place. I’m wondering now if something about now is taking me back. I hope so. I need this time to hold a return. It seems so desperate and urgent a need. And yet, the urgency requires a sustaining force of slowness. Once it was true that the writing came easily. It did. I know it. I was there, that was me. Now it feels like I know nothing, think nothing, without stopping to check for the making sense to the gaze of some other. It never does. What happened? Who said I was such an aberration, and why did they matter?”

Vihan thinks about that. 

 

“Does that mean you think you’re getting less smart?”

 

“Yeah…” I say. “Yeah, it does.”

 

“Me too,” he offers. 

 

“Really? Why? Because you’re not getting much from remote learning?” 

 

And then he explains that all he learns on Zoom is pig latin. 

 

I laugh. 

 

 

The days are marked by our chats. 

A ritual that repeats, but nonetheless allows me to plot the passage of days and ephemeral shifts aside from my own regression. 

 

 

On a pretend Monday, February 5, Leigh Botts writes:

 

Dear Mr. Henshaw, 

I don’t have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of a paper. 

 

 

On a real Thursday, May 14, Vihan writes: 

 

(Because I’m annoying and I asked him to think about ways he might be growing that are not exactly related to what he’s learning academically. I decide after receiving the message that it wasn’t the worst exercise.)

 

 

I’ve been thinking about pig latin. How there is a point in our young lives when we are unburdened by whether or not we are understood beyond the scope of those whom we have let in. How having a secret language is sometimes what makes us feel safe. I think about how there are going to be moments, and they may stretch on in a way that causes time to fold in on itself and spiral out and back again, when talking only to ourselves and to those who intuitively grasp the words we use when we’re separating out the strands of our thoughts is what we need to get through the unraveling weeks of unknowing, whole. 

 

 

It’s the first day that I feel a hopeful warmth on my skin outdoors and I can mark the seasons turning, at last. The leaves are glowing everywhere; I try to figure out the name of a fragrant purple flower on a Stratford Road bush. It’s Friday — I know that much because Vihan goes to bed later and so I haven’t heard from him yet even as the 7pm hour creeps to its halfway point. Then my phone buzzes.

 

 

It’s story time.

*****

Chaya Babu is a South Asian American writer, journalist, artist, and educator based in Brooklyn. Her work focuses on power and oppression, cities, the body, foolishness, individual and collective healing, and more, and has been featured in or at The Margins, BuzzFeed, VICE, Open City, the Porter Gulch Review, GO HOME!, and Project for Empty Space, amongst others. She teaches classes on personal narrative, poetry, and reporting through Community Word Project and the School of the New York Times while she works on her first book, a memoir about the intergenerational trauma of exile and the impossibility of return post diaspora. For more, visit www.fobbysnob.com.

 

The Importance of Art in Trying Times

By Topaz Rodriguez

Posted on Friday, June 5, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks.

Hello there! I see you’ve landed here from your journey, and I’m glad to see you alive and well in these changing times my good friend. Now that I have the privilege of your time and attention; I’d like to talk to you about an observation, or rather a perspective that has been around longer than you can imagine. This perspective is the flippant conversation of pursuing, creating, and dissecting art- society seems to have with artists of all mediums- claiming that our careers are phases, or they’re gaudy precursors to what we are ‘supposed’ to do. This conversation leads in with condescending tones, then follows up with the pressure of living in a capitalist society where if your work doesn’t bring in money it shouldn’t exist. If you’re lucky it ends there, but most times you’re not so lucky and the person or group of people ask you what you’re going to do with your life, why do a career that leaves you in poverty, etc. One of the best examples I can show you of this attitude seeping into an artist’s life, or how pervasive this attitude can be comes from the late Kurt Vonnegut, writer of Slaughterhouse Five, and A Man Without a Country. In this book (A Man Without a Country) Vonnegut (or his character)- is shown to have said:


If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”  

 

This observation itself speaks volumes of the attitude towards art both in the times of Walt Whitman’s journey as a writer (some may even argue as a person) and to today’s 21st century.  To many people of the past and the audiences of the present, art is a waste of time- it doesn’t do much, and pursuing it is a disappointment to both you and the people before you.  To some it may be hard to believe nowadays – artists of many mediums have sprung from all walks of life.  We even have  more representation (of people who are marganlized or left in the background) in media such as Black Panther (2018), Steven Universe & it’s epilogue Steven Universe Future, to even revived specials such as Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling where one of the main characters is transgender.  However it is hard to keep art alive where one is in a society where it is neglected, disengaged, or even destroyed for capitalistic gains in it’s society. Below this are my two main arguments, and some advice for your troubles, dear reader.


1 (One): Capitalism is (More) Insidious than you think.

I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, next you’re gonna tell us water isn’t wet, and moonlight is technically still sunlight, wowee” but sarcasm aside it just seems I’m stating what you know to be your reality. However, I’d like you to take a moment, and think of the last film, t.v show, or even youtube series you’ve binged at 2 am and ask yourself if there were any jabs, commentary, at the providers of the show, or the network companies. Now add any implications of characters without a job being portrayed as annoying, antagonistic, etc. Once you’ve got those two ruminating in your brainspace, ask yourself: “How come (insert character name here) is seen as a useless person if they don’t work? How did that jab at (Insert network provider/company) fly past the executives?” Isn’t a little weird that you may feel odd for thinking that’s not fair to the character, or that you might bite a nail, inhale a sharp breath, or even laugh at the creators jabbing at the people that left them behind? Now, I’d like to direct your attention to the idea that people are inherently good but capitalism prevents actual good being done. I know, it sounds a bit radical (and pro-communism if you want to bring in the ideologies of economic systems) but hear me out for a second. I’d like to introduce you to a show title I hold dear and near to my heart called One Day at A Time (2017). This series was inspired by the 1975 sitcom with the same name, but this version follows a Cuban-American  family led by Penelope who starts the series off as a newly single veteran who divorced her partner who was also in the military, and she takes care of her two children and her mother in an apartment owned by a white landlord who’s a really really rich and aloof hipster. Already, this is a major field of representation for people who immigrate to America from Latino, and Hispanic countries, for those who are veterans, and for those who may have the same familial setup or culture- where there’s a matriarch in charge or in the picture. This series is both light-hearted, sweet, and also heart-wrenching at times from the days the family goes through, from Penelope’s daughter coming out as lesbian, to Penelope dealing with the seperation of her marriage, and her youngest son dealing with bigotry from the groups around him at school. To many people’s dismay, the show was dropped by Netflix after it’s 3rd season but was saved by Pop TV, another streaming tv service. In the 4th season’s premiere, there’s a jab done at Netflix where there’s nothing good on it anymore since they cancelled the show itself before. This series brings the inherent goodness idea to light by the representation the show gives, but since Netflix was not gaining the viewership it wanted it was dropped outright. Due to the influence of needing to see profit, cultural growth in television/media was stunted, and many creators that we need may have just given up. We also constantly see characters (in other shows) who don’t have jobs being portrayed as annoying to the main characters who do have jobs, an example would be Jack McFarland from Will and Grace (both the 1993 version, and the 2020 epilogue season) where in the beginning seasons he’s seen as a hindrance/annoyance to Will (his best friend) since he doesn’t work and is often asking for Will to spend some money on him or get him some services- and Will is patted on the back for being a good friend, or he just exchanges jabs to get Jack to quit. This may be a small facet into how capitalism can show it’s ugly rear in art but it’s important to spot it- since it’s a good foundation to bring up the debate or theorization of capitalism’s evil nature, and that it changes the way art is made in the 21st century, and how art will continue to be made in the 21st century. Final point-Keep your eyes open for shows being cancelled even when they do social good, or shows being threatened to be shut down due to its international viewership not sharing the same ideologies as the shows creator/s, money is paper but it affects us like poetry.

2 (Two): Culture is also at Fault.

Now, before you throw me out of a window or commit defenestration, please listen for just a second. I am not blaming any cultures who are at the short end of the stick ie: those who need the money to live, and survive/ need the bread and milk before they can buy the flowers to keep their soul alive. I am specifically coming for the culture in charge of artistic prowess, development, and survival, and I’ll be addressing them directly for this portion so please be prepared…

 

 HI! Are you a white upper-middle class to high- middle class individual who cares about art as a concept, and as a way of life? Do you enjoy seeing really cool things made by people not like you?  Do you go outside and interact with people who are not like you? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, I’d like to introduce you to the state of the art, first of its kind, just for you-brand new tool to make sure art survives, and continues to thrive so we can all have the things we want if you want us to contribute to your wealth. For just a small price of donating to centers, donating to systematic organizations, to cities, and local towns, villages frequently and consistently – you can acquire the tool of understanding that Art should be treated and supported as a necessary part of a capitalistic society that prides itself on earning the right to live, and  just maybe-live happily.

 

People need art to live- we don’t just live for clean food and water, or just shelter, we need things to sustain our minds, our hearts, and our way of knowing each other- including ourselves. People who work get through it through music or videos, or writing or drawing, etc if we’re going to have to work the rest of our lives we have to make it worth something besides material things. Because of you all, we have to work more than you do,  and the things we enjoy come at a price. We can’t work without pay, and we shouldn’t have to work without pay, and representation if you want to enjoy what we’ve made for ourselves. When you give us money we make great things happen. People grow and change, there’s hope for newcomers from the next generations, or those who look for solace here from worlds of tragedy beyond where we are now. 

Treating artists as people who do work for monetary gain is not only a good thing to do, it’s an insurance of humanity. If you feel isolated from what you have, you can start getting to be w/ people if you support the things they love, not just once but consistently- the love will always be there, you just gotta water it from time to time. Be a person with money who cares and the world will thank you for it. Thanks for tuning in.

 

3 (Three): “Art is the revolution that keeps reviving.”


Heya, you’ve reached the epilogue of your journey with me, thank you for sticking with me, here’s the advice you were promised. Art is a reaction to change, a lack of change. It flows through many, changes worlds, changes hearts, it survives, it is the inertia of humanity when it’s at its most powerful, and it is the small shimmer of light in the darkness of uncertainty, war, famine, and times where death seems to be a neighbor- rather than a force. It is what it means to be human, and find humanity again. When this is over, artists will have to seize the limelight of being a foundation of sanity when we were all locked down from the inaction of the government until it was to/too late, and having what I said in mind can be the difference between us as artists, creators, and supporters being lifted into higher places from now and us biting the dust. If we win, then know that art will be the reason we rise day after day, after day. If we lose, art will never die so long as we live to see tomorrow. Remember that in every human the ability to change, or react is instilled in us- art will follow suit. Thank you for making it to the end, for taking the time to read all of this, for creating, supporting the creativity, and for existing as yourself. Best Wishes- Topaz.

 

*****

Topaz Rodriguez is a Trans and Queer poet from NYC who’s writing starts from different mediums of poetry, to original stories that will be published in the near future! User of He/Him and They/Them pronouns, Topaz is also an advocate for Trans Rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the right for teachers, educators, and non-profits across the nation to continue their pay for the right price. Feel free to follow their instagram or tumblr under the handle: honeygemtrashbag

Risk Factors: Being Black During a Pandemic  

By Javan Howard

Posted on Wednesday, June 3, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks.

As a black man in America, I’m used to being followed. It happens everywhere, especially in NYC. I’m not sure which part is more sad: As a black man the things that I’m used to, or how what I’m used to hits differently during these times? Racism, police brutality, the inequalities, the list becoming an endless black pit. I expect it, I accept it. The innate history of racism that travels around us. Yet I still walk. Not just to get from place to place, I walk not just for comfort or a form of exercise. It’s a safe haven. An unfolding process that revitalizes my soul. For years, it’s been one of the ways I’ve dealt with my depression.

I can’t count the times that I’ve been stopped, followed, or harassed by police throughout my 32 years. It has happened all over. Luckily, I’ve been conditioned through the stop and frisk era. When I was 15 growing up in the Bronx, I spent 90 minutes in handcuffs being lectured then “Let go” for being in the park after dark. They didn’t care that I left basketball practice, walked from the #2 train and the park was the only way to get to my apartment building. I was followed from the train, but only stopped when I got to the park. That didn’t bother me. 

I was 21 in Pennsylvania, a year from my own graduation when I went to court against a PA state trooper who cited and charged me for disorderly conduct. My friends and I were asked to leave by this officer for being too loud at a local diner near my school during graduation weekend. The waiter never asked us to quiet down, no one in the restaurant even complained. Our only crime was being in a restaurant at the same time as this officer who felt his break was being disturbed. Or maybe it was being the only black table in his empty section. We were escorted out, embarrassed, lectured and degraded for over an hour. We found out later this same officer had several complaints against his dealings with people of color in the community. I was emotionally and financially supported by my college throughout the trial and charges were eventually dismissed. 

I was 25 in Long Island, when I was stopped with groceries in both hands by an officer drawing his weapon because I “fit the description” of a suspect who robbed a gas station. I admit my life froze. However, I was just as concerned about what would happen to me in that moment, as much as my eggs if I dropped my bags. So still, that didn’t bother me. Maybe it should, but on most days it doesn’t: It’s just a regular day in America. 

 

To be black in America is a risk itself. Am I ok with the inequality that exists? The disproportionate numbers that correlate with people of color being harassed and arrested? No, I will never be. My soul hurts. We all know about the inhumanity of police brutality. It’s written across our history. But what about during a pandemic? Are we not supposed to be more human? I ask where are we safe? As the protest increases, riots spark for a government shutdown, I walk afraid of having my life being shut down by the government.  

I assess the risk factors of being black while going out during Covid-19. I could mention many, but my worst fears are captured by the two black customers kicked out of walmart for wearing a protective mask. I feel some kind of way by going out without an “appropriate” mask. My skin doesn’t allow me the same protective privileges as others. I think about how threatening I look when I leave my home. Does my homemade scarf or mask look gang related? Will I be allowed in the store or followed for wearing it? Why do I even have to think about this? 

I’m used to walking daily for my own health. However, due to Covid-19 and our NY Pause, I walk less and less. I feel like I suffer because of it. I’m at a loss now more than ever. I ignored walks entirely the first few weeks of lockdown. Now, I try to average about 2 walks a week. The way I process my emotions is at risk. I went out this past weekend and almost immediately regretted it. It’s those additional risk factors the government neglects to mention associated with proper social distancing and being black in a pandemic. I had gloves, and an appropriate mask. I wanted to do my usual route which would take about one hour to complete walking over Bayshore. 

I had my music and was in peak spirit when I passed the LIRR Bayshore station and saw a cop car and thought nothing of it. I made it towards Main Street when I noticed the same cop car near my updated location: let’s call it a coincidence. (By default, I picked up a habit of memorizing cop cars that pass me.)  After starting to reverse my course, the same car was parked across the College and slowly trotted out when I passed the car. I made it to the corner, but the light was green and cars roared across the crosswalk. I could still see what awaited me across the street. I admittledy panicked upon seeing 3 cop cars at the corner Seven 11 (directly across from the Bayshore LIRR) now windows down and that officer talking to them. 

I’ve been here before, too many times. Like many of you, I just wanted to be left alone and get home but could feel the pressure forming in the pit of my stomach. The light was red. They dispersed many ways. One kept straight, one turned left, the other went right but crept slow. They waited to see what I was doing. I wanted to stay straight but didn’t. After some hesitation, I took a sharp right off the path. I saw lights and the cop car making a u-turn, Luckily the family dollar was open. I went in. They didn’t follow. Due to social distancing, I was in the store for 40 mins waiting in line. I spent $20. I didn’t plan on spending the money, but thought it was a worthwhile investment in my own safety.

I’m writing this as I’m questioning a lot of things. The blatant murder of George Floyd, the unnecessary death of Ahmaud Arbery and why it took so long to arrest his murderers, all while another black man Dreasjon “Sean” Reed streamed his death live on facebook, as he feared for his own life. I fear for my own life, but have long ago normalized the atrocities of inequities that exist for people of color: police brutality, educational gaps and inequality, guilty until proven innocent. I fear for my safety from the virus and take protections and precautions against a supposed “invisible enemy” (Covid-19) that is killing people still disproportionately in communities of color. But how do we take protections and precautions against racism, the real “invisible enemy” that has been killing my people for years? Although I haven’t accepted it, I can definitely say I’ve normalized a lot of things when it comes to being black in america. However, I didn’t think we would have to normalize those same issues during a pandemic. 

 

Will we ever take the next step? I find myself answering the same questions as I walk back through the events of the past few weeks. It’s the same questions traveling throughout my blood and my history that my people have been asking in this country for years. Where can I be black, instead of just blackened out? Where can I be me? 

*****

Javan Howard is a poet and writer from Bronx, NY. He truly believes that the lived experience is the ultimate teaching tool and uses poetry as a social forum to foster discourse about love, culture, and identity. He has facilitated workshops across NYC with The New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Voices UnBroken, The GO Project and Wingspan Arts. He currently is a Teaching Artist for Teachers & Writers Collaborative and USDAN Camp For The Arts. He is also the Lead Mentor for Teaching Artist Project at Community Word Project.

To learn more about Howard’s work visit:

www.Javanjhoward.com

Performance as Time Travel: Reindigenizing Movement, Decolonizing Time

By Moréna Espiritual

Posted on Friday, May 22, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks.

if as the older i get the more wisdom i gain– wisdom defined as the acquiring of information that is grounded, ancient–  then isn’t time going backwards?

in “Dismantling the Master(s) Clockwork Universe)”  Rasheedah Phillips shares that “early recordings of an abstract sense of time as a continuous duration arose in the 14th century, while the word ‘time’ itself derives from the word ‘tide’ or ‘tidz.’…”

this written work continues on to explain that before the establishment of the western world and its technological, political, and religious shifts that stressed a linear sense of time which finishes in a “chaotic end,” there were other ways that people conceptualized and interacted with “time.” so the re-imagining of it’s structure that my opening sentence does is in reality, nothing new. the fluidity of time can be seen in how, depending on where you are in the world, it might be a completely different “time”/season right now. or you might use a different calendar system, like the U.S. and China. 

the truth is,those who work with and are connected to the land have always known about this expansive nature of time. and they have used it wisely –take the Africans who fought for and won their freedom in the most successful emancipatory uprising in human history as an example– the Haitan Revolutionaries. they won this war because they were connected to their ancestral religions of ancient wisdom, and hence did not believe in linear time – they fought utilizing gorilla warfare tactics based on their knowledge of the land, and were fueled by a fearlessness of death that came from understanding that existence did not end with physical life on earth; there are other timelines where our spirits go and roam. so maybe, COVID-19s ability to bring everything to a halt with quarantine isn’t some unique, inaccessible magic after all.

i say all of this to propose: maybe we have been able to time travel all along. haven’t you felt it?

when you meditate, and are able to see “past” versions of yourself, or scenarios which have not yet existed (in this timeline). the nostalgia in singing a song. the distortion of experience in the dreamworld. i’d argue that the healing we are capable of unlocking in those moments is proof that these are not imaginary trips. we’ve just been so trained to perceive this one pattern of numbers as our main orientation and organization of life flow that perhaps we invalidate the legitimacy of these experiences in other realms. 

taking all of this into consideration, i propose my second point: to perform is to set an intention. a prayer, a ritual.

 to say: “i will walk over there,” and then walk.

 to say: “i will imagine a new world,” and then create it.

 to say: “i will revisit this occurrence of the past,” and then recreate it. 

performance is also time travel. time travel that uses our body as a vehicle. amend it all. create it all.

through being intentional with this time travel, we can bring so much healing to our communities and ourselves. when we do it alone, it is a private ceremony. but when we do it for others, perhaps its true purpose is to be a culturally/genealogically informed ritual that considers the positionality of the audience. this is what separates it from just “healing.”

the courageous will ask themselves: “who is my audience and why do i want them to witness my time travel? what truths do i need to reveal to them, and from where can i access these truths? where should they be positioned in relation to my trip?”

*uses this clarity to set up the camera phone* 

*commencing ig live in “3.. 2..”*

*****

Moréna Espiritual is a cuir Afro-Taíno teaching artist, performer, and organizer based in NYC. Their work focuses on ancestral healing, re-imagining societal structures to create black/brown utopias, & inquiring about all emotional bodies that can live through the “self.”
 
For inquiries contact them at morenaespiritual@gmail.com
 
Find more work and contact listed here: https://linktr.ee/morenaespiritual