Newsletter Article - June 2007
The Living Arts Institute, Inc. seeks to create cultures of peace and re-generate community inter-generationally through the arts and education. Its mechanisms are built around creating venues for the community at large and/or disparate groups to come together and explore socially relevant topics. The benchmark for a topic to enter the spotlight is its capacity to draw us together and remind us of our common humanity and interdependence.
The Living Arts Institute’s model grows out of several theorists. We see that 'Our communities face many challenges today. Seniors encounter ageism; Youth are adrift; Neighborhoods are fragmented. People often keep to their own kind. We have found that generating community creates solutions to these problems' (Burnham & Perlstein, 1995). We also know that social engagement in aging populations has a positive influence on general health and reduced mortality (Avlund, Damsgaard, and Holstein, 1998 : Glass et al., 1999, Cohen 2006). And that creative expression mitigates the high burden of cost associated with alzheimers and depression in older individuals (Cohen 2006). Additionally, the community development work of researchers John Kretzmann and John McKnight shows that by tapping the capacities of a community, group, or of individuals rather than seeing them through a needs based lens resulting in programming to deficits, mobilizes the community and builds what Robert Putnam defines as ‘social capital’.
Capacity based community-programming draws out the gifts and talents within groups and individuals often perceived as liabilities with deficiencies, like elders and youth. This principle can also be applied to a collective perception like that of a blighted neighborhood (Dudley Street Project, Boston). This approach liberates and builds new neighbors in new ways, dissolves stereotypes, and is key to the understanding of the “other” which predictably strengthens the fabric of the community and raises its social and community capital, and safety.
LAI’s production arm, Big & small Mask Troupe’s method and process of community engagement grows out from the principles and practices of Joseph Campbell, Augusto Boal, Percy MacKaye and Greek theatre for its democratic performance model. The Greeks developed a civic theatre festival, City Dionysia, where dialogue around thematic material imbedded in the tragedies spawned democratic principles. MacKaye, drawing from the Greeks, incorporated masks in his unique Americanized Democratic Theatre model at the turn of the twentieth century. In this century, Campbell challenged humanity to envision a new mythology for our time, recognizing the depth and richness of myth for individual and social meaning and health. And Boal, also in this century, utilized theatre in the political arena also as a dialogic tool to explore the social outcomes prior to passing law. Big & small draws on and weaves together these historical, social, environmental and archetypal strands. Through creative formats and by working holistically, Big & small explores fundamental ideas that unite humanity. Each year-long project culminates with a theatrical production animating mythic timeless themes with contemporary resonance believing firmly that the art builds the community as the community builds the art.
This approach fosters new channels of communication between diverse groups, through working intergenerationally and cross-culturally using the ancient synergy of masks, movement, myth, and music. Big & Small’s staff work creatively with diverse people and in partnership with a wide range of community organizations and venues in order to explore social issues through the creative process, like aging for example, the focus of its current project, Two Old Women (www.twooldwomen.org). Through linked art/education workshops and residencies with LAI’s community events (June 16, 2007 Panel Discussion – Re-Imaging Life Over 50: A View For All Ages, and Walk & Talk’s – mobile town meetings held around the Cape) we de-mystify primary elements of our shared human experience; birth-death, generational passages and aging, environmental cycles, interdependence and connection, our individual and collective experience. In so doing, we catalyze our collective will and push open the gates for living into the future positively.