Sweat trickles down my back. There is no air down here in the subway, except for that momentary breeze as a train rushes by. When it's gone, however, the air is once again stale, filling up the space of the dim platform. So I clamber up the stairs to the exit, light at the end of the tunnel, and am met with sunshine and smells and noise, noise, noise as the world opens up before me.
Summertime in New York City.
It's a bustling place, people and cars rushing to their destinations, all dwarfed by large buildings and web-like scaffolding, a rhythm all its own and distinctly 'New York'.
I am here with The Movement Project...our company determined to increase our skill set and build on what we can offer our own city, Cleveland. Excited to learn and still half-delirious on our NBA win--go Cavs!--we made our way to Gibney Dance Center (the Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center), a lovely facility across the street from City Hall.
This is the first day of our ICAT training (short for Institute for Community Action Training), a program developed by Gibney to share its model of support and programming, specifically for those who have survived domestic violence. This training, however, would be multi-dimensional; the tools we learned here could be incorporated in any number of ways to help any part of the community.
We met with incredibly friendly and hardworking people; both Gibney staff and other trainees alike. After an icebreaker, we dive right in; we are actually taking part in one of their workshops as though we are survivors. This allows us first-hand experience of the program rather than just hearing about it third-party. We can actually see the inner machinations at work.
I won't go into details--if you're interested in the three-day training, you should try it for yourself--but after the workshop, we reflected upon the program and broke it down into easily digestible bits. We talked about survivors and how best to approach the workshop.
All in all, it was a remarkably productive day.
We all went home feeling inspired and ready for Day Two, which was a day dedicated to information. The questions were asked...What is intimate partner violence? What does this population need? What do they face? The discussion we had was significant, and was lead by Beth Silverman-Yam, the Clinical Advisor to Gibney's work.
So...what does this population need? In short, they need someone to listen. Eye contact. Breath. Self love. Agency.
The list goes on, of course, but that last one stuck out the most to me, personally. So often do survivors of intimate partner violence feel like they have no choice...and allowing them a space to safely make choices is important. Using art as a tool to help them move forward, take up space, and have agency is a great step forward. And dance is perfect for that...you can't not take up space while dancing.
Like I said, I won't go into details. If you want more information, I recommend you check out Gibney's website here. What I really want to focus on is how this affects us, TMP, and how we can use this to help our community here in Cleveland.
Community Action Through Art
So, on the last day, Gibney allowed us to start thinking for ourselves; how can we implement the tools we gained to help our respective communities? How can we use the information gleaned to get done what we want to get done?
In order to understand this, I should first go into using art as a vehicle for social change. This is the foundation for all the work Gibney, and many other artistic social-justice warriors, do. Art is the perfect vehicle for community work; it is diverse, creative, transcendent. You can use it as a means of stress relief, creativity, finding a voice, exercise, or simply as a means to occupy someone's time by giving them something to do. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' in art, either, so the freedom in creation and the freedom in choice is vast and abundant.
So we brainstormed, coming up with specific goals and ideals for programs, then shared those specifics with someone else in the room. What was great about this was that we were able to not only iron out wrinkles in our thought processes, but we were also able to hear about all the work everyone else was getting into...and it was all so diverse. Children, race, gender, environment...so many issues that people wanted to tackle. And they wanted to tackle it artistically.
It was refreshing, I'll tell you, to know that there are people in the world who are determined to create meaningful art and programming to aid those in need or to bring about awareness to an issue. That is significant.
What TMP Can Do for Cleveland
The Movement Project, as a company, is not only an artistic hub, but it is also a socially-aware and adaptable entity. We currently have functioning projects or have projects in the works to serve the people of Cleveland, from choreographic opportunities for artists to teaching in the community. Armed with experience from doing as well as from learning (such as ICAT), we are continuing to build on our programming to create more opportunities for everyone.
Plus, we just really love Cleveland.
So what are we currently doing for artists in the community? Well, what is now in the works is the first ever Cleveland Dance Fest, made possible by funding from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. This festival is by Cleveland artists for Cleveland artists. TMP's Rebecca Leuszler, Creative Workforce Fellow, is providing compensation, the venue, marketing, and other materials, allowing choreographers the support to explore and delve into their work. This is not the first time TMP has been involved in showcasing Cleveland dance, nor will it be the last (our SPACES performance earlier this year was a similar idea).
Okay, so we are supporting the city's artists, but what about the community?
For starters, we teach. We teach a lot. Both independently in studios and also as a company in outreach work. We are passionate about getting into schools and allowing kids to experience creative movement...especially if they would usually never get the opportunity to do so otherwise.
There is so much more we want to do, of course, which is why we took the ICAT training, and this leads me to a few more questions.
What would we like to accomplish? What are our overarching goals? What will we do for Cleveland?
Firstly, we'd like to continue our work in schools and further enhance our programming. We would like to create an avenue between us and the school system so that we can streamline our programs to suit their needs and build residencies.
We also would like to continue to create space for artists and members of the community. A place where artists can rent space affordably, where community members--young and old--can take classes and workshops; a central hub for us to create work ourselves, but also to share it with others. To do that, we need to think big; a center, a large versatile space to call our own.
And we are working towards that goal.
Something that stood out for me during our trip to Gibney was the sense of community; there was purpose and aid everywhere. And I think that is what Cleveland needs; a stepping stone to rebuild our community...or, rather, to support and heal our current one.