A Creative Lab for Storytelling #STORYLAB
In 2019 A Shared Table applied for a grant from the Centre for Community Engaged Narrative Arts (CCENA) to host a Creative Lab for Storytelling. The grant was awarded and Owner and Chief Experience Officer Bernadette Arthur invited Patrica Wright, Eli Farinango, and Amber Wood to become co-facilitators for the project. They shared leadership and responsibilities for designing the curriculum, hosting workshops, and offering creative practices for the development of emerging BIPOC storytellers within the Hamilton community. Originally planned for March and April 2020, we continue to move forward together now in month ten and affectionately refer to the project as “Storylab.”
The original plan included two days of in-person workshops with facilitator-led practices for discovering and building upon our stories, leaving time to create, reflect, and receive feedback. The participants would then choose a facilitator for one-on-one sessions based on the kind of creative work they wished to produce. The in-process or finished work would then be offered at a community pop-up café gathering, during which oral storytellers would tell their chosen stories, and visual artists would display the work they had created during this period. All would be accompanied by a communal meal and space for community members to share their own stories.
As COVID began to spread in Ontario, we knew our plans to proceed with the in-person workshops and showing might include great deal of anxiety, as well as perhaps prove dangerous to our participants and community, especially as early news reflected disproportionate effects of the virus in Communities of Colour. We made the decision to pivot to online sessions, with a focus on the in-the-moment stories our participants needed to explore, with accompanying shorter artistic practices to support their current needs.
As the weeks passed, we began to hear that some of the artistic practices would be beneficial to our larger community to wade through collective grief and anxiety. A few of the creative prompts were shared on the @asharedtable Instagram feed and followers were invited to post their own items using #ASTStorylab.
During this period, we also encouraged participants to choose a facilitator for one-on-one work with their individual creative processes. For practical purposes, this was to allow the co-facilitators to plan more effectively and get a better idea of what projects we were working with toward some kind of public-facing exhibit/event. Participants were also encouraged to apply for funding (out of the CCENA grant) to support their projects (so far, this includes web site support, and musical equipment).
A Shared Table centres the lives and life of BIPOC folx, while also recognizing that there is the possibility of greater ease and care in BIPOC-only spaces. With mounting news of white supremacist violence, a BIPOC-only gathering was held in early June to give space for collective tenderness, mourning, and rage.
Weekly meetings stopped in mid-August as time to reassess co-facilitator availability and energy became necessary. Desire for community gatherings to continue had not waned and the group continues to meet monthly as members are available.
On September 19, sibling video/photography team Vuelo con los Angeles (Clarissa, Jenny, and Jay Vasquez) joined a number of participants and facilitators in Gage Park for a physically distanced time of sharing a meal provided by Sookham, and dreaming what our future together might look like. We decided to create this online exhibit of our creative pieces as a kind of time capsule of ourselves in the past, present, and future. The pieces were curated by the group. In October and November, Vuelo con los Angeles interviewed individual participants and facilitators about their artistic journeys for a promotional video to premiere ahead of the online exhibit. At the online video viewing party, new artistic pieces were shared which created opportunities for further communal artistic expression.
So many stories, poems, photographs, paintings, sculpture, and music has been created over the past ten months and there is more to come as we finalize the curated exhibit. The Storylab community has become a place of deep belonging that has grown friendships, as well as jobs and creative partnerships.
We are grateful for the journey and look forward to seeing what else this journey inspires.