2016 Week Four: Arts
You can have the most fun of all when things don’t go as planned.
In the self-care exercise on the first day of orientation, at the front and center of my mandala, I cut and pasted “I didn’t expect this” out of a magazine. It’s as if everyday, whether I like it or not, I am testing myself to use this quote as an overarching guide for my internship. The midpoint event this Thursday was an interesting experiment of how I might try to summarize to other people what I’ve been doing over the course of the past month. I never walk into work and have the same task to do as the day before. I usually find out what I’m doing for the day within a few minutes of stepping into work. I can’t usually plan ahead for things that my boss wants me to do, because there’s no real structure to my day. Wherever I look, I’m thrown into unfamiliar situations and have take things as they come, like transporting a shopping cart overstuffed with gardening supplies down a hill with 3 Youth Workers and dealing with the aftermath of its inevitable collapse.
That brings me to another thought. Last week I had mentioned that I wanted to get closer to the Youth Works workers at my site. A week later I think that we’re starting to learn to respect each other’s company a little bit more. Sometimes I do feel weird instructing them to do things like clean the building when a) it’s something I could do myself and b) all I do is watch them and could probably do something more office-oriented that would be more fulfilling. But this week, when I explained why it was important that we do this for 901 Arts as a whole, it put my outlook on my internship into perspective. There was something about explaining to them the importance of their jobs that made me reconsider the function of my own job. On Thursday, the midpoint speakers reminded us that the jobs we were doing are important–and when they said that, I had trouble believing them. But I think that I have to take some distance and think about how I’ve been able to meet people I’d likely never have met, and slowly, my job is starting to become clearer and more meaningful to me.
I couldn’t help but feel a bit pigeonholed when I found out that I would be in the arts group this summer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely interested in visual art, but I also don’t know what I’m really interested in, and I suppose I had anticipated a placement in something like public health or education, something that registers as directly impactful on people’s lives.
Regardless, my experiences painting have connected to contemporary social and health issues like homelessness, addiction, and the drug trade/prohibition. Many of those experiences have arisen from this past week. Since we’re finally out on the avenue painting every day, my responsibilities have shifted to involve a lot more interaction with community members, a considerable number of whom are addicts. There’s truly a spectrum of different faces in the crowd here; the vast majority of folks are friendly if you engage them (or just allow them to engage you), but several are belligerent. The latter are palpably draining.
This past weekend, members of the painting team had to work late every night – usually 8pm-1am – to outline the mural with an Epson projector, aided by the nighttime conditions. The other intern Tariq and I took turns using the spray-paint and watching the equipment. Contrary to my assumptions, watching the equipment was never an inactive job; simply standing around on that end of the block at any time of day demands the energy to engage or deflect interested passerby.
Early on in the night, I had a very memorable and uplifting conversation to an older man I met named Rahim. He was admiring the mural and musing about how it reminded him of “the old days” (his words) on the avenue. I asked him questions about changes he’d seen in the neighborhood since the 1960s or so, and the conversation ended fruitfully with him giving me his number. He’s interested in doing an oral history sort of thing about some of Jubilee’s mural sites we’re painting this summer. I’m really excited to do this – it’s as if I’ve struck intern gold.
Anyways, as we worked our way down the block last night, we got closer and closer to the 24-hour mart on the corner. Outside of the corner store, young guys sitting on milk cartons duck back into the store between sodas and cigarettes. One yells something to the order of “greentops, greentops, on ya girl” incessantly.
Funny enough, the noise from the generator we were using to power our equipment began to drown out these calls and generally annoy the boys on the corner. One of them called Tariq over for a chat – we were interrupting business. I don’t mean to indulge my perspective on this too much, but it was interesting painting just a few feet from the operation; an interesting place to be a fly on the wall. There’s a mural pun in there somewhere.
“Inhale deeply, and hold it for four counts,” Jea’s voice read the script out slowly. This week youth workers recorded two voice overs, one featuring a student and one featuring a professional voice actor, to create pieces on meditation for school and work environments. The pieces required hours of work to simply record. “Go again, pretend you’re speaking to a class. They’re in front of you listening,” Josh, another youth worker instructed.
I don’t want to say I was surprised, because that is not the right word exactly. But I was impressed, yet again, by how professional the students are. They know what needs to be done to get better takes and better edits, and they challenge me to find ways to help them to continue to grow and improve. Working with them excites me, it gives me insight into what they feel needs to be in these videos to speak to their peers and the community. I feel that the goals I set for myself at the start are attainable. I have already been able to do so much more with the community and Wide Angle than I anticipated coming into it and I am grateful for that.