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Littleglobe Introduction: Maps to the Next World - Creative Community Development in the Southwest U.S.

...How to say this: seed, sky-vault, mountains, symbiotic hum… Benevolent place, place of destruction. The land cradling us, the land the colors of our many faces, skin… This place on the tongue, on our hands, on the soles of our feet, and sweeping around us, tracing a circle from here to here as we turn all the way round…1

The offices of Littleglobe lie at the geographical center of current-day Santa Fe, New Mexico. Five hundred years ago a Tewa village inhabited the site and it was called Po’oge—“The Place of White Shells by the Water.” Spanish conquistadores occupied the village in 1605 and Po’oge was governed by a succession of 60 Spanish colonial governors for more than 200 years. In 1680 the Pueblo Revolt-—“one of the most successful indigenous revolutions on the continent”2—expelled the Spanish for over a decade. The area was “re-conquested” by the Spanish in 1692, ceded to Mexico in 1821, and acquired by the United States in 1846.

Since “First Contact,” the story of this place is a story of multiple waves of conquest, migration and convergence, the

…merging of people and cultures [from] the A:shiwi people to a Moorish slave and a French friar, Spanish soldiers [from Aragón, Galicia, Andalusia, Castile and Extremadura, Spain, some with Moorish and Jewish lineages] to their Pima, Papago, Opata, and Tarahumara auxiliaries…to people originating in many other places throughout the world, including Greece, France, Portugal, and even Angola, Africa. Countless streams flowed from this point of contact as a foundation for what would gradually become known as the southwest and New Mexico.3

Old-timers fondly recall a time when the plaza, now located on the east side of Santa Fe, was the bustling center of community life. By the ’70s, the city had begun to expand rapidly, primarily to the south. Today, the (very famous and oft-photographed) plaza is peopled primarily by tourists, and the “center of community life” lies not in one central location but in dispersed meeting places, on various days or hours during city fiestas, markets and celebrations, or by happenstance.

Now the city’s geographical center is closer to the intersection of Cerrillos Road, St. Michael’s Drive and Osage Avenue, a decidedly less attractive and hardly decipherable “plaza” just a stone’s throw from Littleglobe’s small adobe rental. The streets, named for what used to be “little hills” (Cerrillos), a Jewish/Christian/Islamic archangel (Michael) and a Siouan-language Native American tribe (Osage) serve as a metaphor for the continuing legacy of convergence and constant state of flux that characterize complex communities.

This story, too, is echoed everywhere in the U.S. Southwest.

We begin this collection of essays by Littleglobe core artists, affiliate artists and partners with a brief history because an understanding of people and place is necessary, crucial, and at the very heart of our work in Southwest communities. Without the constant companions and guiding voices of the stories that swirl around us, we are not able to do the work of collaborating with communities through creative engagement.

Littleglobe’s work is rooted in the following core principles:

  • We believe in the transformative power of heartfelt, human connection.
  • We believe in creating safe, inclusive spaces where sharing, witnessing and compassion are paramount.
  • We believe in the inherent wisdom, knowledge and capacity of communities that emerge from creative engagement.
  • We believe that collaborative art making deepens human connection, grows relationships and creates lasting community change.
  • We believe that artistic rigor honors community work and that artists and communities, working together, are able to create significant works of art.

At the center of our creative practice is listening. In order for people and places to reveal themselves, in order to be shaped by the land and its people, we must be receptive, open, vulnerable and humble. Southwest communities hold immense knowledge and considerable resources, necessitated and nurtured by hundreds of years of interaction and exchange—sometimes violent, sometimes compassionate, always complex. It is only in listening and cultivating listening that we begin to make space for community knowledge that is the wellspring of social change—that is, we allow communities to begin drawing their own collective maps.

For over ten years, Littleglobe artists have been working collaboratively with elders, families, youth adults and intergenerational ensembles in the creation of groundbreaking works of art, performance and collaboration. For the last four years, this work has been primarily with southwest communities. Over a period of many months, Littleglobe artists work with members of communities who would not usually share the same space. These “community ensembles” are gifted with deep connections to culture, land and history while struggling with illness, estrangement, institutionalization, historical trauma, discrimination and/or other challenges (New Mexico continues to rank poorly in education, personal wealth and health). Again and again, we have seen these ensembles emerge from sustained creative engagement with a new and renewed sense of both individual and community capacity.

Littleglobe’s approach to community work resists the service or “helping” model of artists “teaching” in communities. Instead, we find that collaboration is much more honest, engaging and generative. We know that there is great wisdom and creative practice inherent in communities (history offers endless examples) no matter how much they are struggling, and that reconnecting to these forms of knowledge as well as nurturing new capacities is the key to “community development.” That is, we know that community members bring as much or more to the process of community restoration as do Littleglobe artists.

What Littleglobe does bring to the collaboration are relational creative practices (in multiple creative mediums—music, writing, visual art, movement, film, etc.) that encourage the emergence of personal and communal stories and other forms of knowledge. With time, these congregate, integrate, collaborate to create works of art and performance that reflect issues, desires and dreams at the heart of community. At the same time, the ensemble—individuals and the whole—experience a powerful sense of ownership, identity and self-determination. After the first phases of the project, Littleglobe and its cross-sector partners continue to work with members of the community to co-facilitate the continuing work of the community.

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for those who would climb through the hole in the sky. My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and kitchens. For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet. The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.4

Both statewide and regionally, there is a need for this kind of collaborative engagement work that involves a wide range of constituencies—children, youth, families, adults and elders as well as artists, planners, organizers, healthcare workers, educators and others. This inter- and cross-disciplinary approach is complex, rigorous and demanding—like Harjo’s illuminated sand map—and requires a range of skills in creative collaboration, civic dialogue, conflict engagement, skills building and more. This kind of map-making has little to do with the conquest maps of the colonizers—our journey from those worlds has been harrowing, wounding, murderous. Instead, the creators of fifth-world maps are community teams with communal visions. They speak with many voices, with their “many hands and feet.”

Littleglobe is committed to developing, deepening and catalyzing community engagement work through its Center for Creative Community Engagement (CCCE)—a learning collaborative that will gather artists, scholars, leaders and youth; college and university faculty and students, and community-based practitioners for workshops, experiential/on-site community engagement and cross-sector collaboration. The center’s programming is being developed with a wide range of practitioners and organizations through a process of shared learning. We know many are doing remarkable work in the Southwest, elsewhere in the U.S, and internationally, and the CCCE draws on best theory and practice as well as Littleglobe’s experience with communities.

The center also hopes to encourage important innovations in community engagement work. Littleglobe believes that living and working in the Southwest deepens this work because of the complexities mentioned above. Southwest practitioners must navigate and embrace multiplicity—simultaneous and diverse experiences of time and space, deeply rooted connections to land and water, the conflation of “truth” with historical lies and imaginary realities, and the ever-shifting psychic landscapes that accompany the mestizaje of identity and race. Roberto Bedoya writes about the necessity of honoring these realities as “cultural stewardship”5—embracing the belief systems and ways of life of indigenous and other “non-traditional” communities.

Liz Lerman emphasizes the need for synthesis:

Philosophers who admire paradox, rabbis and priests who seek union in opposites, artists rejecting dichotomy, business executives looking for a synthesis, educators hoping to foster learning communities that embrace multiple forms of knowledge and discovery: all of these reflect a desire to find meaning within ambiguity, common purpose amid individual vision and action.6

In simpler terms, complex communities demand complex (and imaginative) approaches to community change. This will be the evolving work of the Littleglobe Center for Creative Community Engagement.

The CCCE (which will launch its programming in the summer of 2012) also furthers an understanding of “art” as inextricably related to community health. This might be a long journey, for some, from the notion of art as individual vision and commercial action. Instead, the practice of art making is restored to its ancient origins in community ritual as a means of honoring the land, the people and their cultural beliefs in a web of connection, interdependence, power and beauty.

In addition, the CCCE hopes to influence cultural policy to better embrace the worldviews and realities of diverse communities. Bedoya’s “Color Line in US Cultural Policy” refers to “the absence of a policy frame, a discursive space for the experience and knowledge associated with multiple worldviews.”7 Littleglobe has witnessed “first contact” between community leaders (newly emerging and experiencing a powerful sense of agency) and policymakers in which differing modes of language and experience (imaginative vs. empirical) have made communication and understanding difficult. For example, a community leader tells stories within a story about a breakthrough in cross-community alienation—a Hispanic family drives 30 minutes to have dinner with new Diné/Navajo family friends. Together, they share anecdotes about their grandparents and their experiences as children, and they plan another evening and meal together. A policymaker, somewhat impatiently, asks if these two families have actually “made” anything together, something that can be “documented.”

These “encounters” mirror the gulf that sometimes appears when artists/community artists attempt to articulate the significance of creative work/art and its ability to build capacity (“development”) in communities. “Development” begins with re-establishing and creating new ways of relating, often across the chasms of pre-conceived notions, fear, racism, politics, religion (the list goes on). Collaborative art making creates a space for this kind of development, the foundation for any concrete “thing” (story, dance, mural, film, council, festival, community center, etc.) that can be “documented.”

The survival of artists, cultural workers, arts/culture organizations and multicultural communities will depend on policymakers’ ability to embrace the impact of imaginative/aesthetic/creative work on community development, i.e., the role of the “social imagination” in social change. The following essays and the MICA Community Arts Convening and Research Project are important efforts in this direction.

Listen, that’s the way you hear. Pretty soon, you can hear it, coming far away deep in the ground, deep down there coming, the voice of power coming, closer and closer… and pretty soon it will come. It will come, the moving power of the voice, the moving power of the earth, the moving power of the People. That is the place Indian People talk about.8

These eleven essays have emerged from eight months of smaller gatherings of artists and cultural workers—most often with food and around a kitchen table—and reflect our learning from and collaboration with a wide range of thinkers and practitioners. The essays, like the communities we work with, are incredibly diverse—the authors’ voices are distinct and different. They present a wide range of philosophical approaches and best practices based on work in different kinds of communities. Each is a map. Together they are a map. The map is unfolding.

Kialo Winters and Terri Winters write about IYOU, in rural New Mexico, a community development group that emerged from a large-scale collaborative arts project with Littleglobe. IYOU encourages the telling of essential individual and communal stories. Elsa Menendez tells about her work with prison inmates, creating theater and kinship in an Albuquerque prison. Chris Jonas and Erin Hudson explore what happens when we put cameras in the hands of Pueblo, Diné, Hispanic, Mexican/Mexican-American, White and other high-school students to tell their own stories. Rulan Tangen writes about indigenous collaborative leadership and encouraging “indigenous” movement from the community members she works with. Michelle Otero tells of the Belizean “Give and Take” tree, a metaphor for her experience growing up in the South Valley of Albuquerque and for understanding its people. Molly Sturges writes about “radiant moments” of empathy and connection in her work with elders in hospice and nursing homes. Laura Eberhardt writes about her journey from alienation to inclusion in an undergraduate course about racial healing. Urban Verbs (Hakim Bellamy, Carlos Contreras, Colin Hazelbaker) write about creating and sharing their form of alternative Hip Hop with youth and their parents. Mindy Grossberg gives us a tour of ArtStreet, an open art studio that serves both the homeless and the housed, a model for collaboration and compassion. Valerie Martínez writes about the words we use in community settings, evolving a practice of using inclusive language, and the power of poetry to deepen this practice. The collection ends with a conversation between Sturges, Martínez and Chrissie Orr, three seasoned artists and community practitioners, about immigrants, “belonging” and the emergent approach to creative community engagement.

The essays address a wide range of different communities and creative practices. What they share is a belief in what Barry Lopez calls the “genius of communities”9—the knowledge, experience, imagination and capacity that are inherent in groups of people, no matter how fractured, alienated, oppressed. These essays affirm the power of creative engagement to illuminate and activate communities from the deep-inside, out.

Our communities continue, every day, to teach us remarkably and well. These essays would not be possible without their inspiring and inspired guidance. We are so grateful to Ken Krafchek, Amalia Mesa-Bains and everyone at MICA for giving us the opportunity and inspiration to create this collection. We are also enormously thankful for the writers who share their wisdom and experience here—they are our teachers and mentors. And we look forward to many years of continued collaboration with our fellow artists and practitioners, with a shared passion for building stronger and more beautiful communities—for ourselves, for each other and for our children.

NOTES

  • 1 Martínez, Valerie. “And They Called It Horizon” (title poem). And They Called It Horizon: Santa Fe Poems. Santa Fe, N.M.: Sunstone Press, 2010. 41-52. Print.
  • 2 Rael-Gálvez, Estevan. “Coyote Convergence: Introduction through Interrogation.” Converging Streams: Art of the Hispanic and Native American Southwest. Eds. William Wroth and Robin Farwell Gavin. Santa Fe, N.M.: Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, 2009. 17. Print.
  • 3 Ibid., 16.
  • 4 Harjo, Joy. A Map to the Next World. New York, N.Y.: Norton & Norton, 2000.14. Print.
  • 5 Bedoya, Roberto. “The Color Line and U.S. Cultural Policy: An Essay with Dialogue.” National Alliance for Media, Art and Culture (NAMAC). Web. 20 June 2011. http://www.namac.org/node/25774
  • 6 Lerman, Liz. Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2011. 204. Print.
  • 7 Bedoya, “The Color Line.”
  • 8 Ortiz, Simon. “That’s the Place Indians Talk About.” Woven Stone. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 1992. 321-324. Print.
  • 9 Lopez, Barry. Lecture. University of New Mexico. George Pearl Hall Auditorium, Albuquerque, N.M. 10 Feb. 2011.