2016 Week Five: Arts
I had another great week at the Eubie Blake Center! I applied for my first grant, which isn’t that exciting simply because I know I’ll be writing grant applications for the rest of my life. I procrastinated writing it for a while because I’m always afraid to try new things and I’m terrified of rejection. I’m glad that I’ve submitted it and that I can add grant writing to my growing list of skills. I haven’t gotten to do to much work in the Eubie Gallery, so I was really excited when my boss told me that I’m curating our October exhibit. I’ve decided to have an October Open Show, where we will feature young artists of color who haven’t been exhibited in the Eubie Gallery before. I’ve already enjoyed working with the people I reached out to thus far, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the show turns out. I want to host a show where conversations about race, violence, gender, police, etc. are had. By refusing to shy away from controversial topics, the Eubie Blake Center can be a meeting space to confront these difficult topics and to have tough conversations that will hopefully bring us closer together as a community. I’m not really artistically gifted myself, so one of the perks of my job has been the proximity to live talent. I want to be able to use my platform to bring exposure to artists of color who find it more difficult to promote their work in white spaces. Obviously the arts scene in Baltimore is racially segregated, and I want to make sure the center is doing everything it can to support artists of color. Besides the October Open Show, I’m also excited to host an upcoming community visioning session with Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District, the arts district where the Eubie Blake Center is located. We will be inviting our community members and constituents in order to learn about the needs and desires of the community. After the visioning session, I think my boss and I will be able to better plan our fall schedule because we’ll know what the community wants to see. I’m looking forward to the chance to better engage with community members, and I hope this session will give us a better idea of what the future holds for the Eubie Blake Center.
For this fifth week of CIIP, I decided to shake up my routine. I began the week having moved out of the dorms and into an off-campus which made me feel a little bit more a part of Charles Village and a veritable city dweller (in addition to being just a Hopkins student). Living even just a few blocks closer to my worksite–in conjunction with trying to better understand the neighborhoods around school–resulted in a growing inclination to commute by walking as opposed to biking to 901 Arts . To be fair, I rode my bike some mornings since it’s easy to bring around/use for work errands and also because zooming down the steep hills of Better Waverly streets has become part of a daily tradition. But crossing over from Greenmount and onto Montpelier in the mornings and at night after work, I’m able to see faces new and old that I had overlooked in biking to work. I don’t want to attribute all of this to means by which I commuted, but this week I began to really understand how 901 Arts functions as a arts center for the neighborhood. When it’s a 98 degree day and it’s too sweltering to go to the field–or so one would infer by the stories of sandals melting into the pavement outside–parents come to 901 Arts and sit on the bench in the front hallway to relax, cool off and talk for a bit while their children head to the back to play on the drum machine or work on their ongoing art projects. There are so many people that linger in the main room of 901 Arts each day–I don’t get a chance to talk to anyone for too long, but it speaks to how friendly the parents are that wave to me when I’m in the neighborhood.
When I don’t have the time during the day to play a game with the kids at camp because I’m doing a million and one other tasks, it feels extra rewarding to be greeted by “Ms. Sophie!” and a sea of hugs on my walk back home. Earlier in the week, I didn’t think that any of the kids really knew me that well since, even though I’m around during the day, I’m not exactly their counsellor. Sometimes I would try to force conversations so that they knew who I was. But sitting on the bus on our Friday trip to Artscape helped me get a better understanding of how I interact with kids, how the campers interact with one another, and when to decide the best time to chime into their conversations vs. when it’s better to sit back and just listen. This summer, I’m learning that teaching material to kids is challenging for me. But just because teaching is a challenge doesn’t mean that kids don’t have a lot to say, and doesn’t mean that I should let my past frustrations get in the way of getting to understand the kids’ perspectives.
This past Monday, I was ready to go to bed at 8:30. I had worked until 2 AM the night before and could feel myself physically buckling due to a sleep deficit.
When I got home from my second job, I immediately sprawled out in bed, taking no account of the laundry and various personal affects scattered atop the mattress. Relief at last.
Buzz buzz. My iPhone – lodged haplessly under the pillow I was resting my head on – gravely heralded what was surely some yet-unrecognized responsibility or neglected friend. My sleepy inertia gave way to a mild, curious annoyance. I brought the phone level to my face, inches away from my straining eyes.
A text from Ignacio, my lead artist and day-to-day de facto boss. It read something like:
“Hi Simon, sorry to butter you, but I am hoping we can paint again tomorrow night.”
At least I’m getting a good buttering.
This text humorously encapsulated two of the major difficulties I had this past week: fatigue and a communication lapse/language barrier. After volunteering more of my time than I had bargained for helping to trace the mural late at night over the weekend, I was confronted with a full workweek of days that started at 7:30 AM and ended at 8:00 PM, split between my internship and my part-time AV job. On top of that, Ignacio was doggedly pushing for more volunteer painting shifts.
Even though I had communicated to Ignacio that I’m 100% there for the mural, I had to take a step back this week and communicate to him and my site supervisor, Nora, that the extra work was cutting into my personal life and sleep schedule. I definitely wasn’t the only intern who was feeling this way, so this led to a broader discussion about work/life balance and other expectations. I can’t help comparing this to a union negation in my imagination, for drama’s sake, but it really wasn’t a huge deal. Heading into next week, I’m expecting a bit more notice about volunteer nights, and the other interns and I feel more comfortable turning down extra hours for the sake of maintaining ourselves outside of work.
It was 3 o’clock on Thursday afternoon. We had two hours left in the day. My group of four students is in a semi-circle. One sits restlessly behind a desk, waiting impatiently to act out her role again. Another stands behind the camera. A third holds a zoom recorder, and the last holds a boom pole longer than he is tall, and insists on hitting a pipe that runs through the ceiling with it. I called his name out yet again.
I had already said this student’s name approximately 52 times that day, and we were both equally annoyed by this fact. It was at this moment that I realized what an odd age middle school students are at, and how much I needed to improve my ability to work with them.
The week was not bad, let me start by saying that. I just have not worked with middle schoolers in a while and had forgotten how they work. I forgot that middle school is the age when it’s cool to be angsty about everything. The angst reached the point that I had to stop the group’s video shoots and editing a few times to remind students that you do not have to tell others they are bad at everything to make yourself good at something; that it is enough to be good at something. That it is even better to tell others what they are good at, too. It doesn’t discredit your abilities in any way, and that is the beauty of being good at things. There are enough roles in filmmaking that everyone can, and needs to be, good at many different things to make the project work.
My goal moving forward next week is to find a way to help the students focus, even on those days when it’s too stormy or hot to go outside, so that they can get the most out of the workshops. Looking back I realize I came into the week with the same mindset I had for the high school students during the weeks prior. While the middle school students are still talented, they are much less experienced and I need to be able to provide more guidance throughout the project to ensure students do learn from the week and hopefully enjoy the process in the meantime.