Thank you to everyone who made this year’s Life.Art.Being integrative arts festival amazing. Against the backdrop of such uncertain times, I could not have wished for a more nourishing and strengthening week. The creative and contemplative practices we shared can build the underlying support necessary to be with the collective swells of despair, overwhelm, possibility and change.
On the festival’s first day, as I was packing up for our morning at Kelley Point Park, I held a copy of the Festival Guide in my hands. Putting this together, our first printed program, was a fun & rewarding process; and I feel proud to have a document that captures the spirit and intent of Life.Art.Being. That said, as my eyes swept over its cover that morning, I saw the collage I made years ago – now much larger than its original size which enabled me to see it in greater detail. I saw the bright colors and the joyful faces in it. And then I saw something in that collage that I had never noticed before: Blackface.
I felt the wind knocked out of my body. My stomach dropped. Where did that come from? And how did it get here of all places – as the defining image for an event dedicated to the healing of our world? I consulted a wise and compassionate friend who said “Yes. This is what we’re all doing. You don’t see it until you see it.” Indeed. And in that moment, if you’re lucky, you will be horrified by what you see.
Intentional or not, white privilege allows our conscious and unconscious minds to render the painful manifestations of racism invisible. I thought of my sister-in-law and two biracial nephews, my friends & colleagues, and the larger community in which I live. I thought of my prior marriage to an Arab Muslim man. Of my neighbors who lost their daughter to violent crime this year. It’s hard to talk about any one part of our current social landscape without tapping a vast reservoir of personal assumptions, experiences, pain, confusion and, of course, love.
At the Planetary Dance that morning, I dedicated my dance to the human capacity for feeling remorse and making amends.
The next evening, we gathered at Be Space for the Truth Mandala, a ceremony of radical truth-telling that is part of Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects. One by one we entered the mandala and expressed our fear, anger, emptiness and grief for the world. Each of us meeting the moment as it is, and challenging ourselves into honest acknowledgement of what we find there. This is the work of our time – finding the shining thread of humanity within us, being willing to touch the painful epicenter of our separation from each other, and sharing what we witness.
After a week of re-awakening a sense of belonging in the world and practicing creative and embodied responses to it, I looked again at the cover of the Festival Guide. I thought about the power and role of creativity in social change. How art can be used to either reinforce or challenge what we think we know about our world. How creative expression shapes the collective landscape and enlivens our imagination.
Genuine art – compassionate and generous – is one of the most crucial tools of magic at our disposal in the task of healing ourselves and our world. It is part of the spell that weaves our world, and it is completely available to us all as a means of shifting the story in any single moment.
I picked up a Sharpie and wrote tiny stitches into the blackface of my collage – turn the corner inside us. We are all looking for ways that we can change the spell and mend our world. For me, for now, my way is to be humble and honest about my blind spots around race, and to practice the creative means that I believe will help us turn the corner toward a culture of wholeness.