How Thousand Currents’ Artists-in-Residence program is making ripples in my community

By Jennifer Lentfer, Thousand Currents Director of Communications

I held the “salon” in my living room on Tuesday night. Ten of my friends, many of whom didn’t know each other, came and we shared poems that we had long remembered, recently discovered, or freshly written. We ate. We drank. We shared our thoughts, fears, and ideas about the state of our city, our nation, and our selves.

Produce grown by the hands of a beloved friend and served at the salon.

I hosted the “salon” (generically named until a better one comes along) because art, food, and community coming together is such a life-giving force. And this force is something I know I want to nurture in this world after the profound experience (to say the least!) of Thousand Currents’ artists-in-residence program with Sharon Bridgforth and Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones last month.

Since my cousins turned to me, and asked me to write a poem about my grandfather to be read at his funeral, I have known I was a poet, not when first published, mind you. But before our artists-in-residence arrived, my poetry was not something I shared often, even with my close friends. My poetry was always something solitary, for quiet mornings and stolen moments.

No more! My poems are glimpses of the inner most workings of my heart. There’s no need to hide it under a bushel anymore.

And so, buoyed by the brave souls that are my Thousand Currents colleagues in San Francisco and New York, I invited my kind friends, and they gathered. I invited them with the knowledge that my art, my work, and my life are woven together. Why not weave in my DC community too?

Here’s what I learned from our artists-in-residence that gave me the courage to have the salon (during which I read two new poems):

  • Drafts and revisions can be a trusted tool. So what if I just wrote the poem this morning, and I’m reading it in front of people, scribbles, and cross-outs, and stumbling over words? I will learn something in the sharing. I will see and hear and feel how my poems are received. I learned from Omi and Sharon that this is the sacred honing of the craft, and that those who are called to witness it with generosity and non-judgment will usher it to a new level of expression.
  • This “artist” thing is not an activity. “It’s the way we live our lives.” At one point during the artists-in-residence program, I asked Omi and Sharon about “off days.” Everyone has to have them, right? Some days we can be more present to our feelings and what’s going on around us than others, right? Their response rocked my world a bit. “It’s not about on or off days,” Sharon responded. “It’s the way we live our lives.” Whoa.
  • To claim and name our lived experience is the source of creativity, authority, joy, and transformation. My friends are also sources of this for me (and many others). So if I could share just a drop of the wisdom Sharon and Omi shared with us at Thousand Currents, then I definitely wanted to share the love. Stepping into our experiences and sharing them through art brings more courage, humility and empathy to all our lives.

So if I’m a poet, and a Director of Communications, and a cook and a hostess, and a Washington, DC resident, and a friend to farmers, I’d better bring all that love together, whenever I can.

(The date for the next salon is already planned!)

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