Episode 14: DIVA CATS - Part 2

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Episode 14: DIVA CATS - PART 2


Threshold Questions and Juicy Quotes

You artists are volunteers right?

"No! We're professional artists. Everybody gets paid and they get paid well" because I won't have it any other way" They may say, "Oh, well, isn't it nice that those men are able to learn some arts and crafts stuff?" No, we don't use paper plates or pipe cleaners, and to Pacia's point, we are not trying to help them. They are learning to figure out how they can help themselves. Con Christeson

What does sustainability mean when you are working with vulnerable people and communities?

I'm sure that Roseanne and Con can both attest to it, you don't really clock out from these kinds of things. you don't take your teaching artists or community care or counselor or administrator hat or smock off when you go home. Right. So the biggest way is that the work has shown up is that it's always present, you get phone calls, you get emails, you're invited to come to this thing, you don't, clock out, you know, It's like your partner or your child or your parents that you care for. Right. It's omnipresent. It's always kind of over here. Pacia Anderson

What does "with not for" mean?

Doing something with a group of people means you're side by side with them, you are succeeding and failing with them, you are listening to each other. You are understanding what needs to happen. When we come someplace and we have a plan, then we are doing something for a community. We're not listening to the community, to the people there. We don't know all the things that are going on underneath the surface because we think we're doing something for people because we decided they needed it. Who are we to decide? Roseann Weiss

Where does the work fit? In the altered landscape that has emerged around us?

(I am experiencing) ...my accountability, shifting of power, amplification of marginalized voice, liberation of all oppressed people everywhere, more than I feel like I've ever seen in my forty-two years. (In this context the creative process works ) ...as medium, as conduit, as inspiration, as catharsis as an example of possibility as documentation. Yeah, as the material and inanimate embodiment of what an artist is. Pacia Anderson

Transcript

Pacia Anderson: ...And though distance may divide

or routine in time

rendering your spaces high as the tide

Still the look that holds tight

two the ends of the flash back

I am rich memories

I am fond intensity

Held in place by the mere desire to create it

When one comes alive

When our atoms collide

With twin flames, one desire

Sacred names

bathed in fire, bathed in fire, bathed in fire

fire, fire, fire, fire

Still life pretty and shinny

I could hold its sweetness in my hand

Tickle the linchpin

Stroke the beautiful danger

A delicate malevolence

The simple and gentle miserable symbol

hold this opus

the explosive closeness

So focused that I didn't notice

the dagger in my back...

BC: That was Pacia Anderson, or as she calls herself Pacia Elaine Anderson, one of the three remarkable women we have dubbed, the DIVA Cats, who shared their wisdom and stories in our last episode. In that conversation they talked about the different paths that led them CAT, the nationally recognized Community Arts Training Institute, at the Saint Louis Regional Arts Commission. In this episode we dig deeper into the CAT story with questions like: What makes a CAT, and what difference does it make in places like Ferguson and the Peter and Paul facility for unhoused men.

From the Center for the Study of Art and Community, this is Change the Story, Change the World. I’m Bill Cleveland

Chapter 4: Re-imaging the Village

BC: So, Con. You've been involved now in putting pen to paper around practice a couple of times you got your beautiful little book, and the workbook that you've created for Americans for the Arts. So, you've forced yourself to sort of answer some of these questions, what's this for? what do we what are we learning here? What have you come up with?

CC: Well, I was one of those TIGERS that Pacia was talking about and. At the beginning of the end of the year long journey, one of the assignments was you have to you have to come up with a research project and you have to get a mentor and you have to check in regularly. And next week I want to know what it is. And I remember the consensus of all the faculty and the people who were there, the other 11 people, was that you need to write a book and you need to look at where you've been and what you've done. So, I, welcome that opportunity to get all of these stories and connections and all the different parts of my life that have been overlapping to get them on paper actually illustrated the book, which surprised the hell out of me. I find it's it's a continual job to to figure out with people what this co-creation looks like and to Give voice to the fact that transformation happens and Roseanne reminded me of the tears of transformation that have happened with the community arts training.

by the way, Peter and Paul, the community service organization for which I work, we are very CAT infused. The former development director, the co-founder of the Arts Collaborative, that I manage at least four staff members went through CAT, but also four of my guys from the arts groups went through a cat. And that sort of 360-degree thing to happen is very humbling for me. Because I kind of feel like I'm at the center of it, But at the same time, stuff started growing And people make a lot of assumptions about what they see or hear. When I tell them what I do, you're like, oh, so "You artists are volunteers right?" "No! We're professional artists. Everybody gets paid and they get paid well" because I won't have it any other way" They may say, "Oh, well, isn't it nice that those men are able to learn some arts and crafts stuff?"

No, we don't use paper plates or pipe cleaners, and to Pacia's point, we are not trying to help them. They are learning to figure out how they can help themselves. And so the transformation happens at that individual level, and happens at the program level once the program directors realize they are creating a more authentic relationship with people, through creativity as they began to tell and hear each other's stories, I mean, none of us expected that particular level of intimacy and support. And all of a sudden, they were not people on their own journey out of homelessness or poverty or drug addiction or whatever. They were people working together to help each other. Now, It didn't did work for everybody, but the guys that did work for they come back. There was one guy after we published our first book, he was recalcitrant. He was defiant. He didn't want to do it. We felt we made that book. We bound that book. The day that we put it in his hands, he started to cry, and he said, oh, my God, I can't wait to show this to my grandmother.

So. the magic is, there, and I feel blessed to be that person who can say this is who I am, and this is who we are, and we're going to figure out together how we're going to go forward.

BC: So, one of the things you just described, which is to me. It's kind of home base. Which is as a species, we do not survive without our capacity to connect to our fellow human beings Basic cooperation, succor and sustenance, that is spiritual, that is physical, that is emotional. And I think many of the gentlemen that you interacted with bear some of the consequences of being separated from their connections, to their community, to their families, to their peers. what you just described. Is an intentional recreation of the of the village, the ritual, the practice of being together in a supportive way where the power of our story together manifests unencumbered. And isn't it amazing when people are given access to it, even though they would say, I don't know anything about this art stuff. Right. It's like a magnet they come right to it. they know what's happening when they're in it.

CC: Yeah, it's you know, there's they go back and forth between I want to make some stuff. I want to sell some stuff. I want people to see my stuff. But what keeps them coming back is the commitment to a relationship, I think. And I really feel like. I do it, Pacia does it, Roseanne does it. We hold the space for what it is that we believe, and even if there's a long dry spell, we hold that space and people come to count on that. And because we can hold the space and because people can count on it, that's where what you're talking about, where the village comes from.

And the US Department of Arts and Culture, for which I am a cultural agent, imagines what it would be like if all aspects of daily life were infused with arts and culture. So much so that It would be who we are and how we live, not something we do and call it art group or art class or art program or whatever. So that's my goal, people being creative feeling good about themselves and keeping the process going. And if a product happens to come out of it, oh, golly, that's great.

Chapter 5: CAT Stories

BC: So the jackpot of this conversation is for you to share a story that personifies what it is we've been talking about. Is there a story that rises up for you, that represents the value of being serious and committed to the work and its potential in community?

PA: So, my story, the story that I'll share is one that I've shared in our Americans for the Arts workshops on arts-based community development and wanting to be respectful that. Oftentimes, we're a part of the story, but it's not our story, so I'll do the best that I can to tell my part that I have played in this particular story and. went through my CAT class. During the time of the uprising that followed Michael Brown's murder. It's important because in St. Louis, that was a before and after moment. The region is completely changed by the events of that summer. Even the feel in the air is different. I would liken it to the way people say America felt different after 9/11. All right. There's a different sense of being. So, our CAT class, we had our first class on August 1st, 2014. On August 8th, 2014, a group of my friends and I who all live in the same neighborhood. a CAT from twenty ten myself, another who was in our class, one person who ended up being a CAT the following year, we had just ended a weeklong summer camp called Cherokee Street Reach, making art with young people in the neighborhood for that week.

So, our CAT class was August 1st. We ended our camp August 8th. Mike Brown was murdered. August 9th. We had our second class, August 11. Our class was an intensive, so instead of once a month, over several months, we were once a week for three, sometimes four hours, while the city in the county was on fire. And while activists, artivists were doing all this work, creating responsive pieces. Sitting on boards and commissions, being citizen journalists, being street medics, this is the fire that our class was forged in and we were such a tight community of people because it was 16 from one neighborhood. And so it was deeply, deeply, deeply impactful. Cherokee Street, where Con has a studio a block away from where I live, is a commercial district in St. Louis. It's separated by two wards, surrounded by four neighborhoods, largely black, swiftly gentrifying or slowly gentrifying, depending on who you ask. So, there's all these political and social things happening during the time of this class.

Our CAT class ended in November and shortly thereafter, the decision to not indict the officer who murdered Mike Brown happened. And so, we were on fire again. In the midst of all of this In the aftermath of all of this uprising, in this unrest, we found ourselves being asked to community care give. Right. Can you come to the neighborhood school down the street from Cherokee Street? we don't know what you can do, but can you just come and be present? We don't have any money, but if you have just some time. Right. And so, we went there, and we invited some of the artists who were still on the ground in Ferguson by night there in this elementary school by day showing the response of artwork that they were doing, wearing t shirts that say unarmed civilian. And these were CAT's. And so things just snowballed. And we we formed a group, in the fire of response and caregiving and unrest. So Cherokee Street Reach was born out of CAT's, out of the uprising, doing what we can do, which was show up for the young people.

So maybe a year and a half later on Cherokee Street, there was an abandoned lot. we use to do, some murals. There's still paint on the basketball court right now from that. And people on the street had asked young people, what should we do with this lot? And they said, we want to play basketball. So a basketball court ended up being on patch of grass and rough and tumble concrete And it activated the people in the neighborhood, the young people, the artists activated that broken down lot space and turned it into something magical. And there weren't, you know, raised garden beds and flowers It looks like the neighborhood. Right. And that's why it was the neighborhood. the neighborhood named it Love Bank Park for the bank shot. this was a big deal because there aren't any basketball hoops on the south side of St. Louis in city parks because of really old racist policies.

So, you know, young people who come from all over to play in this park, but some days we don't know where Street Reach and Love Bank begin and end because they were both born in the aftermath of a socially and economically and politically changing climate in the region. But specifically, on this street, because it divides towards both of the aldermen for those wards on both sides of the street have been serving for 20 years. And in that time, they were both unseated by young progressives who actually, helped love Bank become, what it is. One of them where we're actually going to repaint some signs and make some murals up there starting this week. I know he's going to be there.

BC: You’ve been at it for quite a while in that neighborhood. Are there young people from Cherokee who have taken that journey with you?

PA: When we started Cherokee's Street Reach, we started it because there was a young man on the street. We wanted to, quote unquote, help him. Right. And we had all these ideas about how we were going to help him and get him into these different programs. And ultimately, just through the council of people like Regina Martinez, who I mentioned earlier, other people who were aware so full circle.

I mean, the circle is more like an infinity loop. We're going to repaint some signs, look at Love Bank and do a mural and I got some grant money through some neighborhood organizations and two of the young people who I'm hiring to be art assistants. One of them is this young man who is running around the street six years ago with nothing to do.

I'm sure that Roseanne and Con can both attest to it, you don't really clock out from these kinds of things. you don't take your teaching artists or community care or counselor or administrator hat or smock off when you go home. Right. So the biggest way is that the work has shown up is that it's always present, you get phone calls, you get emails, you're invited to come to this thing, you don't, clock out, you know, It's like your partner or your child or your parents that you care for. Right. It's omnipresent. It's always kind of over here.

That story, I feel like just really demonstrated other ways that it has overlapped. you know, community care and the politics of the thing and the built environment and these questions about ownership, we talk about in our workshops who made something versus who created it So, yeah, so, Yeah, I just love it.

BC: Thank you, great story, Con, you got a story?

CC: In nineteen ninety when I moved here to work with the Social Service Agency, after about four years and I joined the Board of Peter and Paul Community Services. And in nineteen ninety-eight was my CAT year. I was in the second class. I went to a board meeting and Tom Burnham was the director of Shelter Services, was talking about a project that he had going on. Then we had single room occupancy hotel in St. Louis that was being renovated by a developer. They were going to take guys from the shelter and move them into this SRO and they could live there for free and they could save their money. And as they were working, they would be assigned to a realtor, a banker, and a team of people that would help them figure out how they were going to buy a house. it was very ambitious,

I'm like, Tom, we got to document this. I'm seeing maps. I'm seeing pieces of paper. I'm seeing people on the margins on three ring binder paper. And most of us are to the right of the red line and we have a safety net. But the people that you're working with are on the left side there's a lot less room. there's danger there's holes in the side of the paper. People fall in those holes. And so this is like a map to me, Tom. We've got to give it some maps. Became a thing for me at that particular point.

Sitting here thinking about these stories, I realize that. All along the way, I've been helping people make maps you know, the murals are not really murals They're maps of where people live and how people move through this thing we call the social service system or the continuum of care. Mapping and murals and stories and all of these things that were all set in motion by my CAT training

This is my favorite story of all time. I think I'm sitting in my studio with six men and I have this mapping exercise where, you know, you map your neighborhood where you grew up. Here was the corner store. Here was the school. It was the church. Here was my best friend's house. Just map that map a place

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