Lab Report: My Experience as an Artist-Investigator

By Ayodele Nzinga

It’s hard to know where to start. I always like the beginning. I like big pictures and story/stories. So I think that’s where I will start.

Pictured: Ayodele Nzinga

As an artist it’s hard to find funding for work. The places that offer funding often offer direction as well as funding—thus they become collaborators in the project.

If the funders want you to collaborate with another entity, they too come to the table as collaborator.

When the work comes with a deadline and a set of collaborators, each invested from a different perspective and potentially representing different populations with divergent goals for a commonly derived project, a type of crucible is formed.

To imagine art coming from this crucible can be challenging.

Challenges include:

  • How to hold on to and serve the inspiration that brought you into the room
  • How to be open to not serving that inspiration as you envisioned or imagined it (can your Bird of Paradise seed grow a Meyer Lemon Tree?)
  • Reimagining how to find your inspiration (something of what brought you in the room), inside the things that brought the other collaborators into the room
  • Practicing leaderless/leaderful interaction that results in the production of knowledge that in turns supports action/doing
  • Investing fully and engaging soulfully with the Meyer Lemon Tree
  • Finding the way in which the Meyer Lemon Tree serves the Bird of Paradise seed
  • How to facilitate equal collaboration when collaborators are invested differently, and the acknowledgement that funders are unacknowledged collaborators as well, who influence the trajectory and the boundaries of projects, further complexifies the collaborative art making process

To imagine not making art when given a chance is inconceivable.   Especially if support is offered that facilitates your exploration of what might come of your interaction with Meyer Lemon Trees and you can negotiate the challenges above while engaging the process of making art.

As an artist, I find collaboration an interesting animal. I am not sure I like it, but I understand its importance. The things collaboration gifts are and are not art-making related. That is, the bigger lessons and blessing that come from collaboration transcend the art making process to live in how one addresses the world and builds community.

It is a space in which one must advance ideas as a part of showing up fully, at the same time one must hold space for the ideas of others and view them with as much value as ones own, while helping to facilitate the advancement of a project that in some way reflects our mutually derived vision.

In closing, the process of making art is always as interesting as the art that is the product of the process. The fusion of artist with the practice of research/investigation adds a layer on top of the complexity inherent in collaboration. I am looking forward to the soul of this endeavor which for me lies somewhere beyond the negotiation of the things I have written about here.

So far the experience has been very cerebral and that’s satisfying to my scholar soul – but the artist in me looks forward to painting with my fingers and getting clay beneath my fingernails.

Maybe next time I will blog about how collaboration invites you to be bigger than your dreams of Birds of Paradise.

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Announcing The Triangle Lab’s 2014 Artist-Investigators

Clockwise, from top left: Paul Flores, Elizabeth Gjelten, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, and Krista De Nio.

Clockwise, from top left: Paul Flores, Elizabeth Gjelten, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, and Krista De Nio.

In the Triangle Lab, Cal Shakes’ research and development wing, we experiment with ways to bring together theaters, artists, and communities to ignite change. We believe that through deep collaboration, artists and community members can lift up each other’s work—starting conversation, sharing stories, bridging difference, and activating deeper civic participation.

Our Artist-Investigator Project asks artists to lead our investigation into what the performances of the future might look like, and help us discover what happens when the arts are more deeply integrated into community life.

We are delighted to announce this year’s four Artist-Investigators:

Paul Flores working with Causa Justa::Just Cause

Elizabeth Gjelten working DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing)

Krista De Nio working with Berkeley Food and Housing

Dr. Ayodele Nzinga working with Green Life Project/Pathways 2 Resilience

In 2013, we invited ten artists into the inaugural round to conduct projects that investigated new locations for performance and new methods for community collaboration. You can read more about their projects here.

In the 2014 round of the Artist-Investigator program we will be creating partnerships between artists and non-profit organizations to investigate how the skills of theater artists can help address community issues.

Our Hypothesis: Theater artists have key skills that can be deployed outside the rehearsal room to help community organizations advance their missions

Our Desired Outcomes

1. Organizations can demonstrate specific impact from the project in a mission area they’ve identified.

2. This impact is possible with a relatively small budget ($5000) and investment of time by the artist (about 60 hours).

The Projects

Four artists with experience in performance and community engagement were selected via an open call. Each artist will work with one organization to develop a project together. These small-budget projects will be conducted over the course of one year, and documented carefully so they can serve as models for future collaborations between our sectors. Projects will be driven by the needs of the partner organization and will identify what theatrical skills, techniques, and processes will be most useful to that organization. Projects may or may not include public or invited performances.

We’ve begun exploring what kinds of skills these artists might share with their partner organizations, although we don’t know what will arise from these specific collaborations. For example:

As expert storytellers , theater artists can work with staff, clients or other stakeholders to gather, shape and share relevant stories in dynamic and powerful ways.  Stories – written, performed, or online – can animate public interest, influence key decision-makers, and activate public gatherings.

As skilled story coaches , theater artists can work with clients to find their own voices through training in writing and performance.  Clients can be prepared to advocate for themselves by claiming the power of their own stories and taking charge of their own narratives.

As rehearsal experts, theater artists know how to rapidly try, discard, and reinvent solutions to problems we discover.  Artists can work with staff to brainstorm new programming or to address places where discussion is stuck and work with clients to rehearse solutions to life problems.

As trained team-builders , theater artists can offer skill-building workshops in many areas such as team-building and meeting facilitation skills, public speaking, writing, etc.

As event producers, theater artists can help shape the structure and content of events, celebrations, demonstrations, and other public events, helping to make these events more powerful, enjoyable, and memorable.

We’re very excited to be working with these outstanding artists and this range of extraordinary non-profits.  Watch this blog for more updates on this project throughout the year.

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Beginning Again: The Love Balm Institute

By Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator in Residence Arielle Julia Brown

The Love Balm Project is a theater of testimony workshop series and performance based on the testimonies of mothers who have lost children to violence. The Love Balm Project currently collaborates with six mothers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Last summer, with support from the Triangle Lab, we hosted site specific performances in the spaces where the young men—sons of the mothers—had been murdered. These performances took place on street corners, in front of homes, at a BART station, in front of a church, on the porch of a mothers’ home and on a MUNI train platform. These performances met the communities in the spaces that haunt them and the spaces we learn to forget. Naturally, it was in these spaces that more mothers and community members began to inquire about getting involved in this work. Mothers approached me after performances, family members took my contact information to give to other mothers they knew.

This leads me to the beginning of my current investigation with The Triangle Lab. How is it that a grassroots arts collective recreates itself? How do we move in full awareness of our limited capacity as facilitators and yet be open and permeable for new knowledges, new community members, new stakeholders? What does it look like structurally to have an open space for all mothers to find and make space in their neighborhoods to tell and witness their stories? I am in deep search of what these answers could look like for the Love Balm Project. The only place I knew to begin is with the Love Balm workshop series. The workshop series features 4 workshops for mothers and community artists to gather together and perform, witness and creatively write their testimony. So I began to imagine in the middle of last year’s site specific investigation, what would it look like to have an institute to train other artists, mothers and cultural workers in how to facilitate a Love Balm Workshop series or group. In the Love Balm Institute we collectively questioned this work, reviewed and adapted the curriculum, witnessed mothers’ testimonies, explored applied theatre methods including original games, playback theatre, drama therapy and theatre of the oppressed and finally strategized about workshopn structures and funding models. The Love Balm Institute was supported by The Triangle Lab, Eastside Arts Alliance and The Akonadi Foundation. The institute took place from May 23rd–25th in Oakland.

Several amazing cultural workers attended the institute. The cultural workers live and work with communities throughout the state of California. Please see their bios below to see what kind of work they are doing in communities already. Each of them have studied and taken their training from the institute to start planning love balm workshops and community circles for the communities they work and live in. The cultural workers will facilitate the Love Balm workshop series with mothers, LGBTQ youth, young men and women of color who have both perpetrated and survived acts of violence. Check out their projects below alongside their bios. I will continue to post updates as their projects progress.

 

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