Long Division with Scratch Work

When you finally call the friend you think about all the time, but never quite get the opportunity to make good on connecting, what do you say to reengage the conversation?

Hi there. I’ve missed you.

mental-mathBack in the fourth grade, my teacher would insist that we use “long division with scratch work.” Even if the answer was more or less apparent. So that we could become familiar with the inner mechanics of the problem.

That’s more or less what I’ve been doing (oh, and having a baby too, HOORAY!). I knew creative projects and creative organizations were the direction I was headed in. I knew the answer. But I had to work out the mechanics. In the process, I’ve learned some valuable things about myself and about what I’d like to do with SLUICE.

The most important thing that I learned is that I live and breathe for collaboration. My creativity is fueled in relationship with others who are passionate about what they do. Almost just as necessary is facilitation. I love helping creativity flourish in others through the creation of systems, organizations, lesson plans, grant applications, whatever it takes.

Safety Pin designed by E. Allport
Safety Pin designed by E. Allport

And I’ve been collaborating and facilitating. Most recently, my son and I collaborated on a t-shirt design to benefit a local organization, The Coalition for Social Equity. My son is a visual artist and I have no end of admiration not only for his talent, but especially his commitment to work hard to acquire the skills necessary to accomplish his vision. In the current political climate, we both wanted to do something to benefit our community and show our support for people who are scared or hurting. I know people have mixed reactions to the safety pin thing, but the area in which we live is peopled with deep prejudice. In that climate, wearing a safety pin is an important way to show our resilience and resistance. So he designed and I organized the shirt ordering and selling (shout out to Axelrad Screen Printing for always doing a fantastic job!).

I’ve also been working with a group of great volunteers on the Sit Next to Me! Film Festival. In 2016, the festival consisted of free, public viewings of feature films that illustrate our universal desire to belong as well as remind us of our personal responsibility to make others feel welcome. This year, we are working with Box of Light to produce a film contest in the same vein. We are organizing events around the contest to increase awareness of the diversity within our local community.

I am working on a couple of other projects that I’ll be updating you on soon. But here’s the bottom line, SLUICE is the organizational umbrella to facilitate collaboration and creativity within community. At the moment, my work is intensely local, but as I get better at this and the framework gets stronger, I hope to leverage that strength beyond my physical community and out into wherever and with whomever has the will to make art happen.

In part, this blog is aimed toward that end. I’m going to show my scratch work in the hopes that it will motivate, encourage, and inform. I’d love to feature other artists and organizations that want to share scratch work too. If you have ideas, please email me and let me know.

In the meantime, get out there and make something today!

A Dose of My Own Medicine

When my kids get sick, I instantly go into medic mode. My mantra is sleep, clear fluids, sleep! I meet all objections with admonishments about self-care and personal health as a priority.

That is, until I get sick.

And then all bets are off. When it’s me, I am much more likely to entertain the plea that work can’t wait or that a meeting can’t possibly be postponed. It takes a lot of discipline for me to step out of my daily agenda and take the space I need to get well. Becoming self-employed, I think it’s getting easier, not only because I’m more in control of my time, but because I value myself more as a resource. But, in general, it’s difficult to take a dose of your own medicine.

Part of my vision for Sluice as a community is to engage audiences and artists in new and creative ways. Integral to that vision is the idea that the artistic process is a potential point of engagement. What I mean is, I think audiences are curious about what goes into a painting, a book, a performance. In providing a glimpse of the work involved in a project, I think it’s possible to change the way people value art. Also, I think it dispels the myth that art is exclusive, pursued only by people with mythological powers or resources.

Another part of my vision for Sluice is that the community itself is a creative endeavor. In turn, there is a process at work in Sluice that is a basis for engagement. However, often I skip posting because I don’t feel that an article is ready, an idea is fully formulated. I worry about how to balance building Sluice with my other creative projects. Am I an administrator or an artist posting here?

In the interest of taking a dose of my own medicine, I’m going to spend June sharing my creative process: the how, where, what and why of the way I work. I invite you to join me in posting to Twitter #SLUICECreative snapshots and updates about your process and current projects. And whether or not it’s engaging, I leave up to us.

Art @ Work: Jenny Hill

I am so excited to introduce you to Jenny Hill. I have admired Jenny nearly from the first moment I met her. She’s one of those people that glows with creative spirit. In addition, Jenny has a commitment to vision that is only matched by her technical tenacity. All of that comes through in the interview below. She brings metric tons of wisdom, whimsy and wonder.

Jennifer Hill is a poet, playwright, arts educator, and performer. She is the author of six books of poetry, and two books of prose, and is an interdisciplinary artist who explores the fascinating connections between writing and movement. For the past 15 years she has worked in the Arts-in-Education program with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, where she shares creative writing and movement residencies in schools, senior centers, and community organizations. Jennifer is an editor and designer at Paper Kite Press, an independent press devoted to poetry. You can find her and her work online at actsofjennius.comjenniferdunnhill.blogspot.com, and paperkitepress.com.

Welcome, Jenny!

SLUICE: I really enjoy your hoop practice videos and appreciate all the time you put in. How does discipline interact with creativity for you? How do you practice discipline as a writer? 

JENNY: Discipline is a large part of creativity for me, but longing is a big part of creativity too. First, I have to want something badly enough to develop the habits that get me there. I’m not a very goal oriented person, but if there’s that desire to be better than I was, say, six months ago at something, well, then I’m on it and I don’t let go. My day begins with what I consider to be holy hours. I get up at 5:30, write and read for a little over an hour, and then I pack up and go practice for an hour. I do not check my email, or any social media during this time. It is all offline, and I consider it protected time and space. It is the best way for me to begin my days.

SLUICE: I think it’s tempting to think of performance as being primarily geared toward the audience. However, one of the reasons I love performing my work is that it gives me new perspective, deepens my level of interaction. I’m particularly interested in how your idea of performance has evolved as you’ve developed as a stage performer, hoop artist (hooppeteer? hoopster? is there a word you prefer?)?

JENNY: Haha! I love that you asked about the preferred word! No one ever does. Hoop artist works. Hooper. When performances really work (for me), it’s audience and performer working together. I have definitely drifted into the realm of interdisciplinary artist with what I do with language and movement. When I create an act, it’s part writing  (concept, character, costume, and story ideas I keep in a notebook), part choreography (getting the music and movement together for the piece), part character development (I love that part), and oh the hell of costumes. I use a lot of glue there, or I hire a seamstress. The process has evolved a lot. There is an inordinate amount of testing ideas out, failing, testing again, failing again, testing, then aha! Or, back to the drawing board. I practice every day because I need to be strong enough to do the circus-style hooping that has become part of my acts. I’ve had very little heavy-lifting with rehearsals for poetry readings, unless I was memorizing for recitation, or involved in a performance that was multi-voiced. My creation of shows and acts has sparked my interest in other areas of writing and movement as well. I just completed a Lecoq 101 class with Movement Theatre Studio in NYC and will join them again in July for Clown 1.

SLUICE: What part does costume play in a particular project? How about venue? Are any of these observations applicable to the page?

JENNY: Venue and costume play large roles in performing (and even with practice). I practice at the Y and outdoors sometimes, but I’m not going to haul my fully costumed act there to rehearse it because it is a public space. I rehearse acts in dance studios where I know I’ll have some privacy, and as I work up an act, I share it with people I trust for feedback. So it’s akin to writing that way — if a work isn’t ready for the public, you test it out by reading it to trusted friends and colleagues. I’m currently working on a living statue act and had to spray paint a bunch of clothing and props. Messy, and I learned a lot. Venue for performance with multiple hoop acts is tricky a certain amount of space is required. Your question about whether or not these observations are applicable to the page or not has me thinking that yes, yes, they are, and beyond. Not all poems belong on the page. They need to be spoken, or as in the case of digital poems, they need to be able to move and have multiple rooms!

SLUICE: What connections have you noticed between movement and writing/reading? Do routines and poems develop in similar ways for you?

Jenny Hill: happy hooper, wonderful writer
Jenny Hill: happy hooper, wonderful writer

JENNY: Ideas build as you create. “To understand is to invent,” said Jean Piaget. The more you make, the more you understand, or don’t, which leads to more curiosity. Both writing and movement are an opening up of the self to the world. Both can be comedy or tragedy. Combined they are really powerful. I’m really excited about the work of Claire Porter, who won a Guggenheim for her “Portables”, which are brilliant, compact performances that use the movement of the body and language. This is something I am exploring myself, so I’m intrigued and inspired. Performances and poems develop in similar ways for me. They build as I gather more information from the world around me. I am always looking, always watching.

SLUICE: What do you enjoy most about working with children? Do you think children approach art differently than adults? How can art be more accessible to more people in general?

JENNY: I enjoy the enthusiasm children bring to everything. When you walk into a classroom filled with eight year-olds, you can be pretty sure they are ready! I know if I say, “Today we’re going to write a group poem and turn it into a dance!” they will be excited. If I were to propose the same lesson plan to a group of adults, they would freeze with fear. They are bringing more experience to the table, and it’s often the criticism that told them “You can’t do it.” They take more convincing, but once they know they are in a safe place and there’s trust among the group, real art can happen. Art is more accessible when it is available to everyone. I think it becomes an “extra” in schools when it needs to be an integrated way of learning — there’s art in math and science and history (of course!), and it’s how we learn best, through art experiences. I started an art gallery and performing arts space between a Turkey Hill and a bar in a neighborhood that had no art because I wanted the people of that area to have art in their lives. I busk now so people can see performances for little (or no) money at all. I think more towns and cities should make it easy for street performers to share their art. It’s good for the community because it spreads joy, inspires, and communities that have active artists thrive financially. People want to live and visit there then.

SLUICE: What projects are you excited about right now?

JENNY: I’ve organized a Pop-Up Circus… for the city’s First Friday. There’s a green space on King Street that no one has really used yet. I’ll be a living statue (who comes to life and hoops), there’s a talented juggler from Baltimore, a one-man band, a poetry stand run by two poets where people can have a poem written for them, and an incredible face/body painter. I’m testing this idea out to see how it flies — I’d like to develop a variety show in the future. I’m also working on a Movement and Writing workshop. So far I’ve held one and gotten some decent feedback… On top of that, I’ve just finished training with Elders Share the Arts from Brooklyn, so some of my teaching movement and writing will now be with elders, which is very exciting to me. The arts give people a sense of belonging, and learning a new skill can happen at any age. I know this first-hand. Hula hoops found me when I was 39. 🙂

Thank you so much, Jenny. Please check out Jenny’s work online and catch one of her live performances if you can. Share some love, like this interview up, swoon in the comments section. And most of all, keep creating!

 

Home is Where the Art Is

Heading up to Main St. last week to run an errand, I was delighted to find that someone had knit bombed the trees along both sides of the street. I was even more delighted to discover that the culprit behind the knit bombing was awesome fiber artist, Sara Mika. Seeing all that bright yarn running up and down the street, I thought: “And now I know I’m really home.”

My kids and I moved to Bloomsburg last year to join my partner who works at the state university. Unless you’re from the area, it’s not really near any place that you’d know. Flying lands you several cities away. Difficult to take a bus. Nope, no train. You’d think the town might be an isolated cultural backwater as a result. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is an absolutely brilliant and thriving arts community here that made us feel immediately at home. I am not the only artist in my family and we found a diversity of creativity in this small town that was big and broad enough to take us all in.

There’s the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble, a resident professional theater group providing the community with wonderful performances and great educational opportunities. Their yearly fundraiser, Taming of the Brew, is not to be missed.

The Moose Exchange holds regular community art shows in its space at The Antler. Our boxes weren’t even unpacked before my daughter, @EGMA_Draws, participated in one of their exhibits.

Whenever I need a gift or just a breath of beauty, I go to The Artspace Gallery. The gallery is run cooperatively by a group of local artists and features a wide variety of quality, affordable original artworks.

Box of Light equips kids with the technical tools and skills to bring their creative projects to life, focusing on animation, film, programming and robotics.

Bloomsburg gets knit bombed by Sara Mika . Photo credit @EGMA_Draws
Bloomsburg gets knit bombed by Sara Mika . Photo credit @EGMA_Draws

Then there’s the bookstore and the coffee shop that both do their part to promote and support the arts. Bloomsburg University also engages the community in events that showcase the creative work of its students and faculty. In addition, there’s Endless Records and Legendary Comics, providing wares we consider essential for the running of our creative household.

And I’m absolutely sure that I have missed other art and art-supporting groups in town. Apologies to anyone I left out. Please give yourself a shout out in the comments section.

Being a poet, a philosopher and fledgling filmmaker, I’m often asked what I think the arts are “good for,” what they “contribute” to society. There are many sober, practical responses I could give about art improving critical thinking, building self-confidence and growing communication skills. But here’s a reason that might not make the latest, job-skill driven list: art binds a community together. It gives it color, voice and shape. It connects people at the heart level, cutting through chit-chat about the weather to expose character, passion and vision. It chronicles life from the point of view of the people living it. Art builds a home and invites everyone in. And we’re very glad to have found ourselves home here.

COMING UP NEXT… Art@Work returns with an interview with the amazing Jenny Hill! She does things with hoops you never dreamed of in grade school. We’ll also talk about how her hooping intersects with her poetry. Jenny is a seasoned companion planter and an endless source of energy and inspiration.

Stay tuned. Jump in.

Companion Planting

I have a confession to make: I’m terrible with plants. Because I’m a vegetarian, progressive-type person, people often assume (why?!) that I must also have a green thumb. Nothing can be further from the truth. My ability to kill plants is legendary. The houseplants pictured above are surviving, I can only imagine, in spite of my care rather than as a result. Every morning, I offer them my gratitude for staying alive in my house.

But when the weather gets warm and the sunshine strong, I slip into delusional daydreams about planning and planting my own plot of growing goodness. I linger over garden articles and how-to-videos, thinking that information and inspiration is all that stands between me and a bountiful harvest (check out this particularly cool infographic).

One of the gardening guru tips that personally appeals to me is companion planting. Not only do some plants grow best in certain kinds of company, but you can also combat plant specific pests by nestling them in with other plants that deter those pests.

Now, I recognize that I’m not likely to pull this off in a garden, but I think the idea carries over into the realm of creative projects. At any given time, I’m likely to be working on half a dozen different projects. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I enjoy switching gears, building new skills and exploring new disciplines. But at the same time, I have to invest my time and resources effectively. If I tried to juggle five independent, parallel projects, then I’d spend more time running after dropped balls than juggling (my actual juggling skills are on par with my gardening skills).

So instead, I try to pursue projects that complement one another. Sometimes, that complementarity might only be apparent to me. Maybe I’m working on a particular idea that flowers in unexpected places. Or maybe I’m working on refining a new skill that causes me to sit a season in one particular medium. But the whole companion planting thing helps me to conserve my resources so that I can invest more fully.

I’m only just now thinking about the potential to manage projects with pest control in mind. Can I pair projects in a way that helps me navigate my ruts and keeps me from getting stuck? I can see how planting a project that is more structured with a project that is more expansive might provide some profitable pest control.

Do you companion plant in your creative life? What pairings bring the best harvest for you? And please don’t send me any gardening tip pity. I’m a lost cause. And really, I’m okay with that.

Insert AUDIENCE

This article has been sitting open on my computer for weeks. I keep coming back to it. In particular, I wonder about the possibilities that emerge when we insert “artist” for organization/non-profit and “audience” for supporter/donor.

The general gist of the article is to construct community around your work with progressive levels of engagement. That sounds a little gimmicky, but what it’s getting at is allowing people different ways to get to know you over time. In other words, along the way, you meet people who are interested in your work, but interested in different levels and different kinds of support. In order to develop a strong support base, you need be ready to accept support as it’s offered and have mechanisms in place to grow the relationship from there. The article identifies “the need to move supporters along a pathway of actions that build on each other over time.”

This can be really tricky. You need to build a set of engagements that are meaningful to your work and attractive to your target audience. And it needs to be done well ahead of time. How many times have you been asked the question “How can I help?” or “What can I do?” without being able to supply an answer? How many times have you gotten stuck with “help” that’s less than helpful because you didn’t want to turn someone’s interest away? You also need to make sure that you continue to grow the relationship. You want supporters continue to engage you and your work more deeply over time. That takes some engineering.

Go ahead and read the article. Think about what kind of engagements you can build around your work. Feel free to brainstorm ideas here and on Twitter #SLUICECreative. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Charity Case

Today I was sifting through information on arts grants and fiscal sponsorship when I came across Fractured Atlas. Gotta tell you, I’m an organizational management geek and these guys made me gasp “Ooooh shiny!” Please watch their informational homepage video to catch a glimpse of what I mean. They are working hard to bring all kinds of helpful resources within reach to liberate artists to focus on art. They specialize in fiscal sponsorships, umbrellaing artists under a non-profit status in order to enable them to accept donations and win foundation support. It is an absolutely wonderful enterprise and I applaud their work. I signed up for their newsletter and I’ll certainly pass along interesting info I find there.

Non-profit development is where I’ve been making my living for the last five years and there’s so much that I love about the industry, the community. I love the passion of the people involved, both donors and staffers. I love the creative rethinking of resources that so many non-profit professionals perform on a day to day basis. But there are other things that I don’t like too. I don’t like second tier corporate folks who come pedaling a “run-like-a-business” model, looking for a quiet sanctimonious nook to retire from. I also don’t like the reality that so many of the issues I care about- homelessness, food scarcity, community creativity -are relegated to charity status. While I support 100% the organizations who are doing that wonderful and necessary work, I wish these vital projects were seen as viable community investments .

My hope is that there is a way to move the work that is art away from the idea of charity, away from the romanticism of the “starving artist,” and into a market space that presents art as a valuable, community commodity. I think it’s going to take more than a new set of tools. It’s going to take a shift in perspective. Which in turn will take some insisting by the people who care about it the most.

Thank you for continuing to meet here to read, to think, to react. If the model is going to change, then we’re going to need to change it together. Stay tuned. New Art @ work segments are in the works.

Technique in Tension

These days are super busy. I’m preparing to start a new semester, attend a philosophy conference and, of course, continuing SLUICE on its community trajectory. I recently wrote a post on my philosophy site about my desire to inspire my students to live the discipline rather than just study it. In part, my desire is being driven by the tension I feel between technique and accessibility. As a philosopher, I feel grateful to have so many well turned technical terms at my disposal in trying to craft new ideas. At the same time however, I am fully aware that rarified vocabulary obscures the conversation to many, makes the content inaccessible.

Art exists in this same tension, although I think that it is experienced differently. In our Art @ Work segment with Amye Archer, I asked her about what I feel is a reluctance in people to weigh in on art. Thinking about the problem in terms of the tension between technique and accessibility, I wonder if part of the problem is that artistic technique, rather than obscuring content, as in the case of philosophy, becomes, when done well, lost in the conversation. Most audience members are not aware of the tradition, the form, the studied skill employed to bring an artistic piece to fruition. Without this knowledge, interaction with art is reduced to simple subjectivity: “Well, I liked it.”

However, I think that this is also art’s strength. It is an absolutely incredible thing that I can listen to the Beethoven violin concerto and experience its grand joy without necessarily knowing how to play the violin or understanding the intricacies of orchestration. Art has an incredible capacity for capturing and sharing the most important aspects of human experience.

As we build SLUICE together, I’d really like to see an ongoing conversation between artists and audience about technique. How the tools are employed in order to dig down to the real. Any ideas how we might frame and encourage that kind of exchange?

Picture More than the Present

Thank you to everyone who turned out to visit with Amye Archer on Friday. If this is your first time at SLUICE, please take a minute to read Amye’s Art @ Work interview here. Besides being totally fabulous, I’m so thankful for Amye’s involvement because she really embodies for me the kind of thing that SLUICE is wanting to be about.

When I talk to people about SLUICE as a project I always get back to this basic formulation: I believe that art is work, both valuable labor and effective action. First, I believe that creative endeavors make a valuable contribution to our economy, to our society. And as such, artists should be compensated fairly for their time and efforts. Too often, we relegate art to charity status. For all intents and purposes, we keep art on the dole. Having had personal experiences with welfare and the like, the experience can’t be confused with inspirational. In addition, when art meets market, it’s usually at the end-product stage: a painting, a book, a performance. Not only do I believe that creative endeavors need to be supported throughout their duration, but I believe that the artistic process itself is audience worthy. Lastly, I believe that art accomplishes effective action. Whether it is exposing painful truths, challenging corruption, or reconnecting us with joy, art accomplishes effective action, changing not only our minds and hearts, but our communities.

It’s my hope SLUICE grows into a community that supports art as work. Together, I hope we can build

SLUICE into a effective platform that brings art, audience and activism together in a valuable way.

Help me figure out what’s next. What issues are important to you in considering art as work? Do you know an artist or organization that embodies the SLUICE ideal? Please share your suggestions with us here, on Twitter #SLUICECreative or on Facebook.