And You Thought Developing A New Performance Piece Was Hard

Watching the latest webinar on the Creating Connection initiative from ArtsMidwest, I am pleased to see the progress that is being made. The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs has embraced it and has made it a central part of their efforts, organizing seminars and training sessions throughout the state.

I don’t mean to gloss over and skip quickly past the work that is going on in Michigan, but the second organization featured in the webinar, Mixed Blood Theater had some challenges rolling out a project that echoed my post yesterday.

Mixed Blood’s neighborhood in Minneapolis has a large Somali population. Like the Oakland Museum of California I spoke about yesterday, Mixed Blood has ambitious goals of improving the well-being of their community. They created an initiative they named Project 154 with a aim of:

“bridg[ing] cultural gaps between residents, health providers, promote preventative care, increase trust of health providers and promote personal narrative to boost personal confidence and increase community self-advocacy, using theatre as a core tool to achieve this.”

They had initially hoped to record 154 stories of residents discussing their health. They quickly realized that they didn’t have the degree of trust from the community required to achieve that.

They decided to move to story circles where they provided food, tea and a financial incentive to participants. While they had more people interested in participating than was practical if they wanted to limit the circle size, they ran into some cultural barriers. Women wouldn’t speak with men present, especially in regard to their health; younger people wouldn’t speak in the presence of elders; and interactions were somewhat burdened by the need for translation.

The next attempt at hosting story circles, they had the assistance of a Somali speaker recently hired as a project coordinator. He helped them better understand the cultural nuances of the neighborhood residents. These story circles were lead by a member of the community who had knowledge of the health care system. The circles were separated by gender and age. The groups were smaller and the conversations were more extensive. This allowed Mixed Blood to develop better relationships and trust with participants.

It was at this point they were able to move to the stage of recording the stories of community members. Their goal is 20 instead of 154. Mixed Blood shared these videos with healthcare providers to help them better understand the concerns and perceptions residents had about health care.

As you can see, there was a lot of work involved getting to the point where people would be willing to participate in a video recording. Ten of the 20 have been shot and Mixed Blood has only just recently had women agree to being recorded. All this is part of an ongoing effort much broader than I have described here.

Much as the Oakland Museum did in the article I referenced yesterday, Mixed Blood has identified a problem in the community and how they can contribute to solving it.

In some respects, what they have tried to accomplish has taken a similar amount of time and effort as developing a new performance piece from scratch, workshopping and revising it. The difference is that many of those participating in the many stages of development are generally invested in cooperating toward the same goal. Mixed Blood had to overcome a number of barriers to get to where they are today.

Webinar below. Michigan Council starts at about 8:45 mark, Mixed Blood Theatre around 30:30 mark.

 

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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