Fall is often seen as the season of transitions. That ‘back to school’ feeling comes up. Not the same way this year though. Has anyone else been feeling like change and uncertainty has become the new normal? Is that a newly surfaced deeper truth? Impermanence made obvious…
“Life is in the Transitions” is the title of a new, suspiciously well-timed book by Bruce Feiler. In an interview, he says that a year of research into the life stories of hundreds of people gave him and his team a new way of seeing how our lives unfold. Spoiler alert: lives are often nonlinear. We don’t ascend to middle age, have a crisis, and decline as we age, inevitably. We don’t have one occupation, one family, or one home, and life changes often continue right into the last decades. The hack is getting really good at transitions. Our lives, like the weather, are full of complexity, with periods of order and disorder, chaos and change. There, I just saved you $16.99.
[Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book. But I intend to.]
I can see how this framing is meeting the moment for so many. Fieler says that the pandemic is a collective involuntary ‘lifequake’. What in resilience theory would be called a sudden shock. Without permission, across the world, lives have changed (save for the few societies who are not connected to the globalized economy or viral vectors and have kept it that way) There seems to be a binary choice: hang on to the way things have been, in whatever way we can, and hope for a return to that state…or enter a state of transition and create something new. Personally, I seem to be ponging between those two states.
So how does this relate to Community Arts Council of Vancouver and the practice of community arts? There is both necessity and opportunity in this moment. The strategic plan we made in early 2019 may not respond to this moment, and there are other possibilities opening up. This is a time to reflect, and check or change our direction. The way we deliver our programs has to shift to accommodate COVID and the restrictions on gatherings. And that leads to a workshop series “Getting Outsider Artists Online” for Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival participants.
There is a widening awareness of systemic racism and colonialism, the water of white supremacy that we all swim in, and that leads to the possibility for our Reframing Relations program to work with a whole new set of organizations and businesses. And to our stronger commitment to anti-oppression and equity work within the organization.
We’ve been wanting to apply community arts to meeting chronic stresses and sudden shocks in Vancouver, and now a new public health emergency raises the stakes and also challenges our ability to do that work as we had envisioned. Partnerships are feeling like a big ask, and yet more necessary than ever. How can we lighten the lift through what we offer?
Pivot. The word of 2020? Or a recognition that it helps to turn and look in a different direction to see what may be missing from the linear view. Move in a new way. Dance with better questions.
Life is in transitions, always. That seems like a very helpful idea, as CACV moves into our 75th Anniversary in 2021 and we think about the role of community arts in contributing to a viable, even thriving future. How might we better channel the energy of communities towards artists, who are seeing their livelihoods threatened or erased, and their mental health eroded? And how might artists direct their skills, their ways of seeing, knowing, and doing, to communities that could most benefit? How might that exchange become more reciprocal and fluid and less hierarchical?
And in all of this, always asking what is meant by community, what defines art or artist, and how to show up with more agility, more wild imagination, more joy, and more care…for more people. So that our ‘we’ can enlarge to include those we have Othered, even as all celebrate their uniquely intersecting identities. Can CACV celebrate and carry forward what is good about our legacy, while letting go of what is harmful or no longer serves, thus making room and inviting what is new and needed to be born? And then…step forward renewed to meet the moment. It’s thrilling, daunting, uncomfortable work. And I feel grateful to be playing my part with those who also care about this potential: the staff, Board, artists, volunteers, and engaged others who are and care about the Community Arts Council of Vancouver. Let’s do this.
What a time to be alive! Take care, be well, and carry onward in your good work in the world,