Working with (Not for, or to) Community – Hatch Artists’ Blogs Part 1

Part of the ongoing Hatch blog series, today’s blogs are reflections by our Hatch artists on their experience from the previous weeks’ classes by Emily Hopkins from Side Street Projects in Pasadena, CA and McKenzie Wren from Clarkston Community Center in Clarkston, GA. Staff recaps of both sessions are available on our blog in the links above.

For these two classes, we ask the artists to reflect on the following thoughts:

Session #2 – Themes to consider:

  • depositing information vs. sharing information through dialogue
  • artists coming from a place of privilege
  • managing expectations through all aspects of working with community and with all of the stakeholders involved.

Session #3 – Themes and questions to consider:

  • What are the assets offer by the arts community of Atlanta?
  • What assets are available to you?
  • What are your personal assets?
  • What are the reflections that you had after the discussion about doing with the community (vs. for, or to) based on your own personal experiences?

We hope you enjoy their thoughtful responses!

These past two Hatch sessions focused on active methods of engaging community and gave us artists a lot of concrete examples of how to do so, either through experiencing methods as a group, or through the breakdown of other projects that had been effective or not. Through this process, we learned about mistakes that can be made and were given a chance to examine our own work through the lens of this learning.

Jessica Caldas (center) with Angela Davis Johnson (left) and Hez Stalcup (right) after her performance of her work "#3everday" at Oakland Cemetary.
Jessica Caldas (center) with Angela Davis Johnson (left) and Hez Stalcup (right) after her performance of her work “#3everday” at Oakland Cemetary.

I was able to reaffirm something I have known about my work: that it doesn’t truly and deeply enter the realm of community work, mine is, thus far, a social practice. This is okay, but my ultimate goal is to develop a practice which also works with the communities I care about and am invested in. What I understand better through these lessons is how to approach that goal. What is seems to involve most is trust, because you have to let go of so very much control if you actually want to work with people, not dictate to them or for them. That requires trust given to them, and building trust in them of you (a herculean task of time effort, energy, and consistency).

The main letting go is of false expectations, which I call “shoulds.” These are process focused methods, the process is where the art is, and the product, or the should, is secondary. I have a mentor who talks a lot of about the fallacy of “should” and this session also reinforced that idea. It may be cliche to say, but in life “should” is a lie we tell ourselves which really only hurts us, and this is as true for art practices as it is for anything. We make the best decisions we can in every moment, everyone who is present are the best people for that conversation, and everything that is said is what needed to be said. When we worry so much about shoulds we do damage, because we are trying to predict something that is unreal and it feels inherently negative because it assumes we somehow did less in the reality of what has actually taken place. That “should” deems less valuable the actual work being done. The asset based community development work we did in the session speaks strongly towards acknowledging only what actually exists, focusing on the reality of what we know, what we can do, and how we can use it to create positive, powerful, solution oriented conversations and I pretty much adore that idea.

As much as I love these ideas, I struggle to apply them to my own life, and I certainly believe that how we engage our communities should be equally reflected in how we work and care for ourselves. So it’s scary to know I am so bad at believing in the reality of what I can do, of what I am capable, and yet to expect myself to use all of these tools to work with others.

by Jessica Caldas

Asset Based Community Development = Looking at the “Haves,” Piling the Bounty

I work in art. Because I always have worked in art. Growing up in rural Georgia: Art, storytelling, puppetry were my solo means of personal fulfillment.
Ironically I kept thinking of this as McKenzie Wren facilitated Hatch Session #3…
My art growing up always began with looking at a pile. A pile of…fur, craft supplies, paints, whatever! And then saying, “Okay, what can I create?”

Scottie Rowell's illustration of "piles" from a deficit based mindset vs. an asset based mindset.
Scottie Rowell’s illustration of “piles” from a deficit based mindset vs. an asset based mindset.

Asset Based Community Development is that. Collectively looking at the “pile.” The skills, resources, and offers of individuals to better a community as a whole…”Okay, what can we create?”

By utilizing the Community’s bounty, their “pile,” the community is intrinsically involved at the core. It is theirs. The project or mission doesn’t exist without the community. The “pile” of assets doesn’t exist without them.

We as artists hold the ability to actualize, curate, and help the community utilize the assets to the fullest.
“Okay Community, what should we create?”

by Scottie Rowell


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