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Alternate ROOTS Resources for Social Change

By Hope Clark, Gwylène Gallimard, Omari Fox and Ebony Golden

The Alternate ROOTS Resources for Social Change (RSC) Program is collectively managed by a workgroup and supported by the organization Alternate ROOTS. Its charge is to research, reflect on and practice the Principles of Community Engagement as artists working in communities through the coordination and facilitation of retreats and Learning Exchanges with community partners, academics and artistic institutions. Alternate ROOTS members are eligible to become RSC workgroup members by actively participating in monthly conference calls, volunteering for committees and training to be RSC facilitators. The Principles of Community Engagement utilized by the RSC program are Dialogue, Partnership, Shared Power, Transformation and Aesthetics. For more information go to http://alternateroots.org/programs/rsc

The RSC Curriculum team is presently assessing the work of the program from 2007 to 2011. During the March 2011 Community Arts Convening, its members shared four chapters worth of content for a soon-to-be-published book about creative, cultural and community-based resources for social change.

  • Omari Fox, "How Hip Hop Activism Influenced ROOTS"
  • Gwylène Gallimard, "Creating Community Engagement Tools for Visual Artists: Participation in Social Forums, from Durham (SESF) to Nairobi, Kenya (WSF) to Atlanta (USSF)"
  • Ebony Golden, "Risk and Recovery, Cucalorus Film Festival"
  • Hope Clark, "Cultural Equity and Community, Across Cultures"

The team began its presentation by addressing terminology related to the field (''Cultural Organizing,'' ''Cultural Development,'' ''Action Plans,” ''Curriculum'') and documented the participants' definitions.

  • Curriculum: best practices; developing leadership programs; evaluation; co-creation; shared knowledge; design; large-term vision.
  • Cultural Organizing: creating solidarity among cultures; action; understanding the specifics, nuances and roots of culture; self-identification; where you are when you enter another culture; timelines for organizing; knowing/understanding the desires, aspirations and hoped-for outcomes of community partners; using cultural forms to organize towards specific goals; engaged listening; breaking gaps between cultures.
  • Cultural Development: creating solidarity; leadership training; integration as opposed to assimilation; embracing one's own culture; creating supportive capacity for the expression of cultures; creating infrastructure; leveraging cultures to develop community; defining culture as a means to understanding; social movements; defining the differences between physical and mental spaces; finding a shared vision; maintaining the identity of cultures and their ground; cultural sustainability.
  • Action Plans: identifying stakeholders; prioritizing criteria; facilitating ideas and defining terms; using a timeline; designing a series of steps towards success; accountability; accomplishing goals; scaffolding a script; creating programs and projects that result in real change; crafting goals that lead to desired outcomes.

Each ROOTS member introduced his or her particular chapter in various ways, using film, dance, diagrams or performances, and proposed questions for participants to ponder. How do you use your art individually and collectively to speak to your community? VIDEO From the local to the trans-local, how can we set up ways to make the powerful act of listening have actionable follow-through steps? VIDEO What is at stake when an artist puts her body on the line in the name of liberation and transformation? VIDEO How can we recognize and make visible what is invisible and has been for a long time, especially when it makes people uncomfortable?

Participants then broke out into four groups to discuss with ROOTS members these questions as they relate to each presented chapter. Participants then came back to the larger group to share their discoveries.

"My breakout group was literally an open mic to spin off the conversation. It felt like everyone needed a moment to vent for clarity, reflect and reset. Everyone offered war stories about their organizations and communities including challenges that came with organizing. Resource mapping was a key bullet point, noting organizations that do similar work and seeing where new partnership opportunities might exist. Everyone related to distractions that make the work suffer: people 'in it' for glory and personal gain; the need to be in charge; hijacking meetings and ruining moments of facilitation. A driving factor in my presentation was the intergenerational factor. It had emerged for me at various stages. Older, more experienced people shared their resources and gave access that helped me in my personal development. Being included in rhizomes, being nominated as a Roots Hip-Hop Scholar, afforded me chances to generate opportunities for others. Later, my group did a round robin of self-identification. I reiterated that I was a 'painter with poetic tendencies.' This segued into the sharing of viewpoints on race …I might identify myself as American of African descent, another might say black, white or Latin. Some might identify with a specific part of Latin America like Dominican and so on. For me, art is critically important to my community organizing. I learned to better facilitate conversations about race by using art as an inanimate stand-in for personal feelings being directed at others. Within the frame of self-identification we talked about titles such as 'activist', 'cultural workers' and 'community organizers'. What do all these things mean and how do we define ourselves? We ended by talking about our artistic lives and how an administrative role in cultural work impacts our creative lives." (Omari Fox)

"I addressed my group's questions about the Social Forum movement and the way people related to our approach, which is based on introducing strangers to one another. We also discussed and attempted to understand how artists and non-artists can develop commonality and mutual support in the practice of art, dissenting from norms and challenging visual arts history as it is taught in the pursuit of social change." (Gwylène Gallimard)

"What is at stake when an artist puts her body on the line in the name of liberation, justice and transformation? 'Risk and Recovery' explored the implications of socially and politically charged art. Over the last two years, RSC and Cucalorus, the film festival based in Wilmington, N.C., has provided learning experiences for festivalgoers to deepen their knowledge base on issues such as immigration rights, racial justice and environmental justice. The Community Arts Convening created an additional opportunity to discuss the risks artists undertake when creating provocative work. Through the lens of image theatre, dialogue and improvisation the participants practiced identifying the different ways in which artists working in community both confront and recover from risk." (Ebony Golden)

"'Cultural Equity and Community, Across Cultures' looked at creating cultural events that support the cultural identity of a community. Additionally, we examined how our work as artists and facilitators of dialogue affect the sensitive power structures within communities. We looked at the definitions for action plans that the group had previously created and applied these to the real-life scenarios brought forth by participants. We discussed how to utilize story, safe spaces, empathy and role-playing to reveal multiple perspectives and shift levels of understanding towards healthy change. We also talked about how much we are capable of accomplishing as individuals – especially in the re-scripting of history and our shared future." (Hope Clark)