Hatch Artists’ Thoughts on Community and Identity – Part One

This week, we begin our Hatch Artist blog post series as part of our pilot Hatch program. As part of their participation in the program, each artist has been tasked with writing post about their thoughts and the Hatch process for our blog. After each session, we will release some of their responses. We hope you enjoy reading their eloquent words as much as a we did!

This week, our artists were tasked with answering the questions:

How do you define “community”?

What are the influences that shape your identity?

I am a resident of Clarkston, Georgia, named by Time Magazine as the most diverse square mile in America. Realizing the challenges facing these resettled “new Americans”, I wanted to be a part of social justice awareness. I wanted to become a voice for people who have not had the opportunities we in the first world country have experienced. On my daily walk in Clarkston, I felt deep compassion for those living in hunger in my community. I witnessed Mom or Dad with little resources who settled here, no english skills, foraging for edibles along the sidewalks, with babe in tow. It made me feel almost guilty that I had so much food at home, such abundance in my own life. I wanted to invite them into my home garden, to pick what they wanted, or needed. It filled me with deep humility, and even sorrow for their lack. So I sat with it.

I felt inspired to impact the lives of at least some of these people. After all, we all are humans; experiencing the same basic needs, feeling the same emotions, breathing the same air, walking on the Earth Mother. I had a divinely inspired idea. Let’s create a mural together. Ummm…weird, art to feed the people? It was the “food” I had to offer, and my ambition could get us there. So I cooked something up.

In 2013, DeKalb County, through the United Way was offering a mini grant to fund a community project that reached low-income families; with this awarded funding we created Clarkston’s first public mural. Designed and facilitated by me, and painted with 50 community members, the experience lit a fire in me to activate community in this way. Let’s use art to break down social and economic barriers. Since then, I have created four community murals in Clarkston with the people. The largest one painted with community is a language mural funded by the Community Foundation in 2014. The idea was to bridge faiths and cultures in your community, and out of 200 ideas we won the award to create “Diversity Mural.” We brought together 100 community members, and included 43 languages written on the mural. I designed it with the idea of saying, “We recognize and validate your culture within our community.”

Hatch Artist Shannon Willow with her mural titled "Sun and Sustain" created in conjunctionw with the Clarkston community t
Hatch Artist Shannon Willow with her mural titled “Sun and Sustain” created in conjunction with the Clarkston community.

I am grateful for the opportunity to use art to bridge differences. Art is a universal language that everyone speaks. Art can heal people no matter what the experiences, or where one comes from in the world. I care deeply about social justice, food justice and community. I am excited to have been selected to participate in the HATCH program. The HATCH program will be invaluable to artists becoming a powerful conduit to use art to heal people, change lives and amplify the creative voice already within each one of us.

By Shannon Willow

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I define community as a group of people that shares a common identity, whose members support each other to realize their individual and group goals.

Experiences throughout my life have taught me the value of being part of a community and how it is impacted by culture. After several years in both community-minded and individually-driven cultures, I’ve come to recognize that I am dependent on community to thrive as a creative.

In our individualistic culture, it seems we are conditioned to constantly rank, favorite and compete from a young age. Why do I need to have a favorite color? Why can’t I like all the colors? Of the places I’ve been, how can I possibly determine which is “the best” when each offers something unique? Even as we grow up learning in small groups and special-interest communities, there is still a pervasive culture of comparison and individual stardom within a group. Does this incessant attitude of individualism undermine community or strengthen it?

After college I traveled to Micronesia to volunteer teach on Ailinglaplap, an isolated atoll of the Marshall Islands. This experience completed the paradigm shift in my own consciousness of what it meant to relate to people and be part of a community.

The Marshallese culture is one that is community-minded; its people avoid individual recognition and have an unparalleled regard towards others. In short, they put the needs of the group before their own.

In contrast to my upbringing, here was a place where there were no soloists. The only success measured was that of the group, not the individuals within it. The ensemble was the star. Everyone was peaceable and encouraging because it was what you did to survive. If you weren’t likable, you were on your own. And nobody wanted that.

With these experiences, I have come to this conclusion for my own understanding of community: It takes a group of individuals to make a community, and it takes a community to make individuals.

As an artist, it seems necessary to embody both individualistic and communal values for success. On one hand, you must set yourself apart, have a distinct style so that when your work is seen, the viewer knows it’s yours. On the other hand, you need to network, be likable. You need to be involved in the community if you want to stand out within it.

My personal need for community goes even deeper. It is a resource I’ve been trying to replicate since my years in the Marshall Islands, where the support system was built into the culture, not something you had to try and seek out. Without “my people”, my creative self cowers. For me, where there is community — mentorship, solidarity and support — there is creativity.

By Lauren Pallotta

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