Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dee Hock and Charodic Theory

The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out...Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.

This quote has fascinated me for about a year now. I found it online and never knew who said it. Until today. This morning is was introduced to Dee Hock, the founder of Visa (yes, the credit card company) and his "chaordic" theory about organizations...the notion that healthy, adaptive systems will always exhibit a kind of dynamic tension between chaos and order. It fit in beautifully with the dynamic tension that he'd set up in Visa: encourage as much competition and initiative as possible throughout the organization -- "chaos" -- while building in mechanisms for cooperation -- "order."

There is a great article about him from Fast Company.

What does this have to do with our work as community artists and creative changemakers? A lot, potentially. There are many sectors, not just the corporate sector, who are looking at how to implement Hock's principles and practices into fundamental institutional change. The Fast Company article references Hock's work in the 90's with the Joyce Foundation (Chicago), currently a large funder of community arts.

So, in our field that is supposed to all be about change in a decentralized way, let's take these theories on and figure out what we can clear out in order to make some space for some magic to happen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Organized Artist

People praise me for/accuse me of being a big picture thinker. Mainly, I think it's great except that I occasionally/often miss The Details.

Luckily, I am smart enough to get help. If you are an artist/entrepreneur who needs help, I have a recommendation. Call Stefanie Archer and Creating Space for Change Consulting. She will rock your world. Allison and I hired her to help us organize Glitter & Razz and create systems that allow us to get out of our own way. She is in Boston but we worked with her via telephone and the coaching she gave us was life changing.

Yesterday, I had one of the best days of my professional life. It all started with my "creating space" and finally getting to the project of organizing my computer files. I was so excited to have our friend and artist, Teri Stockton, help me for the day as she is someone else who is blessed with the ability to think clearly and logically and understand what should go where.

As I was creating all of the space 2 magical things happened...

1. I was walking down to street to pick up lunch and I was stopped by a neighbor who literally handed me a check for $585 to put her daughter in our summer camp.

2. We received a message from our friends at Kaiser Elementary School (where we did a week-long camp last week) saying that the principal loved what we had done so much with that 1 kindergarten classroom that he wants to receive a proposal from us about how to bring Glitter & Razz to every child in the school next year.

I can't guarantee that working with Stefanie will bring you these exact results, but isn't it worth a try?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Grace with Mean Girls

Because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace finds goodness in everything


I have been trying to figure out lately what Grace really means. My usual source of all meaning, Wikipedia, wasn't initially helpful. So, I thought. I learned that Christians believe that Grace is our gift from God. It's how we attain salvation. Did you know this? It's not actually all the good deeds that we do on Earth that gets us into heaven. It's that God says to us, "Whatever you do, it's not gonna be enough anyway. I'm the holy one in this relationship. So, I'll just love you and let you in, regardless of yourself."

That's nice, isn't it?

I wish I had reacted with more Grace today in the class I was teaching. I have a 5th grade student who I have taught for a little while now and, the older she gets, the more attitude she gets. To be plain, she is rude and mean. To me. To other kids. And I have very little patience for her. Normally, I try to keep it together but today I just had it.

We were working on putting together all of their original pieces of choreography into one ensemble dance. It was already a tough process because many of the students were hyper and distracted, interrupting me whenever they felt like it. So, in the middle of it all, my little rude friend decides that she is going to top them all and question every little thing that I said and did; stopping all the action and playing a power game with me.

I said, while the whole rest of the class was watching, "You know what? I am tired of you always arguing with me. I am tired of it and I am done with it. This is over. Sit down."

She was not happy about it. In some ways I feel like I am not the worst teacher in the world because I didn't actually yell or scream. I was calm but I was mad. I don't even think I said anything to shame her in front of her friends.

I just wish I had dealt with her with more Grace. I wish, in future classes, that I can see beyond her rude and mean to her beauty and creativity and humanness. Because, I can't control what she does but I can control what I do.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

An Artist for Obama

I am a little behind on current events. Today, I finally saw the "race speech" that Barack Obama made in PA last month. I had heard that it was an impressive and important speech and I believe that is indeed true. Obama did an amazing job mining for hope in a society so based on hate and separation. As an Obama supporter, I feel very proud of the speech. I feel like I am supporting a candidate who actually believes in something and is going about the work of change with both his head and his heart.

But I am not that political. I see the world through the lens of art and creativity. So, I decided to watch another video where Obama talks about why he support arts education.

I wasn't as impressed or proud. I mean, don't get me wrong. It's great that any presidential candidate is taking any time to publicly talk about how No Child Left Behind is ruining children's arts experiences. I am thankful for that.

However, I am impatient in my need to build radical collaborations between artists, politicians, and various social change makers that are based in the real power of art to transform people and communities. I am so tired of the "music makes you smarter in math" argument. This is not helpful to the cause. The real power of both music and math is that they are languages that span cultures and give people superhuman powers to bring forth new ideas and new experiences that have never existed before. The real problem isn't that kids don't have "extra-curricular" (meaning, "Fun", ugh) activities in school anymore like we did. The real problem is that there are so few places (schools included) in our country where any of us are supported to step outside of our past, outside of our comfort zones, and harness our creativity in ways that bring about real positive, social change.

At the end of the important race speech, Obama tells that beautiful story of Ashley, the 23 year old white woman campaigning on his behalf and her connection to an elderly black man. He says of their connection, "By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children. But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger." At the same time, at the end of his speech about education where he supports the role of the arts, Obama says, "Part of what [art] teaches people is to see each other through each others teaches us to respect and understand people who are not like us."

As an artist, I look forward to working under Obama's presidency to help us all see that being involved in arts is not just a way for kids to have in school. Art is that essential starting place to help us go beyond our differences. It is a language we can use to break through the status quo and create the world we want to be a part of.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Superheroes of Kaiser Elementary School

Yesterday, I helped Ms. McGee's Kindergarten class at Kaiser Elementary School in Oakland perform their very own original play. The play was about superheroes. I was with them for an hour a day for 1 week. That's it. And that's all we needed to create a magical experience.

On the first day, I walked into a highly energetic class and asked them, "What do heroes do?" I was sad to hear responses like "Kill the bad guys." And "Punch the bad guys in the face." There are a lot of little boys in this class and they couldn't seem to get past the Spiderman/Batman/Power Ranger paradigm of the hero. We spent most of the week focusing on the idea that real heroes help people. They don't hurt people. Not even "bad guys." We worked to create our own original superheroes. And again, we worked hard to get past the images they are fed to us through the movies and on television.

Finally, we put a story together. We performed it as an ensemble (including Ms. McGee herself) for the class's 5th grade reading buddies and it took all that I had not to cry in the midst of all of the love and pride that I was a part of in that room.

Here is the story...

Once upon a time, there was a teacher named Ms. McGee. One day, she was getting ready for school. She brushed her teeth, ate her breakfast, got dressed and began her walk to school. On the way to school, she met up with a group of artists. These artists were painting, singing, and dancing. She said to them, "Good Morning, Artists." They said, "Good Morning Ms. McGee. Have a great day in school." And they all went on their way.

Next, she came upon a group of animals. The jaguars, panthers, and dogs (oh my)were running and playing. Ms. McGee said to them, "Good Morning, Animals." They said, "Good Morning Ms. McGee. Have a great day in school." And they all went on their way.

Next, she came upon a group of very Strong People. These strong people were working out, lifting weights, and working with very heavy tools. Ms. McGee said to them, "Good Morning, Strong People." They said, in very strong voices, "Good Morning Ms. McGee. Have a great day in school." And they all went on their way.

Finally, Ms. McGee was just about to get to school when a group of very Fast People ran right by her. They were so fast she could hardly see them but she said to them, "Good Morning, Fast People." And they said, very quickly, "Good Morning Ms. McGee. Have a great day in school." And they ran away.

Ms. McGee finally got to the school. She was just about to put her hand on the doorknob when she noticed a lot of construction going on. Suddenly, a huge crane came and picked the school up, up, and away! And the school disappeared. Ms. McGee said, "Oh no. This is a big problem. What am I going to do?"

Well, what Ms. McGee didn't know was that all of the people and animals she met on her walk to school were all superheroes and they were ready to come to her rescue. First the Super Fast heroes decided, "Let's go up to outer space and collect all the bricks and wood we need to build the school!" 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-BLAST OFF and away they went, super fast, to gather all the materials.

Then, the Super Strong heroes used their tools and super strength to re-build the school. They started from the floor and built all the way up, adding windows and doors. When they were done, they looked at their work and said, "We did it!"

"But wait!," said the heroes, "We have to paint the school. Let's ask the artists." So the artists came and painted the school red, black, pink, purple, and all the colors of the rainbow. "We need one more thing," said the Super Artists. "We need to bring to spirit back to the school." So, they sang the Kaiser School Song and brought the spirit back.

Now, the school was built, painted, and full of spirit. Except, it was missing some magic. Luckily, the Super Animals all had magic powers. So, they combined their magic together and brought the magic back to the school.

And that's how all of the Superheroes worked together to save the school.

The End.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Seeds of Peace | Part I

Yesterday was an awful day. One of the worst ones I've had in a long time. The stress of work along with the consistent growing pains caused my partner and I to fight. It was overwhelming and all around yucky.

And then something happened that made me remember why it all matters.

Allison and I were co-teaching one of our Itty Bitty Theater Workshops. One little girl, Maddie, fell while playing and bonked her chin. She cried. I walked with her over to the book nook to rest and read while she recovered.

Like a superhero/drama therapist, Allison brilliantly weaved the incident into what was happening on stage at time. She created a story with 12 children about a group of animals and playing together and an elephant getting hurt. She used the story to help the kids process their feelings about what had happened to Maddie.

In the midst of all of this brilliance, the littlest of all the girls in the class, Isiana, comes up to me with her hands cupped. To most of us, her hands appeared empty. But, she said to me, "It's candy. For her. It will make her feel better." I told Isiana that she had to stay on stage with Allison but that I would take her candy over to the healing girl.

When I got there, Maddie was still crying and being comforted by her mother. I interrupted them, showed them my hands full of invisible candy and said, "This is for you. From Isiana. She wants you to have it so you will feel better." Maddie's face lit up like a Christmas tree. I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to say to Isiana for her. "Thank you" was all she said.

When I returned to Isiana, I told her, "Maddie ate the candy and she told me to tell you 'thank you.'" Once again, Christmas tree.

The smiles of little girls. The spirit of giving and compassion. The power of imagination. These are all the seeds of peace. This is worth all the growing pains that life will throw at me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Don't Guys Clean Up?

There is a Bounty Paper Towel commercial on tv right now that is really upsetting me. A man and his son (presumably...commercials force us to make assumptions that support the status quo) are looking down at a spill and trying to determine how many Bounty towels it will take to clean it up. Eventually, the mom (presumably) emerges to reveal that it is a "1-sheet job."

The next shot shows a woman's hand (presumably) cleaning it up.

As someone whose work is based on the exploration of family values in the modern, progressive context, I can't believe that guys can't clean up on tv. I mean, I am angry enough that they don't let kids clean up. But it's dads too.

Actually, now that I think about it, I probably shouldn't be that surprised.

But I can still be upset.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Teaching Artist Entrepreneur | Part 1

I am wondering about the role of the teaching artist as entrepreneurs. The CAN Blog turned us on the new course at Writer's Corps about the history and presence of the teaching artist. I define the Teaching Artist as us folks who work within communities using the arts as tool for individual and social change. It's a cool outline - so check it out - but it leaves me with this question...Teaching Artists are always highlighted for the work that we do for other people. What are we doing for ourselves? How are we making sure that our needs are being met and that we are putting ourselves in the position of being able to manifest our dreams?

I am all about exploring the BUSINESS of being a teaching artist. This is our life's work, for goodness sake, we need to make sure that we are sustained in it. Financially, spiritually, creatively, practically. You get the idea.

Glitter & Razz is doing this work. And, I am looking for other teaching artist entrepreneurs. Are you out there?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Details

I am wondering this morning why I put myself in this position. The position of small business owner. I am an artist for God's sake. I'm not in this for the money. I mean, I like having money but I don't like to keep track of it. Coming or going. In fact, I don't really like to keep track of anything. I am not what you call the most detail-oriented person on the planet. I am big picture. I can see exactly where I want to get but not exactly all the steps it takes to get there. It's like with this blog. I know what I want this blog to I want it to contribute to society. But, I have a hard time paying attention to the fact that I have to post regularly in order to make that happen.

But then, I look at what I am good at. I am good at producing and directing experiences for people to think about things and feel good about thinking about things. To feel good about themselves and each other. I do that in my theater pieces and my workshops. Even parties. And, when I am working on these, I am all about the details. It's the details that make or break the experience.

So, here's why I have put myself in the position to stare down all of my challenges and deficiencies in order to build a successful business. It's about freedom. Sure, I could just go out there and try to “make it” as a theater artist and workshop leader. That's what I had been doing for years anyway. But instead, I decided that I was going to say “screw you” to the notion that an artist has to suffer for their art. To the notion that you are either totally “real” with your art and no one has ever heard of you or you are popular, which makes you a complete sell-out. To the notion that, in order to be successful you have to work 20 hours a day until you die.

The big picture vision of my business is that it will provide quality experiences for people that make them feel good while it also provides enough income for me and my partner, our family, and the people who work with us. Without us doing too much work. And it's going to work. Screw everyone who says otherwise.

I just need to find someone who will work out the details.