Friday, May 27, 2011

A book illustrating the arts in action for change

from book Introduction, "Creative Arts in Research for Community and Cultural Change"

C. McLean

Culture at its best can be an enriching bond, grounding groups socially around the historical character of people and place, rooting peoples around the distinctive and often inherited preferences that create the comforts of identity, the particularities of home, the communal fulfillment of a place living and functioning at its most enriched best. And yet, culture can turn home into an unwelcome place, ties into the bonds of bondage, culture closing in on itself to protect the standards it has invented and preserved, a restrictive and resistant imprisoning notion, a place of unreasonable expectation and intolerant conformity… a verdict rather than an opportunity for connection and a rich, diverse and socially cohesive life for all its citizens.

The arts offer their emancipatory potential as they work ..with, in and through communities to help raise awareness about the lives of all our citizens and open minds to the possibilities of change. I have personally experienced the embodied and transformative impact of the arts for social change. In my graduate research at Concordia University, Montreal, I worked as a group therapist with older persons in residential housing in an Over 60 mental health programme for two years. I wrote an ethnodrama script, “Remember Me for Birds” based on data gathered in sessions and client stories and narratives and performed this research as a solo actor at universities and national conferences. My goal was to reflect the culture in a provocative script grounded in real life happenings in order to create a performance that might raise awareness about issues compromising individual freedom and autonomy for older persons living in low income supportive living housing.

One audience member who worked with older clients at the centre as an elder abuse researcher reflected in his feedback what he experienced as a cultural reality and an attitudinal shift.

“There is a paternalism with regard to “the elderly”. This often results in their autonomy being assumed to be less than it is or taken away against their will. I learned I am inappropriately detached from people. I came. I attended because I was curious and I am glad I came. I learned about others but it (the performance) taught me about myself.”

The book , Creative Arts in Research for Community and Cultural Change is an ambitious publishing project which has been launched by *The International Journal of The Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice IJCAIP, and is the second text in Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice (CAIP) Research Series, Editor, Cheryl McLean, Associate Editor, Robert Kelly, to be published by Detselig Temeron Press, Calgary. The first volume illustrated the considerable breadth and scope of the research in this new and emerging field. Creative Arts in Research for Community and Cultural Change features informative and thought provoking articles describing applications of the creative arts in research within neighborhoods, villages and cities integrated in distinctive ways to help investigate, explore, articulate and communicate research findings while working actively within and beyond borders to foster community and cultural change. In this action oriented collection qualitative research and community based and participatory methods play a major role as well as other experiential approaches.

The articles in this volume have been divided into four thematically related sections:

Community Action and Education through Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice; Images for Witness, Community Action in Disability and Health; Arts Exploring Immigrant Experience and Cultural Identities;

Human Stories “from the outside in” for Community and Cultural Change.

Many of the researchers, artists, educators, participants and community members you will read about in these accounts strive for change by seeking to address the most fundamental of human needs, the need for a healthy and safe community with water to drink and air to breathe, the need for human expression and connection, the desire to be accepted and acknowledged as a human being of value and to voice their personal stories for witness whether it is from a stage, a study circle, a public demonstration, at a kitchen table, from inside a prison cell or to be experienced in the photographs of a community of women, street workers, recording the stories of their lives and dreams, on the perilous streets of the inner city.

Jan Selman, Professor, Department of Drama, University of Alberta, was the lead researcher on the project Are We There Yet” a participatory play created by artists and health educators out of a sense of urgency about the need for more effective sexuality education for teens. The play was adapted, produced and evaluated in several Canadian centres. She writes about the power of performance in work for social change:

“In creating and using art for change, activist artists bring their aesthetic taste and expertise as well as their social and educational agenda to their projects. We believe that creating art about our world makes a difference as art seeks to touch people at their core.”

Other contributors express a similar sentiment and attest to the value of sharing and learning from human experience. In the article, “Four Poems for Four Lives, A Study of Four Ex-Prisoners through Poetic Inquiry”, Liz Day and John J. Guiney Yallop write, We believe that all human experience is of value and that all human experience has something to teach us.”

In a photograph with a quote featured in this book by artist, "Merry Mag", a sex worker living and working in Portland Oregon, and a participant in a photovoice project led by Moushoula Capous- Desyllas, a social work educator at Portland State University, "Merry Mag" expresses an appeal for understanding. An image can been seen of a woman kneeling in front of a headstone, head lowered. She is blindfolded, her mouth taped, hands bound.

“It is a tribute to them (murdered sex workers) in honour of their memory and of my pain. When I look at this image of the tape over my mouth it’s like I couldn’t talk about it. I had to just go out there and turn tricks after finding out that my friends had just died.”

In this contemporary collection, we present compelling evidence that the arts not only matter today, but are essential for the very survival of our communities and the healthy future of all of our citizens. We also share in these accounts research and stories that show how the arts are empowering communities to act as they seek to discover creative solutions to address critical social challenges. The arts in action can uniquely provide expressive opportunities for individuals to communicate and transfer knowledge beyond borders, igniting communities in common purpose while offering creative ways for the marginalized to express their stories. The arts can reach out to our communities and open minds to truth and hearts to understanding. Here, in the many research accounts in this book, in what these stories teach us, you will find evidence for change. In each inspiring story of the arts in action hope lives and the creative opportunity for societal and cultural transformation can begin.