First CrocusesToday the snow melted, and I was able to unzip the jacket I wear in the house over my sweater, long johns, and undershirt, and finally…after months of experiencing the act of creating like sucking marrow from a dry bone, I felt like it might be fun to work on one of my projects.

!!!!!!!

‘Might be fun to work on one of my projects’, coming from my “North of the Wall” inner landscape, was a powerful and radical thought, and I began to think maybe I was able to not only catch up on the bare bones of what was past due, but possibly even—gasp!– actually pick back up the threads of non-critical projects, and do those as well (like submit my play and write a blog post)!!!

Even though it has snowed again for the past two days, several nights ago was the first warm night of the year here in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. I couldn’t help it; tired as I was, fed up and frustrated with difficult situations and from not having said more often, the softness of the wind tugged me free from the car. I paused, captured, face upturned, and felt every muscle in my body and even my brain relax. It has been a tough winter for me, a winter that seeped into my creativity and made it curl up, spines outward, and bury itself in dry leaves. That smell, however, that true spring smell, made that semi-hibernating creativity unfurl. There is something breathless and secret about spring nights, full of sound, peepers, earth smell and promise….

I share with you some thoughts I had during the winter:

There were early mornings when the temperatures were between -8 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill of -18 holly in snowshoesat my house, and down to a record setting -61 degrees Fahrenheit (with windchill) elsewhere in the Finger Lakes region. We were out of split wood, and my husband (the usual wood-splitter) had a broken ankle, so I pulled on a sweater, coat and boots over my pajamas, topping it off with a hat and scarf, and headed out while the sun was rising to attack the woodpile.

As I was out there whacking away at the often uncooperative chunks, freezing my butt off, my eyes tearing with the cold, I said to myself, “How is this a metaphor for working on an artistic or community project?”

Okay, so the “being out in the cold” part is obvious ( 😉 ).

But there is also doing for others, overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and actually accomplishing nearly impossible dreams that is deeply satisfying.

In retrospect, I realize that work is the distance between desire and accomplishment.

And today is my return to a joy in work, which makes the traveling the distance much smoother.

Happy Spring, my friends.

Olympic logoIt’s Olympic time!

Here’s the crazy thing—yes, I love the Olympics. I love watching them. I love that occasionally, people I know are involved, and I can route extra hard for them. I love the power and grace of the human form focused with intention…it is so beautiful, and for me, so very artistic, and I don’t just mean figure skating.

 What an excellent opportunity for the youth of the world to see the connections between sport and art, between strength and grace! And since the Olympics are supposed to foster peace and understanding, it’s a great chance to bolster cultural coffers, and bring attention and much-needed funds to wonderful, successful cultural programs in the non-profit sector. And it could be funded by corporate sponsors!

Yeah, and I’d like a pony and nutritious gelato, thanks.

Although we have heard some news about Sochi and can anticipate shocking post-game revelations, I’d like to focus on the prior Winter Olympics, the ones in Vancouver. In a nutshell, funding streams for the arts (and other charities) were diverted to feed the Olympic machine. Yes, these funds were used in part to fund BC performers at the Games… but at the cost of funding nearly everything else. Hopefully, this re-examination will bring re-flection and re-investment!

In 2010, the Alliance for Arts and Culture revealed that 44 per cent of the arts and culture organizations that received the grants last year didn’t get them, predicted that provincial cuts to arts funding would total 92 per cent by 2011-12, which was not far from the mark. In an online interview in 2010-11, Keith Higgins, the President of PAARC (Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres) and the Director of the Helen Pitt Gallery, weighed in on these cuts:

Q – The Helen Pitt Gallery, like many small arts organizations, has been severely impacted by the cuts to arts funding. Can you describe the impacts of these cuts and what it means to the day-to-day work for these organizations?

A – In the Pitt’s case, some massive budget changes had to be made quickly if the organization was to be able to survive at all. In August 2009, the B.C. government cut off Gaming Direct Access grants, not just to the arts, but to a whole range of charities. This was a familiar Campbell action: the arbitrary tearing-up of an agreement when it somehow doesn’t suit them any more. The grants of casino revenue to charities has been used to justify the ongoing expansion of casinos, and these charities found that they had been played: their support for expansion had been bought on the basis of future benefits that now are not going to materialize.

As I said, the Pitt’s response was rapid. There are a limited number of expense items that you can cut in an artist-run organization, because we are extremely efficient: exhibitions in typical municipal galleries usually cost more than ten times what we spend. So, the lease on the gallery’s premises — this is Vancouver, so suitable space is not cheap — and salary for the Director/Curator were the only things that could be cut to compensate for the shortfall.
50% cuts were made to the B.C. Arts Council in the March 2010 budget. The consequences of those cuts are still working their way through the system, but the performing arts and literary non-profits that have already been juried are seeing 60% and 75% cuts to what was a low level of support already. Some organizations are being cut completely, and I’m now working on the assumption that as of January next year, when the juries for visual art and media art organizations have been convened, the Helen Pitt Gallery will have zero support from the B.C. Government.”

In 2011, $7 million was restored to federal funds….which brought the provincial arts spending UP to $6.50 per capita in BC, as compared to the $26 per capita national average, and the cuts/diversions to arts-funding streams were still being felt across the country. Here’s this from cbc.ca news in 2011:

On Monday, SummerWorks, an acclaimed Toronto indie theatre festival, announced it had lost its federal funding. The festival made headlines last year after staging “Homegrown,” a play about a convicted terrorist, a member of the group known as the Toronto 18.

In a note posted on its blog, the festival said it had received federal funding for five straight years — totalling $140,000 — and was surprised to learn it would not get more money this year.

But Flaherty says arts organizations should not set their budgets assuming they’ll get government funds.

“One thing I’d say, and maybe it’s different than it used to be, is we actually don’t believe in festivals and cultural institutions assuming that year after year after year they’ll receive government funding,” Flaherty said.

AUGH!

I spend a few weeks each year in British Columbia, partly to visit friends and take in the lush scenery, View in summerlandand partly as an invited Teaching Artist. Arts funding has still not been restored, and incredible projects that run the gamut from teen Shakepeare to community and after-school arts programs for at-risk teens continue to wither and die. The Legacy of the Olympics—especially considering their high-profile arts performances –should be to INCREASE art and cultural funding, not decrease it.

Will we see a positive arts legacy from the Sochi Games? If only.

And I still want a pony.

Mikel Moss is an Ithaca Native and Drama Therapy Alternative Training Student with the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). He was recently be awarded the “Student Volunteer of the Year” Award by the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). He currently serves on the Diversity Committee of the NADTA and is vice president and co-founder of the Affinity Group “Blacks in Drama Therapy”. He gave the below speech at the annual Drama Therapists’ conference this year. In it, the community to which he refers is that of Drama Therapists.

I have very vivid memories of my childhood: Singing, playing outside, riding my big wheel, laughing, my favorite pair of Osh-Kosh overalls, meeting my best friend Disi hours after moving to our house on Second Street. The most vivid memory that I have from my childhood is the communal dinners we would have. My mother and all of her friends would get together at least once a month to cook, play music, play cards, laugh and joke for hours into the night. All of us kids would eat, play, laugh, sometimes argue; all in all a great time was had by all.

I  carry this amazing memory with me everywhere. It is that sense of community and kinship that has guided a huge portion of my life. I tell that story to a lot of people because it helps to illustrate my feeling of the sense of community [of Drama Therapists–editor] I envision. A couple of years back, I was telling that story to one of my friends in front of my mother and she looked at me in shock. My mother and I have this intense connection with one another so before I even noticed she had the weird look on her face, I felt it. I asked her what was wrong. She smiled at me and with tears in her eyes told me that those meals, those “community meals” as I called them, happened because at that time of the month, no one had enough money to feed their families by themselves. But someone had a little bit of this and someone had a little bit of that, and another person had a bunch of this but only a little bit of that so they all came together and pooled what little bit they had so that everyone had enough and sometimes even a bit more to carry them through.

For me, this insight was everything. It has shaped and dictated my journey in this community. In everything I do, whether it be volunteer or learning, I am always searching for a way that I can not only contribute what little bit I have to our profession, but to also encourage others to do so as well. We all have busy lives, careers, families, and other various obligations that consume most of our time, and many of us have already contributed so much time and energy to this community.  Some of us are new and are still making our way and are not sure where we fit in.

I encourage everyone at either end of that spectrum to continue to contribute in ways that you would not normally think to. My mentor Cleve Thomas used to always tell me, “Always bring something to the table. Even if it is just a smile and a encouraging nod. You never know when that may be just enough for someone.” If you have been in this community for many years, offer your experience and wisdom to those just walking through the door. And not just in the classroom. Find a way to reach out to the new people and welcome them to the family. 

Listen to their ideas, encourage their dreams and goals. We must learn to strike from our vocabulary phrases like, “Oh, we tried that 10 years ago and it didn’t work” or “We’ve done that already”.  Doing something once and not having it work doesn’t mean it won’t ever work. How many times in history has the continued effort of someone paid off? Instead, I encourage you to say, “You know who knows a lot about that? This person right over here” and “That’s a great idea, how can I help?” And if you are introduced to someone who has a passion you once had or do have, embrace them! Give them all the support and wisdom you can! The lessons that we have to teach one another should not be conditional on whether the other person can pay the fee for your seminar or class. To borrow from one of my favorite phrases: It truly does take a village to raise a drama therapy student! If you are new to this profession, WELCOME! WE ARE SO GLAD YOU ARE HERE! I don’t have much, but what I have I will share. I encourage you to take what wisdom you can from those who have come before you, and nurture your dreams! I encourage you to find a place where you feel your ideas, goals and thoughts are not only received, but there is excitement for them. And if you can’t find a space, MAKE ONE! I will cheer you on! I may not know where it is you want to go, but I will walk with you for as long as I can.

This spirit of kinship and community is something in me that will never go away. No matter how many bad words and situations are thrown at me, no matter how many of my projects and ideas are whittled down to almost nothing, no matter how many times I stumble, no matter how many times I have to find a new school at which to study, no matter how long it takes me to get my RDT (cause lord knows its taking a while!), I am here. I will stay here. I am not going anywhere! I share my enthusiasm and my story in hopes that you take what you need from it and use it to continue to better our community, our family.

It’s that time of year again when ghouls and goblins populate the fronts of houses and the piles of candy at the store and children get excited about ‘what to be’. Some of my friends and colleagues be’moan’ the hype, commercialism and calories. I personally LOVE Hallowe’en (I’m a theatre person, remember, with an active inner child), but this blog is dedicated to those who don’t. This blog is for those who want to do something somehow connected to some aspect of Hallowe’en-ness, but but at all related to consuming. Here are my recommendations.

Bat Detective.

No Vampires, but way too many Bat Calls from Romania (!!!) for scientists to go through, so they are asking for help sorting and categorizing various sound files. Your/your family’s help helps with conservation and migration research. It’s free, easy for anyone (including children) to do, and the tutorial is quick and very helpful. Find it here.

This project (and others) are on a fantastic citizen-science website called “Zooniverse”. Check it out—if bats aren’t your thing, join a space project, or help climate scientists by combing through old shiplogs for weather reports, or identify animals caught on camera in the Serengeti…or even help go through medical slides identifying cancers.

Branding Lessons from the Undead 

Can’t get away from work, but want to ‘get in the spirit’? No bones about it, there are a number of business blogs that are rocking the Hallowe’en vibe to do business as unusual so to speak. My husband alerted me to these two terrific articles that mix business with pleasure; click here for “Branding Lessons for the Undead”, and here for “Putting the Horror into Horror Writing”. I thought the article about branding was particularly brilliant.

Do you work with elderly folks, folks in a recovery or care facility, or a community center? Or with kids?

What an excellent opportunity to celebrate personal and local history! Folklore isn’t just about the lore, it is also about the folk, and EVERYONE has stories about autumn events. Whether your great-grandfather fell off the thresher, or your (or your dad’s) childhood friend swore a ghost lived in the attic and the scarecrow was alive, or you had a tomato fight, this time of year provides lots of fodder that can prime the pump of rich, delicious memories. If your clients are mobile, make a circle and record the tall tales and make a CD of them for later pleasure or for their visitors. Serve s’mores and hot cider, and ask questions about corn and barns and cats and running in the darkness. Notice aloud the themes that crop up, and maybe read from collections of local tall tales….

I personally am using one such collection, “I Always Tell the Truth (even if I have to lie to do it!)” a collection of tales from Adirondack lumberjacks in an upcoming course. Great Stuff!

If your clients aren’t mobile, having a little paper or online questionnaire to help prompt the stories, and create a printed collection, again noting cultural, historical, or geographic themes. Kids can make a picture book of a story from an older family member or friend!

Things to Watch or Listen To:

Instead of doing the most commercial thing, reach back in time and listen to, watch, or broadcast some oldies but goodies. 

My movie recommendations: “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” and “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” are good for anybody, any age, any background, even people who hate Hallowe’en. Make popcorn and get ready for the oldest cheesiest gags in the book in these delightful homages to the horror greats (which star the likes of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr, by the way). Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” is a terrific listen—and there are lots of short adaptations if you/your group/your family want to do it yourselves!

Haunted History Tours

Every town has history, and not all of it is pretty. Luckily the gruesome and

gross are often very interesting! Go on a haunted tour or make your own map of murders in your town. Why not? Learn about the architecture of the homes of your city’s local criminals of 50 or more years ago. Remember—the older the event, the more fun and creepy it is to think
about. Don’t pick anything too recent—social and emotional wounds may still be too fresh. Generally, anything during or before WWII is best. And frankly, as someone who has done official haunted tours, people love realizing that some nice old lady in the late 1800s poisoned her daughters … slowly… with arsenic….in this house….. (or was hanged…right here, where the old gallows stood)!

In a nutshell, find a way to embrace the season even if you need to push away certain aspects or values of it. There’s always way to have fun, do good work, connect to history and community, and get your work done!

This week’s blog was going to highlight some techniques for developing curriculum in a new way, for breathing new life and perspective into a regular project. Turns out that will be next week’s blog.

This week, I want to remind you of what I have just been reminded of—that a shift in our physical working space or place manifests in a shift or working thinking and an increased capacity for creative problem solving.

As an arts-in-ed fanatic, I know (thanks to neuro-research) that using arts modalities to teach academic content uses multiple neuro-pathways, creates emotional engagement (which in turn stimulates memory) and is based in interrogative process, rather than passive info-consumption (and so on—you have heard me go on about this before). The amazing Gary Anaka, a leader in the area of brain research and thinking processes (http://www.braincoach.ca), says that when the body is moving, the brain is engaged, and that changing the environment and methodology frequently stimulates active rather than passive thought. Gary Anaka and I were both keynote speakers at a professional development conference for teachers in British Columbia last week, and he is absolutely fabulous, by the way.

But I still managed to forget how profoundly simply being in a completely different location, having the movement be to a drastically different environment, can alter not only what I am thinking, but how I am thinking. Okay, sure, as an actor, I know I can change my thought process and my point of view about something by going into a different room in my house or by changing my clothes (my ‘costume’, so to speak). This technique works for everyone, by the way, not just actors (although folks with any acting training may respond more deeply).

This week, however, I travelled from my home in the lushly green Finger Lakes region of upstate NY to the Summerland area of the Okanagan Valley in BC—with its sandy cliffs covered in sagebrush, sparsely firred steep hillsides, and low-lying vineyards with their tuscan-esque homes rolling down from a bright sky to the enormous lake below. My brain did a double take.

The sounds are different. The wind is different. The smells, sights, accents, foods, colors, trees, birds, common animals trying to run under your car….all different. SO DELICIOUS. My brain has been devouring it all, like a starving dog at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and my processes (even for stupid things like invoicing) have all joyfully dissembled and turned, like colored glass in a kaleidescope.

Okay, so maybe you can’t create such a dramatic shift for yourself. What you CAN do is undo your pattern. Take a notebook while you walk in a park, let your mind notice the world around you….and jot down the ideas for that thing you’ve been chewing on that come flitting like brand new butterflies into your consciousness. Or work on a rooftop, or at the aquarium—someplace radically different. Eat a completely bizarre food or things that “don’t go together” while you work at a new cafe. Make your students turn the room (or you do it as a surprise) into the inside of a Tuareg tent, or around a campfire, or in a treehouse—’cause if you can’t take the students to a new place literally, even the metaphor or simulation will still create a new, engaging environment.

Now, if only my highly stimulated brain would cool down enough to let me get some sleep!!!

PS…

Speaking of new places and a change, I have the honor of going to Afghanistan with the Afghan Friends Network to provide support for educational projects for women and children, do some arts-in-ed, clown in hospitals, and more. Support for this project would be deeply appreciated

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/return-to-afghanistan/x/4480275