This is the transcript of Lisa Nelson’s Social Artistry Address for the 2013 Building Creative Communities Conference in Colquitt, Georgia
WHAT IF THERE WERE AN EASY, ENJOYABLE WAY TO ENLIVEN, HEAL, AND STRENGTHEN OUR LIVES AND OUR COMMUNITIES?
Poem: Keep looking
Today’s a day to seek answers,
Because the wind is BLOWING, my sisters and brothers!
I barely settled in to stare down my questions
When a hawk burst up out of a tree
In a wild, wind-tossed effort
To get traction for flying through the air.
My own breath caught
And tears filled my eyes
At the force of the answering gale inside.
Now it feels right to give thanks for my helplessness
And sheer ignorance.
Today is a day to toss out the old meanings.
If you look, their tissues are rotting and mold-covered.
Reject any new explanation that sprouts today,
Especially if it makes promises.
It is a lie.
Fly past the ache in your wings.
This is freedom,
And I see you.
At various times we are inspired and enthused by visions of a new way of being, for ourselves and our communities, society, and the planet. Sometimes we get tired, we wear out. We get alienated, we can’t find the bridge to each other’s hearts, and sometimes we stop looking.
Our task today is to re-enter our enthusiasm for possibility and exchange it like a gift. Specifically, I would like to share the enthusiasms I have for Social Artistry and Community Resilience.
Jean Houston, who spoke here last year, developed Social Artistry as a form of leadership training that directs our attention to our own unrecognized gifts through a variety of processes that demonstrate our possibilities.
Community Resilience is also oriented toward a field of possibility, suggesting that we have design potentials and community assets that can help our communities weather disturbances and thrive, even in floods of global change.
Both Social Artistry and Community Resilience ask us to allow for the possibility of a greater reality. Jean Houston uses a Greek term, entelechy, which is the experience we can have of the person we would be if we had a thousand years to evolve to our full potential. Places have entelechies too. Jean has a great love for the planet and its many cultures, and a vision of each culture developing into its full potential, sharing its particular gifts with all of humanity. Today we are looking at the entelechy of community, and how each community has a gift to give to the world story.
Can you see that? Can you see the possibility of the kind of person you could be? What your community could be like, flourishing and sharing its unique qualities with other communities, as Colquitt has done, as Joy and Karen have done, through the vehicle of Swamp Gravy? The knowledge, the creative potential is there, within each of us, and among us.
Can you remember a time when you have had a great idea or a sudden knowing? It’s hard to describe where that comes from, isn’t it? I invite you to imagine, without exact knowing, that there IS such a place, a presence, a source that is available to you, personally. Take a moment to sense its presence.
Social Artistry is a way to enhance the conditions and qualities that are conducive for receiving those experiences of creativity and insight. It is not the only way, and I’m not making promises. But listen: Aligning ourselves to our best possibilities is an important part of the equation for establishing genuine and thriving communities.
The field of community resilience suggests a great pallet of possibilities that are available to us as Social Artists. Our communities seem to be caught in patterns of housing, work, and transportation that contribute to global climate change. What creative steps can we take to change these patterns? In addition, the long term production capacity for oil is expected to peak and then decline, bringing with it increasing prices. We should be working on ways to reduce our need for oil, ways that are especially designed to fit for our communities.
There are a wide range of land use planning, zoning, pedestrian-friendly, and alternative energy possibilities. Each step needs to reduce the ecological footprint and improve the quality of life, within local, regional, and global capacities. These physical steps are all good, and needed, but we have also learned that resilience works better when a community comes into coherence and collaboration and a vision of its future potential that provides hope and excitement, rather than fear or blame.
Several leaders in the field have thus turned to the project of creating or enhancing the sense of place and community identity as a necessary condition for community resilience. They recommend an appreciative inventory of a place’s social and cultural resources: In your own communities, what are the places that can bring people together? Are they features of natural landscape or local history? Are they public resources, like museums, libraries, churches, local agriculture markets or work? One resilience author, Tim Beatley, recommends festivals and farmers markets, and anything that can heighten the awareness of shared experience, like storytelling, singing, and performance. Sound familiar? Look around! Where are we? What has happened in Colquitt over the last 20 years is a wonderful demonstration of what these writers are saying about resilience.
[invitation]: So let’s do some Social Artistry right now.
I’d like to invite you to relax and breathe in an appreciative sense of your community’s possibilities. It may be the one you are already part of, or one you would like to belong to. Write down the images that may come to mind; think about the landscape, …..where is the water, what kinds of trees, birds… what are the creative activities…WE WILL TAKE 2 MINUTES FOR THIS.
Now take some of the words you have written, and arrange them into a poem, celebrating these real and potential images, bringing out the deeper, mythic qualities of your community…..
Example haiku: using (5/7/5) syllables,
In Colquitt, Georgia
We sing for Swamp Gravy to
Satisfy our souls!
OK? ANOTHER MINUTE
//harvest a few
When something like Swamp Gravy manifests as it has here, it feels like magic, doesn’t it? It’s something that hasn’t been here before. Stepping toward resilience only takes a few people who agree with commitment to work it out and make it happen. It takes a willingness to be open to unexpected possibilities. Social Artistry offers some ways to look for and appreciate these possibilities, and it also helps you find your role in the play of materializing them.
Here are some clues from Social Artistry for community resilience and possibility:
1. Make friends with chaos. When things look or feel chaotic, look for gaps where you can build new emergent patterns. A lot of big systems have cracks in them, don’t they? These cracks allow new growth! When things aren’t working, or when there’s a lot of chaos, there is an opportunity for something new to pop up. In cities throughout the United States, abandoned lots, often the result of economic or property value downturns, have been converted into pocket parks or community gardens, at first for lack of another use, but then recognized as inherently valuable for the neighborhood as a whole. As old patterns break apart, look for new opportunities.
2. Look for ideas that are near the tipping point. Notice that the timing may finally be right for an idea to tip over into realization. Many alternative energy methods have been known for decades, but these days, people are accepting them like never before. Local governments are now setting up solar panels for electricity, and expanding their recycling systems. What else in your community is near the tipping point?
3. Look for the keystone species in your community. A keystone species is a creature in an ecosystem that makes life possible for many other species. The most famous example is the prairie dog, who in digging tunnels for itself, creates a world used by dozens of other prairie species. In communities, there are people who are keystone species. Who is it in your community that is or COULD BE opening up new possibilities for others? (By the way, start carrying a small mirror around to help answer that question).
4. Look for the trimtabs. Trimtabs are small devices that help turn the giant rudders on giant tanker ships. They’re small, and they take a lot less energy to move than would otherwise be necessary for the effort to turn a huge ship. Looking for community trimtabs means looking for those small easily doable projects that can lead to big differences. In one crowded neighborhood, setting aside a single apartment as a community center for the stay-at-home moms to gather and share concerns and ideas helped empower them to work together on behalf of the neighborhood’s children, with after school activities and tutoring. What is that small, easily doable project that can make a big difference?
5. Look at your own passions. There is very likely to be a connection between your passion and something amazing that is waiting to happen in your community, to help it grow into its possibilities. Is it art, music, exercise, cooking, grandchildren, learning? How can you bring that passion into service to your community?
So: Social Artistry suggests that you 1) get to know chaos in a new way, 2) think about timing and tipping points, 3) look for keystone species, and 4) look for trimtab opportunities. And, #5, carry a small mirror to remind yourself that you are the ones who are ready to receive these insights into possibility, and that your passion may be the very thing your community needs.
You, YOU, YOU are the one . . . So I’d like to invite you to return to your poem, to your words of possibility and place, and write a statement of your commitment to be available to help your community become that poem. [time/harvest]
(I commit to being available to new ideas for work and a career that helps my community become more resilient).
Social Artistry and the project of Community Resilience come together then in an invitation to engage with our own possibilities in new ways, and to step into the path of the possibilities that are looking for us.
I’d like to close with another poem:
Loosen your grip
Get a grip, they say,
But listen to the jokers:
Maybe we should be
Loosening our grip!
Honestly, aren’t you tired
Of holding on
As if your life depended on it?
Die before you die
Doesn’t mean seizing up
In a tense death grip
Instead of squeezing the juice out of your experience,
You could look up, open your lips and allow
Divine nectar to trickle in
While you surf-slide with windmill arms
Out of control
Across the dance floor.
“Social Artistry is a beautiful way to tap the inner capacities needed to help create a world that works for everyone.”
Lisa Nelson’s Social Artistry e-mail address: email@example.com