MY HOLIDAY WISH: A GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY ARTS PROJECT TO UN-SEGREGATE US
(before we are no more)
By Trayce Gardner
Soon we’ll be thinking about the end of the year. How will it end? Once the elections are past, will bitter battles only escalate ? Will our daily fatigue grow, with the fragmentation of attention and uncertainty about our futures ? In the larger world, there is nothing we can individually do to suddenly turn on a light. But in our everyday, local world – our home, our block, our neighborhoods – is there anything we can do (without huge effort) to create a hopeful atmosphere, and introduce challenges that allow us to feel alive in the now, while connecting us to the strangers next door?
Hopeful, creative moments are easier to generate in your everyday life when you have money. When you have a secure roof. When you have a room of your own, and time. But what happens to a soul when their daily life must focus on safeguarding basic physical and economic survival ? I am an older Black woman, and that group is my ‘us’. Not a group often the center of creative support or inspiration. But I am an outlier; I have spent half my adult life dreaming of how to creatively bridge my ‘us’ to a larger, more affluent world. Sunday, November 6, from 1-4pm, will be my first public attempt to do so in Asheville with the first pop-up Intro Workshop to the ‘BILLIE’S SONG’ SPRING 2023 THEATRICAL READINGS PROJECT. It is hosted by the Story Parlor (227 Haywood Rd) and FREE.
I moved from Brooklyn, NY on September 1st to Asheville. In my visits to Asheville before moving here, I always noticed the segregation (not racism) because I was often the one person of color in groups of white people. So what possessed me to move to Asheville ? Because I had been wowed ! And relaxed. Yes, by the endless nature and vibrant arts (and the breweries !). But also by the openness, the thoughtfulness, the progressiveness of the white people I met, and I spoke to them about the segregation I saw. The natives shared memories of how neighborhoods used to be, growing up with families different from their own who were just considered neighbors. Those who came from Austin or Michigan or New York, shared that they missed living among a mix of cultures. Then I learned about attempts to bring new resources and connections to the Asheville ‘us’ who are in danger of disappearing (if not in body, then in being contributors to the larger culture). Organizations like the Hood Huggers, Co-Think, The Grind, Story Parlor, Building Bridges, as well as an Asheville Reparations Commission and Chamber of Commerce Diversity Initiative. I started to believe Asheville was the perfect place to bring my storytelling projects for community bridging across ages, races, and socio-economic differences.
I created the beginners 'Make A Film' Class Series for adults, and offered it for seven years through NYC College of Technology's Continuing Ed. To shoot our short films students went out on community scavenger hunts for gifts or loans of props, wardrobe, set pieces, soundtrack music, locations, and consultation time from professionals. Both those who gave and those who received had fun and shared their stories. For the proposed Spring 2023 ‘BILLIE’S SONG’ Theatrical Readings we will recruit community members from diverse neighborhoods to be cast and crew and mount the feature script as a theatrical production. The script has half Black characters and half White (with a few roles that can be other races). The goal will be to rotate performance locations, from an art gallery to a church to a public housing community center to a storefront business, to draw-in people who don’t normally gather socially together.
In doing outreach to introduce the project, I spoke with Evette Smith, the Director of Property Management for Asheville Public Housing. She told me, as far as she knows, there's never been any contact or programs connecting Asheville artists with public housing residents.
( No?! I immediately thought, What about an Annual ‘Turnabout’ Art Show ? Where budding artists of all ages from Asheville’s public housing developments put on a show in a River Arts Gallery, and Asheville artists put on a show in a public housing community center ?)
Ms. Smith said it would be wonderful if our project can help establish that connection. There are so many talented adults, in addition to talented teens, in public housing who are artists -- always creating music or drawing or designing clothes or coming up with recipes or transformative makeup and hair -- who are hungry to learn. Even if they never become professional artists, their everyday lives will be elevated just by having contact and dialogue with Asheville's professional artists, entrepreneurs, and other types of neighbors they might not otherwise have contact with.
The ’BILLIE’S SONG’ Theatrical Readings Project aims to include ‘us’ at the center of the creative experience – with everyone else. Register for the first Intro Workshop on Sunday, November 6, 1-4pm, Story Parlor, 227 Haywood Road. Join our list to be notified when we schedule other introductory workshops: firstname.lastname@example.org.