What Thousand Currents is learning from artists about vulnerability, courage, and social change

Thousand Currents’ artists-in-residence program is launched and off and running, and artistic special powers are running through all of us in the Thousand Currents team. We’ve not quite assimilated the incredible experience of stepping into our creative experiences, but here’s a start at sharing it with our community.

We entered with trepidation but also great excitement, for we knew something powerful was about to unleash. We’re professional, competent nonprofit staff. We analyze. We synthesize. We strategize. We plan. We reflect – all things that artists do.

But you see, Sharon Bridgforth and Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, accomplished interdisciplinary artists in the theatrical jazz aesthetic, scholars, and incredible humans that they are, are introducing a creative process that values the gift of presence, cultivated in self and with each other as a team, as an essential ingredient in living our obligations as grantmakers and effective partners to leaders in the Global South.

By Day 3 of our workshop, Thousand Currents staff – every one of us – were performing deeply personal and intensely vulnerable works. Dance, spoken word, visual arts, narrative, performance – we laid our souls bare. Not just to each other, but to strangers.

The Thousand Currents staff and our artists-in-residence on Day 5 of the program.
To stop and consider that many of us did not consider ourselves “creatives,” this was astounding to all of us! The process of opening ourselves up in such a safe and open space, has already enabled some innovative and introspective moments as we’ve been looking at our analysis, our strategy, our plans in new ways. But more on that later…

We are just beginning to unpack, understand, and integrate all that we’ve learned from our work with Sharon and Omi. Here are some initial insights:

1) Vulnerability and Courage  

To tell the truth, to dig deep, to go to sometimes dark or painful places, to craft personal experience into something one can share – is the source of art. Omi led us through movement so we could access the stored intelligence in our bodies, the wisdom that is beyond cerebral. “Your body only has to make sense to you,” she encouraged. We were invited to get inside of our brokenness. “Your broken heart is the place of magic, of healing, of transformation,” reminded Sharon.  

Over and over again through this process, Omi and Sharon invited us to dive deeper into our most tender, wounded, sweet places so we could pull the fuel for our art from that very human place. To do this, we started with our greatest life challenges. “Whatever is the most difficult for you to work through is what is truest for you and that is what you mine through as a guide for how you show up,” said our artists-in-residence.

Thousand Currents partners work on a daily basis with great courage and such commitment to human dignity under very difficult circumstances, to solve the most intractable challenges facing their communities. We, in solidarity as partners, are finding many ways to practice our own vulnerability and courage muscles!

2) Accompaniment

The musical definition of this word seems so apropos to us now – an instrumental or vocal part that supports the person singing or playing a musical instrument. We accompanied and generously witnessed each other’s creative process. And in this witnessing, we were each transformed.

By “trusting the process” as Sharon often reminds us, we learn to learn, show up, embody what we know to be true. And through accompanying and being accompanied, we learned the value of community. Community has the capacity to connect us to our inmost sources of power, our lineage, our past and our potential.

Our partners are playing the melody. We accompany our partners, just as Sharon, Omi, and our team walked with each other.

3) Joy

We discovered that this creative process generates great joy. This joy is liberatory for the artist, as well as for the audience. Grief can co-exist with laughter, we learned. We practiced our unique and collective tools to transform our greatest challenges into works of beauty. We celebrated each other through ritual, ceremony, performances, food, music, and dance.  

Raising resources is not easy. Building alliances and deepening relationships takes time. At the same time, they are all sources of joy. If we emphasize on the joy, we will move forward and more creatively with our work, shedding the martyrdom sometimes inherent in our nonprofits. We committed and recommitted to great joy in all we do, as a tribute to our partners, our ancestors, and to our collective strength.

***

Here’s a poem assembled from the words shared by Thousand Currents staff, Omi, and Sharon at the end of our powerful, transformative sessions together, each line from an individual.

Source

What if we are all virtuosos?
Tenderly paying attention,
balancing experimentation & lineage, innovation & wisdom, making magic possible,
with new lenses, new eyes,
seeking lightness.
What is my body saying? Listen:
Write your own story
A gateway to yourself.
Delight in offering ourselves to each other,
because any moment holds cataclysmic change.
You are never finished.

And we know we’ve only just begun. As our work with the artists continues into the rest of the year, we look forward to sharing more learning and insights.

Watch this space! Much more to come!

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