The communal Mambo: Chicago Dancing Festival partners with Chicago SummerDance

It’s been a little over a month since my mother has passed. One of the many things i miss is her dancing. Unafraid to release all inhibitions, she ‘cut many a rug’.  Of any event this week mom would have loved to attend, it would be “Dancing Under The Stars” : a special evening presented by Chicago Dancing Festival in partnership with Chicago SummerDance.  Partnership is the theme of this event. A communal partnership. An intimate partnering. Mambo style!

learning the basic step
learning the basic step.

Arriving a bit late, i was compelled to catch up on the ‘lesson’ being taught by Del Dominguez & –  his partner for this instruction – Laura Flores. note not Laura Flores, the acclaimed Mexican actress, but the equally charismatic co-founder of Mixed Motion Art: a space for dance & fitness.  Actress Flores (whose birthday happens to fall on the same day as this event, the 23rd) probably wishes she could Salsa, Mambo & Cha-cha as well as dancer Flores! 

Back to the lesson.  Throngs of folks peppered the specially-laid outdoor dance floor, eager to learn the ‘basic step‘.  The basic step in this case involves stepping forward on one foot, stepping back on another with some transitional lift of the feet between or as Del would count out  “1-2-3, 5-6-7”.  Singular at the moment, each person was assuredly focused on capturing the footwork.  All ages represented. All skill levels. All determined to get every nuance of the “1-2-3, 5-6-7”.  Even in their seats on the outskirts of the dance floor, people looked on and ‘moved’ with the dancers.

“How we doing?” Del asks to the community.  Smiles, giggles, some shaking or nodding of heads and further explorations of the step were the response.  In protocol with social dance forms, often one is taught first the ‘vocabulary’ or basic step, before the more intricate moves are added.  Sans music, he and Laura continued on to ‘coupling’.

Hands touching angled in the air.  Pressed not too tightly to allow for subtle shifts of body. Tipping with turns to be mastered. Men leading women. women with women. young girl leading younger girl. Women leading men in the men’s leading of women.  All embracing the directions of the lead teaching partners.  “Leading a partner…” Del advises is “less ‘swagga’, more attention to the person you are leading…. Be chill.” His smooth delivery of the next line undercuts its sting to the ego of some of the men ‘handling’ their female counterparts – “Not like you’re jumping rope”.  Furthermore, both he  & Laura offer that there will be time to “show off” later. To use your hips and add your own ‘flava’.   But for now “just flow.”

1-2-3, 5-6-7. the momentum of the steps pick up speed. and so does the intricacy of the partnering.  “1 of 3 things could happen…” Del cautions when instructing on how the man(leader) would turn themselves after guiding the woman(leadee).

1.  You could ‘break’ the shoulder.

2. Put your Butt into it {“Don’t do that!” Laura interjects}

0r 3.  Lower your hand.

#3 being the preferred option as long as you understand how to lower the hand, effectively releasing your partner’s hand; only to gracefully retrieve it and continue to Mambo.  Ironically, Del ‘tweaks’ his shoulder while working through each of these options. “All for  art” he quips, shrugging it off as they call out for “musica!”

the mechanics of the mambo
the mechanics of the mambo.

“Earl” the “Maestro” slows down the tempo with a ‘Cha-cha’ inspired rhythm.  The instructors suggest that this is the entry way to the Mambo.  Soon the communal dancers will be able to “jazz it up!”. As the instruction comes to a close, the partners move methodically and sometimes mechanically through each ‘lesson’ of the hour.  An accomplished & beautiful communal exchange has occurred. Everyone who has been witness or dancer inside this experience has something to take away.  Del and Laura leave the platform. The dance floor clears out.  People move off to the side to partake in food or beverages, rest or persevere through the steps; hoping to get inspired by the dee-jay set that will take place momentarily.

During this transition, genderization of the partnering is eschewed in favor of  fun infused playfully-coupled dancing.   Lips pressed, one young woman, relentlessly practices with her female partner; finding the connection to the internal rhythm of the beat to the steps of her feet.  Incidental moments of heel tapping betray the connection, but she is determined. Others break from the moment by goofing off and mock dancing movement from other periods in time such as the ‘Jerk‘ or the ‘Robot‘.  An African contracted poly-rhythmic movement exchange happens not far from eyesight, while – gum in mouth- a flustered young woman still works to get the “1-2-3” of the Mambo.  Around her people picnic. Less cellphone than engaging one-on-one or group live conversations permeate  Grant Park’s Spirit of Music Garden.  Some choose to ‘catch up’ with each other and recollect on past ‘lessons’.

“It didn’t matter if you messed up”  Nikki points out.  A resident of  Auburn-Gresham, she brought her aunt tonite to share her love of “Latin music” and of course to dance.   Nikki got “hooked on dance” watching ‘Dancing With The Stars‘.  This is her 2nd time coming to SummerDance.  i ask if she has heard of the Chicago Dancing Festival and is met with an ‘of course’ look; schooling me on when and where the upcoming event  – Celebration of Dance – will be.

Rosie, Nikki’s aunt,  lives in Walnut California, famous for Disneyland…”well I am about 10 minutes away”.   She reminisces about dancing with her husband who has passed away some years ago…loving how they took cruises together and “made fools of [themselves] at the disco lounge.”  A moment passes. In my mind some tears release.  We take in the late comers to this event; though they may have missed the lessons, these people are ready to dance! With smoldering looks and summer crisp linens, one man saunters onto the floor, inviting  into this festive atmosphere  exciting coupled possibilities the evening shall bring.   The music  emerges and the dance floor is becoming alive again.  “She looks like she wore her salsa shoes [for this occasion] and dress” Rosie observes.   Before long, niece and aunt take to the floor and dance.  “1-2-3, 5-6-7” Who needs a ‘4’ or ‘8’ when you are enjoying being with each other as these two are.  i am reminded of my mother seeing them inside their joy.  Another moment passes. real tears are released.

Nikki (left) & Rosie dancing under the stars
Nikki (left) & Rosie dancing under the stars

For Paula –  one of the last people i encounter before heading back home – “there is no better backdrop than Michigan Avenue or being in good company” in speaking on why she came to ‘Dancing Under The Stars” or referring to co-worker and friend Ade; who sits and ‘fans’ her in between her dancing ‘shifts’.  It was lovely to capture Paula in her mambo glory, as a fitting exit to my time here.

Paula in her dancing glory.

The dancing was far from over. The night seeming to have just begun.  And the stars have yet to arrive.  i travel to my apt heart full of the treasured wonder  from witnessing the evolution of this dancing public; from just a basic step to meaningful and intimate partnering within an expansive communal force.

Back at my place, far from the crowd and my nervousness, i take my chance to dance the Mambo… in the quiet solitude, i speak the counts as instructed:

1-2-3, 5-6-7…1-2-3, 5-6-7…1-2-3, 5-6-7…one two three, five six seven…

part 2 of  The dance eclectic, the dancing electric part 1:Chicago Dancing Festival places the “Everyday Chicagoan” on a world class stage coming soon…

The dance eclectic, the dancing electric part 1:Chicago Dancing Festival places the “Everyday Chicagoan” on a world class stage

There is a continuum…this continuum places within our reach: young people, elders, black, white, mixed, Asian, Latin/Hispanic & all of the above, dynamic & virtuosic, poised & sophisticated beings.  All on the same stage.  A world class stage.  For all to see. And feel deeply what they saw.  And tell others what they love.  How they loved experiencing a reflection of their city expressed through the dance panorama that took place last night as part of the Chicago Dancing Festival.  A reflection of Everyday Chicago articulated by Everyday Chicagoans. The dance eclectic? Yes: hip Africa post modern contemporary release idiosyncratic balletic cha-cha lyrical character defiantly undefinable. The dance electric? Most certainly.  Like static cling, it clung to us.  Hair  raised on arms at times.  Defying gravity.  Residing still within my recesses.

It begins with a Touch of Soul.  Because that is how the evening began.  And what  a beginning…the dancers eclectic, their dancing electric.

One of my foci to blog for the festival, i had the pleasure of meeting with Chicago Dancing Company commissioned choreographer Nicholas Leichter and some of the crew from After School Matters’ Hip Hop Culture Dance Ensemble : Shannon Brown, Dorian Rhea, William Harris and Kaina Castillo.  Prior to the performance, we gather in the dressing room to discuss this communal exchange.   Within a few minutes, i can already sense the communal synergy  between choreographer and dancers.  Though, at times, that distinction was blurred; as Nicholas is quick to admit how these young people threw in their own kinetic thoughts, shapes, moves into the composition.  Throughout their process  he encouraged, insisted that their artistic voice be heard.  Be honored.  Challenged.  And he diligently cultivated it inside the rehearsals and within their “presence”.  Any artist within the performance field knows how difficult it can be to be ‘present’.   To be keenly aware of what’s & who’s around you at all times during a live performance exchange; such that if someone bumps into you or throws you off, the moment is still infused with your crafted spontaneous creativity.  That takes skill. And hearing these young dancers speak about how inspiring it was to have Nicholas as a mentor, a reflection of what they desired to become, you got the feeling his presence only enhanced their luminous presence. Indeed, Nicholas wanted to make his ‘presence’ known in Chicago as well.   He spoke briefly with Lar Lubovitch [one of Chicago Dancing Festival’s Artistic Directors] about the project and heard a little about the After School Matters program, but had yet to truly discover the kinetic possibilities within these Chicagoans.  Then came the first rehearsal…”First day we didn’t know what to expect!” Shannon proclaims, the others immediately concur.  “All the hype” they had heard about him, what they pulled from the internet, didn’t compare to seeing Nicholas preparing in the studio for the initial rehearsal.  “Nic was feeling it!” As they watched him moving to the music, they got more excited.  Even more nervous.  “Before Nic came, i never knew i needed to work on my sassy, fierce, stuff” Kaina professes. “…How to throw myself [into the dance] and be able to whip my hair“.  All with technique and control i might add.  Nicholas succinctly and brilliantly conveys that in his detailed choreographic aesthetic. More than just a ‘hybrid’ the vocabulary defies the boxes it supposedly exists within.  ‘Hip-Hop’ Urban? Even contemporary  doesn’t seem to capture the multi-layered legacies he explores with his company of dancers in Ny; now with his ‘company of dancers’ in Chicago.  To him it’s all about vibing off what’s/who’s in the room that informs the creative impulse inside the compositional landscape.   With two working weeks, he takes them through an exhilarating experience heightening their kinesthetic abilities; utilizing everyone who wanted to be part of this process.  By the end of the process,  he has delivered a potent message to these artists; one that continues to resonate for them.  “A new vision…Nic’s notion of ‘staying out of the box’….to come up with your own labels” (Kaina).  “Recreated…[to be able to just] switch it up” (Shannon)  [While]”After School Matters has given alot of teens a voice, an outlet, a chance to be heard”(Dorian),  Nicholas has offered to them “a new box of crayons… So now [i] can go home and create [my own] picture…” (William)

A Touch of Soul’s (from left) Dorian, Kaina, William & Shannon with choreographer Nicholas Leichter

more to come on A Touch of Soul and Bolero Chicago’s premiere last nite at Chicago Dancing Festival

Living the dance part 2: Multiple Bodies, Multiple Voices…A unifying language

Today they prepare.

Tonite they perform.

Community has formed.

Some have left.

Others still arriving. ..

More exchanges to occur.

Multiple bodies signifying multiple voices unified through moving language.

This evening

We will witness them ‘living the dance’.

…Janet has a solo! From just having one nite’s rehearsal ‘under her belt’ to now proving how wonderfully individualized is the experience of being a community member of  Bolero Chicago,  she gets to have a ‘moment’.  It’s one of  many moments individual Chicagoans will have as part of the process of being a ‘dancer’ for the Chicago Dancing Festival premiere of Larry Keigwin & Company’s inclusive choreography.  Janet will ‘put the button’ on the end of a phrase. The ‘button’ being a jump as fleeting yet signature of her vibrant persona onstage.  She finds it refreshing that “so many [kinds of] people are moving together…A testament that everyone can dance.”

For some of the  Bolero Chicagoans, this has been an extension of their dance lineage.  For others simply pure expression of their love of moving.  Veronica embodies both.  20 years of age, she has been dancing for 15 of them.  It takes an hour & half to travel to rehearsal from Garfield Park, her current residence.  Veronica is nonplussed; focusing on the  intention of each move and how to “hit that beat“.  Her connection to beat, to rhythm, stems from her earlier experiences and love for Jazz dance.  She’s currently involved in Hip-hop but feels equally at home learning how to become a fluid ‘character’ inside Bolero; living the dance as one ‘type’ of Chicagoan inside a shifting urban landscape.  “It’s about natural movement, taking the everyday” [and performing it] with flair.” i see this in the way Veronica ‘hits’ certain moves during last Wednesday’s rehearsal.

i also get to witness others move in ways that suggest their lineage as well.  One Chicagoan, in a striking ‘pas de deux’ with her partner, shows her attention to detail, the lines in her body that have clearly been cultivated by years, if not decades, of training in ballet or contemporary technique.  Another in the choice of footwear and how this dancer places them on; a symbol to anyone in the rehearsal, that she has danced before! Indeed each community member shapes the dance with their individuality, offering up mutable ‘characters’ or interesting personas.  To me, this further suggests not only their quest to find the “character inside the dance” as Veronica puts it, but the ‘character of Chicagoan’.

What signifies the character of Chicago? Its uniqueness? and How will the “everyday Chicagoan” emerge from Bolero?

Tonite, we shall see what Larry, Ashley, Gary,  {Chicagoans}Veronica, Janet, Ira and other community members of Bolero Chicago offer up for ‘answers’….

Bolero Chicago will be part of the exciting lineup for ‘Chicago Dancing’ , 7:00pm at Harris  Theater, part of Chicago Dancing Festival. Featuring local companies alongside national artists; in particular, will  also be blogging about Nicholas Leichter’s Touch of Soul, choreographed in collaboration with After School Matters/Gallery 37 dancers.  below is  a preview of  Touch of Soul dancers in rehearsal.  Hope to see you tonite! 

Living the dance part 1: Bolero Chicago’s community rigorously moves towards its Chicago Dancing Festival premiere

Last week during Bolero Chicago’s first rehearsal at Senn HS, Jerina from the west side, commented that she was “seeing dance in a different way”.  Having come to support her sister and cousin who were inside the process,  Jerina was surprised and impressed by the immediacy of this community of dancers emerging. “Interacting with different people could be awkward [but] they were clicking & hitting it off…There’s just something different…freeing…”

As stated in my previous entry, i too was impressed by this phenomenon.  A phenomenon not by any means foreign to professional dancers, musicians, actors or artists who come together with a common goal: to create a new work, put on a play, develop a new composition or learn & inspire choreography.  The fact that this was  “everyday people” – as dancer/student Jacqueline & witness to this past Wednesday’s rehearsal called them –  hasn’t eclipsed the wonder of instant comradery existing in the folds of this creative process for Bolero.  Nor has it dissuaded the “everyday people [insert Chicagoan]” from inspiring choreographer Larry Keigwin to intricately craft a labyrinth of crosses, steps, phrases and groupings for the exquisite musical composition.  “Larry is like a boy in a candy shop” Jacqueline expresses as we both witness him beaming as he looks upon the community of dancers embrace new moves he throws at them. and yes it’s a throw!  At one point later in the rehearsal he delivers a rapid set of instructions , counts and mutterings that only a dancer would understand… did they get it? i sure didn’t. And yet in one quick release the Chicagoans move through his directions with a certain finesse, as if they were accustomed to him in much the same way his dancers Ashley and Gary have come to experience. Both company dancers are observing the ways Larry interacts with the community dancers and assist, guide and notate the elaborate development of the choreography.

‘Setting dance on pedestrians” is intriguing  to Jacqueline.  She is from Chicago but goes to school at the prestigious  University of North Carolina School of the Arts.  Encountering Larry at Bates dance festival this summer, made her want to witness how this process unfolds.  Unfortunately, Jacqueline cannot be part of the performance because she leaves before Chicago Dancing Festival opens; however more new faces arrive into the space as the rehearsal begins, primed and ready to jump in.  An energetic burst sends people rushing to create a  ‘warm-up’ circle that mutates into a series of lines in order to review some phrases from their previous rehearsal. The “bow” dance flows as ‘End of Time”  is cranked up…the community radiates  warmth yet ‘koolness’ as they transition between steps. It’s clear they are enjoying grooving to Beyonce!

For Janet this is only her 2nd night…She came the night before and is excited to be present and moving. “So fun!” she proclaims… sweating & gleaming through the entire rehearsal. A full time dance teacher for Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Janet doesn’t perform as much as she did before; but when she heard about this project while at the Bates dance festival {yes much like Jacqueline}, she couldn’t resist the allure of Bolero Chicago…

more to come on Bolero & other ‘communal exchanges’ within the Chicago Dancing Festival in part 2 of Living the dance…For those interested in becoming part of this unique community performance, it’s not too late.  Bolero Chicago is looking for more people to be part of this wonderful community of dancers…stop by rehearsal tonite, 6pm,  at Nicholas Senn High School  Gymnasium – 5900 N Glenwood Ave, Door #10 to get involved right away or email Chicago Dancing Festival at info@chicagodancingfestival.com

Bolero Chicago living the dance at Senn HS
photo by Araceli Arroyo

A legacy in the making – Bolero Chicago’s creative process unfolds within community

creative process unfolding for Bolero at Senn

 

Upon arriving onto the campus of  Nicholas Senn High School, i am reminded of  my last experience here – coming to a Chicago Cultural Plan’s Town Hall meeting.  Prior to that meeting in February,  had not spent much time in this part of Chicago – Edgewater area – and was keenly interested in who resided in this community.  After that meeting i found multiple opportunities to be in this neighborhood; encountering a genuine warmth. A genuine embrace of creativity.  Much like the consultants who organized the town hall meetings were invested in community engagement,  it is  as clearly intentional for both Chicago Dancing Festival and Kegwin & Company to draw Chicagoans into the creative process and performance with Bolero Chicago.  Community engagement through dance making and joyous dancing.  However like my first encounter, i was confused by Senn’s impressive size and varying entrances…if i could only find the magic open door to where the rehearsal will be?

Luckily ran into Ira, who is one of the Chicago participants.  He too is looking for the magic door. Together we stroll around til we find it and enter into the gymnasium where the bulk of the rehearsals will take place. Am immediately welcomed into this process by staff from Chicago Dancing Festival, who fill me in on some bits of detail regarding their initial process of drawing in community members from Chicago (as well as Indiana!) into Bolero – four meetings (again much like the initial community engagement for Chicago Cultural Plan) where potential participants got a ‘taste’ of what would be their role in developing this work.  Deeper into the gym’s space there is a loose circle formed  by participants and two company members from Keigwin & CompanyAshley Browne and Gary Schaufeld.   It’s an intriguing  mix of people from various cultural backgrounds, dance experiences & ages. One festive  young girl named Kyleigh and two men round out a very eclectic group of about 23 dancers…all are dancers at this point; whether or not they may have considered that title before. There is an informal casualness to the environment and the evolving group conversation in which i begin to hear words such as “Violence”; “Peace”. As these are thrown out Ashley responds by affirming the thoughts and  sharing how this theme could potentially be included: “so there can be a section with tie dye …”  Then a bit later another participant throws out : “Magnificent Mile” and  again are affirmed with “shopping” as a correlation towards  perhaps building another section. i find out later from Ashley, that these are responses to prompts she and Gary offered the circle to flesh out themes related to Chicago and being a “Chicagoan”.  The looseness to the array of thoughts and insights synergizes  as both Keigwin dancers take helm of the conversation and clarify the structure of this rehearsal and the piece. They talk about the music, how to ‘count’ the music in relation to the movements, the building of the piece;  all the while drawing the other dancers into a compelling and inviting process of discovery & creating, sprinkled by bouts of laughter and kinetic fun.

Is this the first rehearsal? i wonder as i take in the communal exchanges between the dancers, as if they had known each other, not for a half hour, but as an established  ‘community’ of friends inside a shared experience…a company of dancers ready to tackle the next bit of choreography…serious and invested.  They have to be!  this is a rigorous and intensive schedule.   For  two weeks they will meet for 4 hours a day , 6 days a week, then move onto technical rehearsal at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with a performance the next day, 20th, AND teching and performing at Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millenium Park, on the closing event “Celebration of Dance” on August 25th.  This in addition to their work/life schedules…wow Why do this? i ask this very question to Ira, whom i met earlier, and he shares with me his love for dance and dancing…While he may be obtaining his graduate degree in Law, dance has  a special place in his life.  Ira does not consider himself a ‘dancer’, but has taken classes in hip hop, ballet and contemporary jazz and recently danced salsa with Urban Vibe for 3 years.  Why this? He saw a performance last year at Chicago Dancing Festival and vowed that if an opportunity like this arised, he would seize it! Well here it is! how timely for him and how grateful he is to be part of this process. “It’s Awesome!” he exclaims and repeats throughout our dialogue… So “awesome’ that , even though he may work a “8am – 5pm” job and this is finals week for him, Ira is committed. “I am glad they are being flexible” he states referring to Keigwin & company’s/Chicago Dancing Festival allowing him to come a bit later to rehearsal.  Always key to communal exchanges like this is to be able to embrace the individual flow of the people’s lives while simultaneously moving towards a clear and well constructed piece.

For Dominique – mother to 3 year old Kyleigh – she wanted her daughter to have an experience that she has not had or would not do. “I’m introverted” she professes as she looks upon her daughter moving in and out of one of the dances being formed… “I wasn’t introduced to dance at her age”… so she believes it’s important for Kyleigh to be exposed to this process as a way of allowing her to express herself in ways her mother hasn’t.  Dominque has never been to see an event of Chicago Dancing Festival before, but if her daughter (and her cousin who is also part of this project) will be performing, she will be there!  With that thought she  again looks over at her daughter  who is now running in and out of the others,  at her cousin trying out a suggested move and the overall bubbling commotion of dance being cultivated in this moment and smiles…

As the creative process unfolds throughout the evening, the beauty of communal discoveries and artistry of crafting emerges. Perhaps by means of  the dancers getting to further ‘know’ each other, a name gesture exercise begins the next phase of rehearsal.  The dancers are tasked with composing their names into a dance, letter by letter, within the timeframe of a Beyonce song! Go!  They finish as the song ends and unite to ‘perform’ their name …’Say my name, Dance my name’ is the game they play as they move through their letters: “V – E- R-O-N-I-C-A” … “L-A-M-A-R”  separately and in communion with the others.  Gary leads the group through articulating some select names or parts of names such as “M-A-T-A”; turning these into phrases that merge with other names and, after breaking into smaller ‘teams’, become group mini dances.  It is a great way for the dancers to express themselves individually and feel empowered to take on the act of crafting.  They engage in immediate collaboration and affirm each one’s creativity and expression… Now the challenge to craft from the themes they had discussed earlier.  Ashley reminds them of  3 themes  they felt garnered a more thoughtful dance-exploration for Bolero Chicago – “road rage”, “baseball” and “pizza”.  they are on it! They jump back  into the smaller grouping and immediately immerse themselves in the collaborative act of  developing these dance motifs…

The dancers busy crafting,  Ashley takes a moment to share with me some of the history of Bolero and what she has witnessed already working with these Chicagoans… “They are very vocal” Yes! We Chicagoans can be…and “that’s a good thing” she interjects.  Is it Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s Pizza?  What identifies Chicago?  Cubs or White Sox? What are the ‘characters’ that you [as Chicagoans] may run into?  such as the ‘preacher” in front of Navy Pier… How does this become inspiration for dance?  “It’s all about [Chicago] culture” Ashley articulates as she moves in and out of our dialogue to assist Gary and the other dancers deepen their exploration of gestures or movements associated with each particular theme.  By the end of this evening, 3 dances – “Pizza”, “Road Rage” and “Baseball” have been deliciously composed…to be abstracted, expanded or extracted as the communal process for Bolero Chicago moves forward…

Through the vision of Larry Kegwin & his company, the ‘dance’ of Bolero has inspired multiple communities throughout the country including NYC {3 times}, Santa Barbara CA, Denver, New Jersey and upcoming in Greensboro. The ‘identity’ of a place, space and people has transformed into unique art making. Beyond the performing of these works,  friendships have deepened or been formed, groups continuing to gather far after the process ends, new communities built and bonded.

Like the other Boleros,  Bolero Chicago may well become a legacy in the making…

 

 

Gateway to dance: exploring possibilities of communal exchange within the Chicago Dancing Festival

Dance has always been part of the vibrant cultural landscape of Chicago & my communal upbringing as a young person living on the south side in the 70’s & 80’s.  Upon returning here after a 20 + year hiatus, i am excited to begin looking more closely at how dance has permeated the everyday culture of this distinguished city.  What are the multiple ways in which dance can be experienced here?    How can Chicagoans explore dance as a communal exchange?   Enter Chicago Dancing Festival:  “From August 20-25, 2012, the Chicago Dancing Festival will present six days of FREE dance programs by artists from Chicago and across the country, to an anticipated audience of 20,000!   [The] mission is to elevate awareness of dance in Chicago and increase accessibility to the art form by presenting a wide variety of excellent dance that will enrich the lives of the people of Chicago, provide aspiration for local and future artists and raise the national and international profile of Chicago, furthering Chicago as a dance destination.”

Oft the most valued exchange in this contemporary society involves money. Communal exchange asks that one is not consumed with the expectation that they get their money’s worth, but look to the possibilities of what is being reciprocated, offered and experienced. With Chicago Dancing Festival providing an exciting array of  events at no charge, this opens up the possibilities that any and every Chicagoan can experience dance in multiple ways; without the money variable.  My particular focus will be on three interactions that highlight compelling dimensions of communal exchange:

Bolero dance Chicago, Larry Keigwin & Dancer’s ultra community collaborative project that includes the ‘everyday Chicagoan’ will be presented as part of the festival’s opening program, “Chicago Dancing” at the Harris Theater, Monday, August 20 & again as part of the Festival’s grand finale program, “Celebration of Dance” at  Pritzker Pavilion on Saturday, August 25.

Bolero Chicago prepares
Bolero Chicago prepares

– Choreographer Nicholas Leichter’s intriguing work with select young dance artists from the Chicago community program, Afterschool Matters, showcases alongside Bolero and other Chicago based companies including Giordano Dance Chicago, opening night of the festival,  Monday August 20th at 7pm.

After School Matters prepares

“Dancing Under the Stars” open community space, where ‘you can dance if you want to’ with a live orchestra’  immersed in the beautiful surroundings of Grant park on Thursday, August 26th at 6pm. Polka!

i would also like to take note  of the “Chicago Now”  discussion on the current state of dance in Chicago, Friday August 24th at 6pm.  Moderated by journalist and former dancer Zac Whittenburg, it features : Lane Alexander(Chicago Human Rhythm Project)Ron De Jesús (Ron De Jesús Dance)Carrie Hanson(The Seldoms) and Julie Nakagawa(DanceWorks Chicago). The program will also include brief performances by The Seldoms, Ron De Jesús Dance and FootworKINGz.  This evening complements the concept of communal exchange by giving essential insight to the artists’ experiences and process in ways, an audience may not get to learn of by just witnessing the work.

In looking at these multiple opportunities to experience the dance through communal exchange,   implicit is the cultivation – even inside just the act of witnessing a performance – of a meaningful relationship. Temporally this may only last an hour or two, but nevertheless both artist and audience participant are left with  lasting impressions. These moments go deeper into other aspects  & possibilities of communal exchange for Chicagoan to experience.

How might one  further define communal exchange?

For the past two decades i have been exploring communal exchange through my performative work with D UNDERBELLY, a network of artists of color from a vast spectrum of experiences.  Within the core of this concept is consideration for  the deepening of a vital relationship that draws upon the aspects of equity in which there are certain expectations to be met,  governed by our responsive energy to each other and cultivation of a shared space for thoughtful interaction.

If one becomes part of a communal exchange there is a illuminating experience where both audience/participant and performer are active and vital. building of a community takes place surrounding a common thread – in this instance dance.  We come to actively witness the process. We may get opportunity to learn ‘hands on’ from the artist the particular aesthetic or tradition;  allowing us to embrace its complexities and feel the flow of its moving force.  even dance the dance.

How might Chicagoans experience this communal exchange?

From now til the end of the festival,  i will be exploring more in depth discussion on what it means to be part of a  communal exchange inside the landscape of Chicago Dance Festival through witnessing & conversing with those involved in  Bolero dance Chicago, Nicholas Leichter & After School Matters, as well as  community members who wish to dance the Polka “Dancing Under the Stars”.

Returning back to my youth experiences on the southside, communal exchange was the gateway to dance for me; getting to witness the community i lived in construct performances, learn dances not from a ‘technique’ point of view, but ‘a-community-gathers-&-just-celebrates-moving-together point of view, dancing on stage to Gloria Esteban/Miami Sound Machine for “Footlites”, be simultaneously embarrassed yet inspired by my mother dancing at church functions and trying my hand at choreographing. It was such an important part of my upbringing, informing my professional inroads into dancing and art.  It allowed me to understand how dance can be part of the ‘everydayness’ of culture.  Chicago Dancing Festival can/may be that for many Chicagoans… A gateway…

Of this body: a return to dance, new dance eco-system

dance is finding its way back into the pores of this body. not the other body i sought & fought for or the body longed for. back to the body of the present. rigorously immediate. with this body comes new movement terrain… a new landscape gets to be explored. and embraced.  Just saying “yes” to dancing means a creative horizon is emerging.  a dancing of consciousness and investigation.  a horizon that bridges the talking of dance with the traditions of dance making. the vibrant witnessing of other dance forms. undoing dance forms previously explored. writing about dance.  danceable concepts. just plain dancing.   dance as the universal communal exchange. A new dance eco-system.

Ewe women. regal. divine. beauty by design.

Ewe women of Ghana, Togo, Benin…

At the festival of reunion, home coming celebration of this year Ewe is placed under the sign of “dance, solidarity and reconciliation.” It remains an opportunity for Ewe people of Togo, Benin, Ghana and the Diaspora to rally Notsè considered their historical birthplace. Through the sphere of commemoration of the common life, it is also a way to transcend colonial boundaries for the harmonious development of the Ewe people.
The history of the Ewe people running around the wall of Agbogbo, King Agokoli, migration of the Ewe of from Nigeria stand in southern Togo.
When the Ewe came to Notsè, there was a lot of insecurity in the area, and the king Agokoli began to build a great wall around the city to protect against both enemies and certainly against wild animals. Agbogbo became a place of refuge because he has seen an influx of people fleeing insecurity and who had found shelter in Agbogbo. The population began to increase at the same time there were disputes about the throne, which is one reason of the last exodus of Ewe.

how does one begin to examine the act of appropriation within contemporary culture? with Beyonce of course!

as part of Zac Whittenburg’s engaging article discussing Lucky Plush Production’s recent revival of Punk Yankees, i get to converse with him surrounding the subject matter of appropriation…and Beyonce. below is an excerpt from his blog article Luck Plush Productions: Punk Yankee/conversation  & the dialogue… 

{Julia}Rhoads  and her collaborators set boundaries for this work of investigainment. In a joking exchange toward the beginning, Goldman and Meghann Wilkinson discuss whether or not to broach the subject of appropriation by whites of movement that originated in non-white cultural contexts. Black choreographers Pearl Primus and Alvin Ailey are mentioned but it’s explicitly decided, onstage, that Punk Yankees won’t go any further into all that. This despite the fact that Beyoncé’s appropriation of choreography by Bob Fosse and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker — both white — is the most centrally positioned pop-culture reference in the work, as well as its point of entry.

It’s a discomfiting moment in a well-crafted, funny and smart work of dance-theater. That Lucky Plush began this conversation in 2009, continued it in subsequent works and revisited it with this revival of Punk Yankees shows dedication to the subject. Declination of its more political and racially charged proposals might not annul the piece’s viability. But that probably depends on your point of view.

To help me hash all this out, I enlisted artist Baraka de Soleil. The founder of D UNDERBELLY, a fluid network of independent artists of color, recently returned to his native Chicago following more than two decades developing movement, music and performance in Brooklyn and Minneapolis. We attended Punk Yankees together and debriefed afterward on Google Chat; what follows is a partial transcript of our conversation.


Zachary Whittenburg: So, about the show: We talked afterward about how one creates a performance that includes some sort of survey of, or reference to, history. And where the “lines are drawn” — how far one decides to take the inquiry. How do you feel Punk Yankees approached this challenge?
Baraka de Soleil:  Challenge: I think that is the key word. I feel that, in some ways, the “history” that was chosen to be represented was not challenging. Understandably, this chosen history was subjective, was a creative exploration and a personal take, in some regards.

Right. It’s not, in the end, a textbook or a history lesson — it’s a piece of choreography, the work of artists. Does that, in your opinion, let them “off the hook”? Why or why not?
I don’t think it lets one off the hook, because the creative choice was to address history — the history of appropriation. Punk Yankees is a representation to its witnesses of what may be considered valid, affirmed; which histories we should uphold…



Creative City: a posting of an online article and the summary of findings regarding Chicago’s cultural plan for 2012 development

Here are two recent postings regarding the development of Chicago’s cultural plan for 2012.  One is by visual artist, arts educator & project manager Meg Peterson, whom i have been in thoughtful and engaging discussions aligned with the evolution of the plan. The other comes from lead consultant firm for Dept of Cultural Affairs  Special Events,  Lord Cultural Resources, whom have come up with a summary of findings based upon extensive research and data culled from conversations with Chicago’s diverse population.

Meg Peterson’s article Creative City: Chicago’s Plan For Encouraging Cultural Participation(from  This Big City ):

“Chicago, a diverse and vibrant city located in the mid-western region of the United States, has a rich history of culture and creativity. Though Chicago is home to many artists and it has many influential cultural icons such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago artists often have difficulty making a living wage. Artists, once they reach a certain caliber of recognition or ambition, migrate to more culturally known cities of New York, or L.A., even to international cities like London or Paris. Despite Chicago’s cultural icons, it has a hard time retaining artists, quite possibly because it does not have the same opportunities for artists or does not have the reputation on a global scale of its counterparts.

Most of Chicago’s wealth is concentrated on the north side of the city, which is evident even by assessing the route of Chicago’s public rail line, the “L”, who’s access is highly concentrated towards the north side of the city. While the city is extremely diverse, with almost equal thirds of black, white and Latino populations, the city is notoriously segregated. This segregation leads to a huge disparity of access and even awareness to cultural opportunities, often making it quite difficult for someone living in a south side neighborhood to attend an event on the north side and vice versa, granted they even know about it at all. Arts education in schools and community centers is also affected greatly by this segregation, with intense difference from school to school. Many schools have cut arts programming all together.

The Chicago Cultural Plan

The Chicago Cultural Plan aims to tackle many of these issues, building upon the ideals of the initial Chicago Cultural Plan, which began in 1986, in its grassroots structure and large amount of involvement from the community to make a Plan which does in fact reflect and serve the needs of its citizens. Meetings were held during the winter and spring of 2012 in community centers, art centers, heritage sites, universities, park districts and schools in areas accessible to all Chicagoans, regardless of geography or the pre-existence of cultural resources. After hearing from its citizens through about 30 community meetings throughout the city, the city’s government will then by compile its Plan of action, a living document that will attempt to find practical solutions through the broad augmentation of culture to address the needs expressed by communities across the city.  The underlying understanding behind the plan is that by improving cultural capital in the city, it will also improve the local economies and increase a sense of community and wellbeing, thereby decreasing crime, joblessness and many other larger issues facing the city’s residents.

Each meeting outlined and built upon these six initiatives:

  1. Increase cultural participation by increasing accessibility.
  2. K-12 arts education.
  3. Cross-pollinate culture across the city.
  4. Strengthen the capacity within the cultural sector.
  5. Ensure vibrant cultural spaces for cultural organizations, groups, artists, and neighborhoods.
  6. Attract and retain artists through a priority on sustainability.

What does this mean for Chicago?

Despite the optimism of many of Chicagoans, the questions remain on many people’s minds- how will the city actually implement the Plan? Will the Plan directly relate to Chicago’s communities or simply improve the city’s image and put even more money into areas that appeal to tourists and outsiders, without providing improvements to neighborhoods across the city?  The answer to these questions is complex and will take ample time to address, though it is evident that there needs to be put in place a structure beyond the top down approach of implementing the Plan directly from the city government.

Community leaders, artists and activists across the city are pushing towards the creation of an intermediary force, or community cultural liaison of sorts, who will connect the initiatives and tools in the Plan with the communities themselves. These liaisons will be working on the ground level in each community to make sure that the Plan is being implemented in a way that is appropriate to each place.  Each liaison is proposed to work within one neighborhood or small group of neighborhoods in the city. The broader context for the success, in relation to many other successful plans is not to necessarily bring in outside resources to each neighborhood but to find creative ways to highlight the rich cultural resources already present in each community, through innovative concepts like cultural mapping.  This view assumes a broad definition of culture, beyond the arts, to encompass the things that describe the daily lives of people in each place.

Now that the initial community meetings have been held, the city has amassed a pool of data about how the above initiatives can be put into action.  The city will be releasing a draft of the Chicago Cultural Plan in early summer of 2012, followed by four ‘ground-truthing’ meetings which aim to get more feedback from Chicago’s people in order to fine-tune the Plan to greater accommodate the needs of the city.  The Plan is set for release in the fall of 2012.

Follow the plan here, give your feedback, and stay tuned.”

Images courtesy of moaksey and anarchosyn on flickr

 

 

Dept of Cultural Affairs & Special Events/Lord Cultural Resources Summary of Findings from 2012 Public Engagement(with other acknowledged consultants):

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
“What would it be like to have not only
color vision but culture vision, the ability
to see the multiple worlds of others?”
– Mary Catherine Bateson,
Cultural Anthropologist

 
Cultural planning in the City of Chicago goes back over 40 years, to the
first effort, in 1966, by the Mayor’s Committee for Cultural and Economic
Development to create a composite voice for the direction of culture in the
city. A second planning effort was completed two decades later under the
administration of Mayor Harold Washington. That plan set the stage for
the direction of growth of the city’s cultural resources and resulted in many
downtown and loop cultural developments; including the redevelopment
of Randolph Street as the Theater District; renovation of Navy Pier; and the
creation of the Chicago Cultural Center as a center for visual and performing
experiences in the city.


Chicago – and the world – has changed significantly in the quarter century
since the 1986 plan was written and even since its update in 1995. In one of
his first acts as Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel directed the Department of
Cultural Affairs and Special Events to revisit the Chicago Cultural Plan. Through a competitive process, the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) led by Commissioner Michelle T. Boone, selected an integrated local and global team headed by the international consulting firm Lord Cultural Resources, with partners Research Explorers, Inc; Dickerson Global Advisors; cultural policy expert Nick Rabkin; and graphic communications firm Weetu, to guide the planning effort. The city also created a 32-member Advisory Committee of local arts, government and community members, specifically for the cultural plan. With this team in place, in February, the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 was launched to identify opportunities for arts and cultural growth for the city.

 
The Planning Process
There are four legs on which this cultural plan stands: public engagement,
a broad and deep wealth of up-to-date research, an emphasis on creativity
and innovation, and, finally, buy-in from the citizens of Chicago, government
and the business community. The planning process is unfolding in three phases,
with Phase 1: planning, research, and development, and Phase 2: outreach,
interviews, and information collection, occurring concurrently. The final phase, 3: information compilation and report generation will utilize all of the research and data gathering, along with insight from those inside and outside of city to make recommendations and an implementation plan to move the Cultural Plan forward.

To reach the broadest spectrum of participants, potential funders, and citizens at large, the planning team worked with partners from the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development and the Chicago Community Trust to create resource maps for the town hall meetings and the neighborhood cultural conversations.


Technology has reshaped the way many citizens engage with culture and
participate in the arts; a National Endowment for the Arts finding shows that
people who participate in the arts through electronic media are nearly three
times as likely to attend live arts events as non-media participants. So to further the conversation on Chicago’s cultural future, and to allow an even greater voice for citizens, the team launched an interactive website, where Chicagoans were asked to submit ideas and participate in the discussion.


The public phase of the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan kicked off in February 2012 with a series of large public meetings in four locations throughout the city within a short public transit, walk, and car ride from over 90% of Chicago citizens. Those locations were; Columbia College’s Stage Two in central Chicago, Nicholas Senn High School on the North side, DuSable Museum of African American History on the South side, National Museum of Mexican Art on the West side.
This report explains what happened at the public meetings, what the public said, how the information was captured and how it will be used moving forward.

The Big Picture: Town Hall Meetings


Town Halls
Attendance
Count
Columbia College 315
Nicholas Senn High School 161
DuSable Museum of African American History 158
National Museum of Mexican Art 201
TOTAL 835

 
The town hall meeting discussions were as spirited as the locations in which
they were held. In breakout groups, participants were asked about their view
of cultural Chicago, and how we get from here to there. At the conclusion of
the meeting, each group was given three minutes to report back the highlights of their conversations. Reportbacks from all the groups allowed them to hear each other’s challenges, priorities, and best practices in sharing their vision for Chicago and its neighborhoods. Participants were also given the opportunity to ask questions of city officials and the consulting team.
• Increase cultural participation by increasing accessibility. Throughout
the city, Chicagoans are looking for greater access to culture. This point
addresses many sectors: safety, zoning and policy, physical distribution, and,
in some areas far south and west, transportation.
• Secure K-12 arts education. At every town hall meeting, arts education was
a major topic. Conversation often became more intense when discussing
the desire to provide arts education opportunities for school-age children.
These include arts in schools of all types -public, charter, private, etc. – as
well as opportunities outside of school, such as after school and during the
summer, weekend, and breaks.
• Downtown and beyond – cross-pollinate culture citywide.  

Chicago culture is not only downtown or in the loop. Culture thrives throughout the city, and participants came equipped with examples of culture from their communities – we even had poetic and dance performances at some of the meetings.

• Strengthen capacity within cultural sector. Participants think the cultural
sector in the city is strong when it comes to offering quality cultural
experiences; however, the sector is weak in infrastructure development
– training, resource development, assistance in navigating public and
governmental agencies.
• Ensure vibrant cultural space for artists, cultural groups, and
neighborhoods.  Chicagoans resoundingly requested the exploration of all types of places for culture.

• Attract and retain artists through priority on sustainability. Chicago’s
“artist drain” was acknowledged, with many people pointing out that the
universities and colleges in Chicago train some of the greatest cultural
practitioners, but these practitioners then leave for the East and West
Coasts, where they can make a living as artists.

 
Digging Deeper: Neighborhood Cultural Conversations

 

“If we could provide people with more
information on why where they live is special,
people would have more pride in their city and
take better care of their neighborhoods.”
– Caroline Stevens,
Town Hall participant

 

The vitality and diversity of Chicago’s neighborhoods
are one of its greatest assets and what differentiates it
from other cities. Chicago residents were engaged in 21
neighborhood meetings in 19 locations between the end of
February and beginning of April 2012. Neighborhood cultural
conversations were designed to use topics that dominated
town hall meetings to inspire residents to think critically
about their own neighborhood, and allow them to articulate
the potential for their community’s cultural vitality.
During the conversations, participants were encouraged to
celebrate their neighborhood, vote on the top three town
hall issues that resonated most with their personal and or
community desires. This followed facilitated discussions of
the top 2 to 3 themes where participants graded the success
or failures of their neighborhoods in addressing the issue as
well as suggested and prioritized solutions.

Of the six themes, “Secure K-12 art education” and “ensure
vibrant cultural spaces” consistently were the top themes
most pertinent to their neighborhoods. “Increase cultural
participation by increasing accessibility,” “cross-pollinate
culture citywide,” and “attract and retain artist through
priority on sustainability” were nearly tied in the second tier
but varied by conversation depending on the neighborhood
and audience. “Strengthen capacity within the cultural
sector” received the least amount of votes of the six themes.
To systematically evaluate the information gained through
the conversations, the team built a series of charts, like the
one below, summarizing the public input on the three key
questions by region and topic.


Four themes consistently surfaced in terms of understanding
residents’ desires to ensure Chicago’s future cultural vitality.
The themes are:

• Empower neighborhoods to plan and execute cultural initiatives.
Residents know their community and feel that they are best able to assess
and articulate their needs. In many cases, attendees were looking to these
conversations and the city to provide them with direction for improving their
own community. Many thought that the city could facilitate the initiative
by providing the steps, access, and tools to create cultural opportunities –
space, education, and experiences – by leveraging their existing assets and
identifying opportunities that can be realized in the future.
• Coordinate and centralize cultural communication. Access to information
and lack of communication between different parts of the city or sectors of
the community were often cited as reasons for neighborhood segregation,
ethnic polarity, and lack of exposure to culture. Many neighborhood
priorities focused on improved communication.
• Optimize existing resources citywide. The Chicago Park District is the
largest municipal park manager in the nation and owner of more than 8,100
acres of green space, 580 parks and 260 field houses. Nearly every Chicago
neighborhood has a park and field house. Additionally, Chicago is one of the
leading municipal library systems with more than 75 locations throughout
Chicago. In the minds of many participants these two existing institutions
can be the foundation for facilities on which the city can “build” since most
neighborhoods have both a library and park that are maintained and staffed.
Participants felt that this foundation exists in both public and privately held
facilities, green spaces, rooftops, lots and any number of potential cultural
places.
• Distribute citywide resources equitably.  As groups focused on the needs of their communities, residents quickly seized on the opportunity to provide solutions for the issues of real and perceived inequalities in cultural opportunities – be they economic or geographic. First, the distribution of 

more and equitable arts education was a main theme at every conversation.
Many residents felt that the arts education opportunities currently on offer
for the majority of school-age children was inadequate and would benefit
from augmentation. Many attendees pointed out that creativity sparked by
arts education is crucial in innovation development.

 

Next Steps


This report represents the conclusion of the initial public engagement.
Following the approval of this report, the team will share the findings and
combine the results of the public engagement with the research, creativity and innovation studies, input from city and sector leaders, to identify and prioritize opportunities and needs. Finally a draft Cultural Plan will be distributed in late Summer.
The Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 plan is an invitation to explore and
shape Chicago’s cultural future so participants are encouraged to stay
connected to both the process – by continuing to dialogue online at
http://www.chicagoculturalplan2012.com and to each other by seeking opportunities for collaborations and partnerships with new contacts made through the public engagement process.

a preview/interview of evolving thoughts & ideas for the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan

Perspectives on the Cultural Plan:  Baraka de Soleil

Interviewer: Amina Dickerson

————————————————————————————————-

What is your title?

   Creative Practitioner

What is your involvement or role with the Cultural Plan?

Attended the Town Hall Meetings, neighborhood cultural conversations and often invited by the leaders of the NCC’s[Neighborhood Cultural Conversations] to be a facilitator for breakout sessions during these meetings. a self-appointed grass roots cultural worker of this plan, seeking to be present at the table whenever possible.

What meetings have you attended?

Attended ALL NCCs as well as the discipline meetings organized for the visual arts, dance (audience architects), and the session for interdisciplinary artists    (hosted by Co-prosperity Sphere)

What most intrigued or confounded you about the design of the cultural plan process ?

Most intriguing- and most valuable, is witnessing different neighborhoods engage in conversation with each other, explore potential for collaborations, people identifying other artists and resources in their community, networking. (for me) crossing-over into various communal spaces[neighborhoods] i didn’t get to go as a child ( i grew up in Chicago but just relocated after a 20 year hiatus) where i get  to experience multiple conversations on how culture impacts people’s lives.

What are your greatest hopes for the outcomes of the cultural plan?  (laughter) ultimately to be able to see this plan unfold in ways which foster deep rooted intersections of art, culture and ‘cultural’ conversations; inviting communities to experience each other beyond the boundaries of Chicago’s historically racially divided neighborhoods.

I also want to continue to advocate for everyone being at the table, everyone’s voices to be heard.  that’s why I  formed an ad hoc Facebook group Chi-CAGO [Chicago-Cultural Ad Hocracy Group Organizing] to keep people informed.

A vision — and what I want to establish is the new position of “creative liaison” (and I mentioned it during some of the cultural conversations).  What came out of the amazing conversations from the neighborhood meetings and what LORD consultants have inspired–  is a mechanism to continue & cultivate the rich fertile conversations unique to each neighborhood; as a way to move things forward.  How do these neighborhoods engage culture, creative placemaking, art as part of everyday lives?  How do we continue to hear  what people want & be held accountable to upholding their thoughts & ideas? (By establishing) creative [cultural] liaisons at the grassroots level, (they can be) actively involved in being a voice for the neighborhood, keeping the conversations going, providing feedback to the City on the continued implementation of the Cultural Plan.  This creates a living, fluid document, and plan.

What I’ve heard at many NCCs but also at artist based meetings–  is that we [all] must  activate this plan, continue to be aligned with the evolution of the plan. We all have a responsibility for making the plan come alive.  Artists have been at the forefront of neighborhood revitalization and should be at the forefront of this conversation, at the center of the neighborhood creative think tank in looking at culture.  Liaisons interfacing with neighborhoods in a way that is meaningful, proactive and invested…we must continue to listen to voices of the neighborhood. These cultural workers {cultural liaisons} would be the active ears to those voices & ideas…

Which, if any, of the six themes that have emerged most resonates with you?

I feel, and this is kind of political,  the role of the creative liaison will embody all six and puts artists at the forefront.  So– for example, how do we attract and retain artists?  The liaison role would look at how to position artists in the center of the conversations and will lead us to how to retain these artists, because they will be at the center.  We got a strong sense of what these neighborhoods want.  With the appointment of, say, 25 liaisons, it would allows for multiple neighborhoods to  converge and will create by definition create cross-pollination.  Such a role can help forge the conversations about important concerns of neighborhoods, like arts education, access and how to build that vitality within the neighborhoods.

*since this interview (which will  soon be on the Chicago cultural plan 2012’s website) i want to acknowledge initial key conversations with artists/cultural workers/planners – Mankwe Ndosi, Maritza Bautista & especially Meg Peterson who, while abroad, is significantly contributing to the vision & development of this cultural liaison role.  the conversation on the plan and this role continues with more artists, community members and all who are invested in the vision of  an innovative, fluid & grassroots-based cultural blueprint  for Chicago.

developing schema for community cultural liaison role – designed & envisioned by Meg Peterson, in conversation with Baraka de Soleil

in search of new house…excavating ambient messages

morning dust kicks up

& i am found

excavating the soul of house inspired by the search for new house.

spirit builds it.
land encompasses it.
ambiance surrounds….

unfolding in 3

messages:

#1 “Maboko Na Ndouzou .”

(deep house Boddhi Satva Mix)

#2 “your talisman awaits within this pulse.”

(Yoruba Boddhi Satva mix)

#3 “Be like Warriors of Africa mixed with lemon, herbs, spit & sweat.”

(multi ancestral/peeps Boddhi Satva mix)

 

Maboko Na Ndouzou

from an open panel conversation on cultural divides

this is from an article written about a panel i recently moderated at Chicago Cultural Center; looking at exploring the difficult conversation of culture as it relates to dance, art-making and the Chicago neighborhood mentality….

Salon NOTEBOOK: Difficult Conversations: Cultural Divides

by Zachary Whittenburg

On April 16 at the Chicago Cultural Center, prompted by interdisciplinary artist Baraka de Soleil, four panelists and their audience kicked off a discussion about culture by attempting to lasso that rampant word with other words.

Hema Rajagopalan, artistic director of Natya Dance Theatre, identified culture’s three main ingredients in her view — beliefs, practices and values — but swiftly added that they are “always going to be influenced by the surrounding environment. It’s important that we understand that [culture] transforms and evolves.”

Phil Reynolds, executive director of the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, gave his “working definition” of culture: “A set of belief systems, intellectual expression, artistic output and social practices that, combined, define a society or a subset of a society.”

Although it has other connotations, too, he said. “You hear, ‘I came from a cultured family.’ What does that mean? Good breeding? Refinement?”

Cescily Washington, founder and president of CW Arts Consulting, called culture “a collective palette.” De Soleil, the panel’s moderator, called it “the visible and invisible ties that bind.”

“It’s who you know, what you know and how you know it,” said attendee Eboni Senai Hawkins, producing artistic director at see. think. dance. “I’d maybe add to that,” offered Reynolds, “how you express what you know.” Choreographer Madeleine Reber replied further that culture “is what you don’t know you know.”

“Using it as a singular makes me put my head against the wall,” said Barbara Koenen, director of artists’ resources at Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “It always has to be plural. It’s malleable. It’s multiple. Everyone has their own.”

* * *

Allow me at this point to pose some questions to you, NOTEBOOK reader. When away from a context in which you feel comfortable or fluent, do you listen to and seek to understand and absorb its foreign qualities? Or do you signal outwardly what you want strangers to know about your own identity?

Does the answer depend on how you feel inside each particular unfamiliar?

“Aesthetics and perception” were two words de Soleil chose to express his understanding of culture; I’ll subdivide the latter, as perceptions can be grounded in lived experience or based on association, assumption and reputation.

What are the sources of your assumptions? Do you know what they are, and are they born in conscious choice, inheritance or reflex?

Two success stories of cultural exchange are music and food. (Masgouf tastes the same to tongues of all mothers; ndbombolo sounds the same to ears of all colors.) Both are experienced in the body, albeit with no guarantee of personal interaction with their producers.

So what happens when there is no non-human intermediary such as an entrée on a dish or an mp3 file in a music player? When the question is not, “How do I feel about masgouf?” but “How do I feel about Iraqi people?” or, rather, “How do I feel about this Iraqi person, who has a face and a name?” Sometimes, though not always, the answer is no exchange.

That’s a major challenge for live dance. Not only isn’t it transmitted through an intermediary — it travels directly from performer to viewer’s eye — a dance doesn’t always utilize or adhere to known vocabularies, shared or otherwise.

What’s left, then? Bodies moving in shared space, being observed by other bodies, period. As a location of potential cultural exchange, the odds are not in its favor but, for the same reasons, the fidelity dance offers as a conduit for empathy is hard to beat.

* * *

Rajagopalan came to the United States from India in 1974. She was in her mid-twenties. When she first heard the term “melting pot,” she said she remembers thinking, “But I want to see my vegetables! I don’t want it to all become mushy.” Through the Urban Gateways program, she performed in Chicago Public Schools but admitted she often dreaded the experience. “I used to hear remarks [from students] that would really upset me. Not that [Urban Gateways was] paying a whole lot of money. The fact was, I wanted to educate and share and wanted to express that there is another form, [another] aspect, a whole other world out there.”

“The empathetic heart,” she continued, the desire to understand what others experience and can offer, “is what is missing in Chicago. That extension of a hand doesn’t necessarily happen.” (Rajagopalan acknowledged that, at times, the hand withdrawn has been her own. While driving west at night from downtown Chicago on Roosevelt Road instead of the Eisenhower Expressway, she used to pass bars with mostly black clienteles. She recalled reminding herself that she was safe despite her instincts to the contrary.)

Reynolds expressed his satisfaction with progress made toward audience diversification at the Dance Center, although some desired benchmarks remain elusive. “The meter is going to move really slowly,” he acknowledged. “This is complex behavior.”

“It’s still, ‘Go for your color,’ ” observed de Soleil about attendance at culturally specific performances. “Black audience for black dance. Latino audience for Latino dance. Queer audience for queer dance.” From the panel’s audience, Natya program coordinator Bill Jordan concurred. “Crossing a cultural divide is one of the hardest things to do, beyond a trivial level. It takes a lot of work.”

In addition to rifts opened by racial difference, there are intangible barriers constructed by economic inequality and loyalty to faith. “Sometimes ‘difference’ is as clear as ticket price and ‘How do I get there?’ ” de Soleil observed plainly. “Twenty-five [dollars] is affordable? Not if you can’t afford it. ‘You want me to come downtown? But I need to eat.’ ”

While there are many ways to expose oneself to a broad spectrum of culture for free, some pan- and cross-cultural experiences charge admission at high prices. Once inside a “zone of privilege,” what cultures are and aren’t represented? Rajagopalan asked whether exchange is a component of presenting organizations’ philosophies, beyond or independent of their commercial needs and wants as institutions. Attendee Abra Johnson of Honey Pot Performance made a few basic requests of the field: “Experience each other’s performance culture. Learn each other’s aesthetics. Get to know non-central spaces and organizations. Think about bartering as a source of funding.”

Rajagopalan responded by describing how fulfilling it’s been for her to learn to express herself in non-native languages, saying she’s “still a student” of other dance forms. She identified how relocating overseas increased her capacities as a dance artist. Larger stages were more accessible in the U.S. than they were in India and her movement grew to fill this freshly available space.

Washington asserted the importance of providing youth the same sense of latency, by way of arts education and outreach. Chicago students “have a huge opportunity,” she said, but wondered if they were aware of their own potential. Later, she listed truths she wants to ensure the city’s children hear.

“Yes, you have a voice. Yes, Chicago is yours. Yes, you belong here.” She paused for a moment, then said, “Culture is shapeable. It’s shapeable.”

Re-Frame: Revisited. december 2011

Video representing artists from  D UNDERBELLY ‘s communal project, Re-Frame: A Gathering.  This December 2011 showing  was at Links Hall & Featured artist participants:

Ching-In Chen 

Rebecca kling

Iman Crutcher

with Re-Frame artists: Victoria Martinez,  Eboni Senai Hawkins, Isaac Fosl Van-Wyke, Anansi Knowbody, Michael Johnson and co-facilitator Awilda Rodriguez Lora.

directed, curated & co-facilitated by Baraka de Soleil.

http://vimeo.com/34537227

D UNDERBELLY’s Re-Frame: The Progress of Works featuring Sojourner Wright

Re-Frame: The Progress of Works
Friday, April 13th at 7:00pm
An evening of innovation at Rumble Arts Center, in association with Insight Arts and  D UNDERBELLY
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A distinctive evening reflecting the progress of artist Sojourner Wright  from Re-Frame: A Gathering – an innovative project of D UNDERBELLY focused on creative process and community building. This past winter,  a community of  artists, curators and facilitators from all over Chicago, gathered for 7 weeks; re-framing, through rigorous experimentation & investigation of critical feedback, the way they think about process, collaboration and the development of performance works. Re-Frame: The Progress of Works shows us how  artists have continued to explore creative process through the progress of new work, further examination of their body of work or experimentation with an existing work.
Come for the opportunity to witness intriguing work, home cooked food and engaging discussions.
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a developing evening-length solo performance
featuring Sojourner Wright, writer & performer
directorial consultant: Baraka de Soleil
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In contrast to a world of repressed emotions, missed psychic connections & voids filled with over consumption, Sojourner cultivates an organic space of healing, right in her home’s center – the kitchen. Passages from Maya Tiwari’s Book Aryuveda: A life of Balance become the catalyst for transformation and healing during this interactive evening further infused by sprinklings of poetic narrative & movement vignettes fueled by the transformative powers of the 5 elements (fire, water, air, earth, space).  There will be collective baking, snacking and good ‘ole fashioned talking’ around the kitchen table. Not to mention a smokin’ hot dance party in the middle of it all. You will leave ‘I Am Sadhana’ with a new experience of what it means to throw down in the kitchen.
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BIO
Sojourner Zenobia Wright is a graduate of the School at Steppenwolf class of ’09. She has also trained with Chicago’s Piven Theater and Black Box Studio. She is a graduate of Naropa Universities BFA in Interdisciplinary Performance. At Naropa she found ways in which to work with her mind, emotions, body and spirit in order to fully become a vessel for her fullest creative self. Sojourner began creating her own work in the fall of ’08 through Soul Journey Projects. “What is meaningful to me in the creative process is distilling the purest truth and sharing it with articulated presence…deep listening and witnessing each other in our stories as well as in the revelations behind those stories. “
 
*The Kitchen Project : I am Sadhana is supported by D UNDERBELLY as part of the Re-Frame project, in association with Insight Arts.
$5 suggested donation*
Rumble Arts Center
3413 W North Avenue
Rumble Arts Center’s first floor gallery is an accessible space
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proceeds from this showing will support the A.I.R./R.I.A (Artist in Residence/Rumble & Insight Arts) pilot project.

note to the sista that moves me beyond consciousness towards proactivity

sista,
thank you for your rousing words…u are right. we need to be outraged by all black deaths. black on black truly. i have relocated to chicago from new york recently and been in those areas of recent killings. films like The Interrupters reminded me that i need to tune into these neighborhoods and look at what i can do a black male, active being…
u have inspired me beyond simply being conscious to proactivity (by creative means) in order to address this alarming homicide statistic. it brings to mind a performance ritual created in 1996 in minneapolis with a black male collective Sirius B entitled Monday Morning Body Count. i believe it’s time to remount, reconstruct or build anew a ritual of awakening that permeates these ‘death zones” in chicago. the current toll of 100 homicides (as of March 25th, 2012) in which i count 70 black men so far propels me into concretizing this performative plan of action.  will keep u informed on what comes out of this. 
best to you
B

Chicago Cultural Plan 1986 ….begin with the past, discern what is useful in the present, build a future cultural plan that celebrates all of what we desire…

chicago is developing a cultural plan in 2012.  last cultural plan was developed circa 1986 –

– it would be great to have a discourse/meeting on this original plan and how it could potentially inform the upcoming plan

here is a link to 1986 cultural plan in pdf – http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dca/general/ChicagoCulturalPlan.pdf

below is language  from 1986 plan:

A TRIBUTE TO CHICAGO

CULTURE

Over 150 years, Chicago has evolved from a small prairie city to a dynamic cultural center of
international status. Therefore, it is fitting that we celebrate Chicago’s Sesquicentennial by
presenting the city with its first comprehensive, cohesive strategy for nurturing our artistic
and cultural resources.
Chicago is alive with culture. Every corner of the city is literally bursting with cultural
and artistic activity – with neighborhood dance troupes and community theater, jazz and
blues musicians and symphony orchestras, sculptors, painters and writers – all contributing
to the great excitement and ethnic diversity that makes Chicago so remarkable.
But culture is a precious resource that requires careful attention. I t is an integral part of
Chicago’s spirit and an underpinning of Chicago’s economic well-being. Yet this city has
never before developed a long-range, coordinated plan for culture and the arts. Now, thanks
to the work of so many dedicated Chicagoans, we have one.
f commend the diligence and vision of those who pursued the development of the
plan, in particular Commissioner Fred Fine, Advisory Board Chair Jessie Woods, Planning
Committee Chair Robert Hutchins and Director of the Plan Michael C. Dorl.
f especially salute the thousands of Chicagoans and hundreds of organizations that
contributed their time and ideas to the development of this plan.
With the Chicago Cultural Plan, we pay tribute to the cultural greatness of Chicago
and pledge to enhance and showcase that greatness for generations to come.
Harold Washington
Mayor
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A STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES

The individual artist is at the foundation of our cultural heritage. The ability of artists
to pursue the arts as a career and earn a living wage is basic to the growth and stability of our cultural diversity.

Thousands of cultural organizations and community organizations with cultural com­
ponents throughout the city have an enormous impact on the lives of our citizens.

Our large cultural institutions are recognized around the world for excellence. They
enrich the lives of our citizens, draw tourists, and contribute to the city’s economy. Their continued support is essential to the health of the city. Cultivation of audiences and an emphasis on arts appreciation is necessary to continuing cultural development.

Cultural activities should be accessible to the disabled, the elderly and low income
people, both as audience and participants.

Cultural vitality is important to our economy and community development. The cultural sector employs thousands; cultural organizations bring identity to downtown and the neighborhoods; and our cultural diversity helps business maintain a quality workforce that wants to live in Chicago.

The public and private sectors have a responsibility to cultivate the development of the city’s cultural life.

Chicago’s culture is a collage of many cultures that sometimes stand separately, sometimes merge with each other. The heritage of Chicago’s European Ethnic groups, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and others make rich contributions to our cultural life.

City resources available for cultural support should be distributed on a fair and equitable basis, both among diverse cultures and between citywide and neighborhood-based cultural institutions.

Excellence in the arts is a continuing objective that underlies the entire Chicago Cultural Plan.

Culture comprises our common heritage and avenues of expression – the visual arts
and crafts, humanities, anthropology, science and technology, performing arts, architecture and other means of expression – which people use to communicate their fundamental character and aspirations. Culture and the arts are essential to the quality of life. They help identify our place in the world and provide opportunities for creative expression. With this plan, Chicago states its commitment to providing citizens with these opportunities.
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A NEW BEGINNING

The Chicago Cultural Plan is a comprehensive strategy for nourishing and cultivating culture in our city. It proposes to chart a new course by combining our many fine artistic and educational resources into a single voice that says “Culture matlers.” The Chicago Cultural Plan is without precedent in its scope and the grassroots process by which it was crafted. It took shape from the recommendations and observations of thousands of Chicago citizens as well as hundreds of cultural, civic and community groups. It goes to the heart of the rationale for establishing the Department of Cultural Affairs, which
grew out of a recommendation by Mayor Washington’s 1983 Transition Team Report. From the outset, our tenets were:
Culture and the arts are vital to the quality of our lives and should be so recognized in all aspects of municipal planning.
Cultural resources must be accessible and fairly distributed to all to ensure the continued and historically vital contributions of all segments of our diverse culture. Culture is important to our economy by employing thousands of people, attracting new businesses, revitalizing neighborhoods and drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city each year.

The Cultural Plan embraces these principles in a manner that celebrates the cultural
diversity of the city.
The plan was one of the first projects undertaken by the new Department of Cultural
Affairs. Under the direction of Michael C. Dorl, we began work in earnest after the City Council’s unanimous approval of a resolution presented by Mayor Harold Washington in April 1985, to accept a two-year funding grant from the Chicago Community Trust for development of a plan.
This plan is not a finished document. In our rapidly changing urban environment, it
must be viewed as a thoughtful beginning … a dynamic plan that will continue to respond to fluctuating circumstances and ongoing funding requirements.
One very important task has already been achieved by the Plan … and that is tile very process. It has had a leavening effect on much of the cultural community. It has awakened some, reinvigorated others, and met head-on the doubts and skepticism from those who believe that too often their concerns are overlooked or just get lip service. Perhaps most importantly, our meetings were attended not only by artists and arts administrators but also by many who for the first time talked about what art and culture could do for their community and their personal lives.

This summary of the plan will be supplemented with ongoing policy papers and expanded treatment of many concerns barely touched upon here. A major supplementary document will be available May I. 1987.

Our city owes a debt of gratitude to Robert A. Hutchins, who chaired the Planning Committee, appointed from among the members of the Advisory Board by our esteemed Chair, Jessie A. Woods. In my long history, 1have never experienced such commitment and wise generalship. And no project director has given of himself more than Mike Dorf and his staff in the difficult task of seeking a true synthesis of the unprecedented democratic process pursued here. I must also salute and thank Nick Rabkin, Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Affairs; Madeline Rabb, Director of the Chicago Office of Fine Arts; Lois Weisberg, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events; and Kathryn Darrell, Director of the Office of Film and Entertainment Industries, for their ongoing, invaluable contributions.
Let us now join forces to transform this Plan into a liVing realization of OUf finest cultural aspirations.

Fred Fine
Departlllent ofC”lt”ml Affairs

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We met in church basements in West Town and bank boardrooms in Albany Park. In union halls in South Chicago and park fieldhouses in Austin. In libraries, movie houses, schools … dance studios, community centers, theaters} museums … and in every other place where people could come together. And they came. They came to South Shore in the middle of a blizzard and to Beverly in the midst of a summer thunderstorm. To Pilsen on a dark Wednes­day night and to Lincoln Square on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Parents came, and kids came, and businessmen, and aldermen, and teachers, and librarians, and historians, and artists and artisans of every kind. They told us of ways to use the arts in the everyday life of the city. They told us of the joy the arts bring to the soul. We realized again and again the central role the arts play in our life in Chicago and in Chicago’s role and image in the world at large. In all, thousands of Chicagoans participated in setting forth a vision for the cultural future of Chicago. They are the authors of the Chicago Cultural Plan.

Michael C. Dorf
Director
Chicago Cultural Plan
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IMPLEMENTATION
The Chicago Cultural Plan has been developed over the past two years through an intensive citywide effort to analyze the city’s cultural needs and opportunities and to develop recom­mendations for action. All this work will have been in vain unless there is a concerted effort to turn this plan into action.
Some of the recommendations will require primarily the interest and efforts of city
government and cultural organizations, while other recommendations will require additional funding.
A variety of players will carry out these recommendations: city government agencies, political leaders, community groups, cultural institutions, individual artists, private busi­nesses, foundations, concerned citizens and others.

Tlie overall responsibility for this mission, liowever, rests witH the Department of Cultural Affairs. The Advisory Board to the Department of Cultural Affairs is charged with overseeing the Department’s implementation of the plan and setting future goals. There will be an annual report to update the city on the progress of the Chicago Cultural Plan.

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CULTURAL POLICY IN CITY GOVERNMENT

Department of Cultural Affairs

The Department of Cultural Affairs is the principal advocate and spokesperson in city government for cultural development and funding. As the umbrella agency for the Chicago Office of Fine Arts, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and the Office of Film and Entertain­ment Industries, it can be instrumental in coordinating and advocating cultural concerns.
However, limitations in its resources and the current scope of its responsibilities restrict the Department’s ability to mediate cultural concerns effectively. Such coordination could stream­line and strengthen the impact of city support for cultural activities.

R E COM M E N D A T IO N
Strengthen the ability of the Department of Cultural Affairs to streamline city cultural
programming among the various agencies and to act as an advocate for cultural concerns in such areas as codes, transportation, planning and education. C>= <C

Confirm the role of the Department of Cultural Affairs in the subcabinets of Development and Community Services.

Encourage closer cooperation between the Department, the Illinois Arts Council and
the Illinois Humanities Council.

Increase the staff and resources of the Department, including the Chicago Office of
Fine Arts, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and the Office of Film and Entertainment Industries, enabling them to administer more effectively services such as technical assistance and grants programs.

Expand the Department’s search for joint public-private partnerships, with founda­tions and corporate supporters, for example.

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Tourism

An effective, energetic marketing of Chicago cultural activities can further increase the tremen­dous contribution that culture makes to the city’s economy. The international reputation of Chicago as an arts center is a major factor in attracting conventions and hundreds of thou­sands of tourists. The richness of our cultural activities is an important economic resource to develop. Restaurants, hotels, transportation industries, parking garages and retail businesses all profit from a dynamic and well-marketed “Chicago Culture.”

R E c o M M E N D A T I o N s
Assist and train cultural organizations to develop cooperative promotions to targeted
tourism markets.

Create a task force to encourage and promote cultural tourism. The task force would consist of tourism agencies. such as the Chicago Tourism Council and the Chicago Conven­tion and Visitors Bureau, and other organizations with a strong interest in tourism, such as the Illinois Restaurant Association and the League of Chicago Theaters.

Create and market a “Chicago Card,” an all-purpose admission card that tourists could use at a variety of the city’s attractions.

Support the Chicago Tourism Council’s efforts to offer membership activities and expand its services in order to ensure a secure funding base.

Create an “Office of Cultural Exchange” within the Department of Cultural Affairs to
facilitate national and international cultural tours. Incorporate arts, architectural and humanities exhibits and performances into city­ funded promotional and marketing programs.

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Economic Development

Arts and culture are powerful tools for economic development. For example, a study commis­sioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey stated that the arts and culture have a $5.6 billion annual impact on the economy of the New York City metropolitan area. In addition to the contribution that the arts industry, both commercial and not-for-profit, has on Chicago’s economy, our reputation as an arts center is a large factor in attracting new business. We should more fully explore and promote the economic role of arts and culture in Chicago.

R E c o M M E N D A TI o N s

Prepare an “Economic Impact of Arts Study” for the region as a coordinated city interagency effort to demonstrate the large contribution that culture makes to our economy and to outline areas where that contribution can be increased.

Establish Cultural Enterprise Zones in which commercial and nonprofit cultural organizations have clustered office spaces, rehearsal and performance spaces, retail boutiques and galleries, along with studio and living spaces for individual artists. There would be initial tax incentives and subsidies to attract cultural organizations and private investors. Such zones have been successfully established in Seattle and Buffalo.

Create Cultural Incubator projects, to assist in the establishment and spin-off of cultural and arts businesses.

Maintain and coordinate a cultural development component in Chicago Works To­gether II: Chicago’s development plan.
Explore new tools to maintain and expand Chicago’s share of the feature film and television production industry in cooperation with the Illinois Film Office. These include the feasibility of a major new production soundstage, a revolving film financing fund and tax incentives.
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The Park District

Since its founding in 1934, the Chicago Park District has sought to integrate the arts into the daily lives of Chicago residents. In addition to its extensive fieldhouse cultural facilities, the Park District hosts eight of the nation’s most celebrated history, art and science cultural institutions.
While many of the fieldhouse cultural facilities have fallen into disuse and disrepair,
the Chicago Park District has rekindled its desire to be a more active participant in our cultural community. I t has recenlly added the Mexican Fine Arts Center and the South Shore Cultural Center to the roster of outstanding institutions on park land.

R E c o M M E N D A TI o N s
Institute close cooperation between the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chicago Park District to achieve the objectives of the Cultural Plan.

Make Park District facilities more available to local cultural organizations and artists.
Encourage cooperative programming between the Park District and cultural and arts
service organizations.

Further enhance cooperation between the Park District and the city’s expanding festival programs directed by the Office of Special Events.

Strengthen and expand the financial support of cultural institutions on Park
District property.
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Public Art

Public art demonstrates a city’s commihnent to bring beauty to its citizens’ everyday lives. Chicago already has an international reputation for outstanding public art. We will preserve and enlarge that reputation by reaffirming our commitment to commissioning new public art.

R E c o M M E N D A T I o N S

Strengthen the city’s Percent for Art program by mandating that a full one percent of
new construction or redevelopment costs of all public facilities be devoted to acquiring art for those facilities.

To ensure benefits for the performing arts from this program, consider allocating up to fifty percent of the funds to a new trust for public performance facilities.

Extend the Percent for Art program to private development projects with public subsidies or financing.

Shift oversight of the Public Art Program from the Department of Public Works to the Department of Cultural Affairs so it can coordinate public art initiatives in all city departments (such as Department of Aviation, Board of Education, Park District and City Colleges).

Commission public art works for the O’Hare Airport expansion, the Southwest Rapid
Transit route, the new public library, Wright Junior College and other public places over the next five years.

Expand active participation of neighborhood representatives in the selection of public art works, and indude a healthy proportion of Chicago artists in the selections.

Lobby for the restoration of funding for public art in federally-assisted public transpor­tation projects.

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CITY WIDE COMMUNICATION AND COOPERATION

Communication About Programs and Resources
The one concern we heard again and again, in meetings held across the city, was the need to increase communication about the programs and resources we already have. Increased communication between the multitude of arts and cultural organizations can help them coordinate scheduling and promotion; alert them to additional resources available; and
perhaps most importantly, allow them to work together to increase their overall impact in the city. In addition, we must increase communication between arts groups and audiences.
Too often the public is unaware of the wealth of available programs in the city. Many mechanisms for reaching broad audiences already exist, such as the branch system of the Chicago Public Library. We can more fully utilize such networks.

R E c o M M E N D A T I o N s
Support development of a citywide calendar of events.

Publish a “Cultural Directory” listing programs, services and funding available from
city government and other public agencies.

Expand the scope and distribution of the Chicago Area “Technical Assistance Hand­
book” to provide a comprehensive directory of resources and services available to artists and arts organizations.

Increase ongoing communication between arts service organizations to expand infor­mation-sharing, scheduling and long-range planning. For example, the Cultural Collabora­tive Network and the Grant Park Cultural and Educational Community already bring groups together to share programming, promotional and collaborative activity.

Encourage radio and television to provide more cultural and public service announce­ments during regular listening and viewing hours.

Promote the works of local film and video makers through the Chicago Public Library system, by distributing their works on cassettes to the branch libraries.

Feature the works of Chicago artists and performers on the two municipal cable television stations, such as on the new “Music Alive” program.

Provide advertising space free of charge to cultural and arts organizations on CTA buses and trains.

Promote tour programs that increase awareness of the arts, culture and architecture.

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Public Access to Cultural Programming

Much cultural programming is presented in Chicago without adequate audience support. And, many Chicagoans interested in participating in cultural activities either feel that the programming presented does not reflect their divelSe cultural interests or are unaware of available opportunities. We must bring together these programs and audiences to the mutual benefit of each.

R E c o M M E N D A T I o N S
Expand neighborhood outreach programs by center city institutions, to attract larger
audiences downtown and to bring appropriate exhibits and performances to the com­munities.

Encourage more community content in the programming of center city and major cultural institutions.

Use public access cable television channels to promote cultural activities as another method of attracting a broader audience.

Encourage tlte development of a citywide radio network for arts programming to bring cultural experiences to radio listenelS at home and on the move.
Expand off-peak public transportation services on days when there are significant cultural activities or to sites where cultural events are occurring.
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Community Arts Councils and Cultural Planning

Cultural planning in communities is sporadic. Agroup will assemble to organize an event and then disappear. And all too often, one group will offer a program that others in the community know nothing about. With no central coordination and communication, the overall effective­ness and impact of community cultural activities is greatly diminished, and community resources are not shared. A number of community arts councils have been formed as a result of the Cultural Plan meetings. The Austin Arts Council and Near Northwest Arts Council are located in areas which have strong leadership and are already working to increase the visibility and positive benefits of cultural activities.

R E c o M M E N D A T Io N S
Encourage the organization of a network of community arts councils through assistance by the Department of Cultural Affairs. A community arts council, consisting of representatives from neighborhood arts groups, schools, parks, libraries and businesses, can help its community by coordinating and promoting cultural activities.

Provide grants to develop and maintain community arts councils through the Depart­ment of Cultural Affairs.

Provide seed money and technical assistance through the Department of Cultural Affairs for cultural planning in the neighborhoods.

Encourage arts councils to assist in the planning of neighborhood festivals.
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FACILITIES
Living and Work Space for Artists and Arts Organizations

More than anything else, artists and arts groups need affordable and adequate living and work space. A “space of one’s own” is an essential requirement for creativity. But financial resources are scarce, market forces hostile and antiquated city codes discourage efforts to acquire space. According to a 1983 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, Chicago was the only one of eight major cities surveyed with no policy of support for artists’ space needs.

R E c o M M E N D A T I o N S’ =

Better utilize existing arts spaces in park fieldhouses, schools and libraries. The Chicago Park District, for example, has 48 fieldhouse auditoriums with stages. Only 35 of them are in use for arts activities.

Make available to cultural organizations, on reasonable terms, vacant city-owned buildings for redevelopment.
­
Create a “Space Registry” to help arts groups and individuals find appropriate, affordable living and work space.

Review and revise the city zoning code to permit artists to live and work in the same space.

Review and update building codes in cooperation with all affected interest groups to
eliminate inconsistencies and conflicting interpretations.

Assess the real estate of artists (if owner occupied) and cultural and arts organizations at lower rates.
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Community Cultural Centers

Every community also expressed a need for a “space of its own” for arts and cultural activities. A cultural center can bring an additional focus to the community by providing challenging programs for its youth, stimulating the local economy and offering new opportunities for local artists and arts groups.

R E c o M M E N D A T o N s
Assist communities in determining the feasibility and planning of community cultural
centers, as is being done by the Department of Cultural Affairs at the Hild Cultural Center in the Lincoln Square area.

Develop public-private partnerships to create such centers where feasible.
Make vacant city-owned property available, where appropriate, for redevelopment as
community cultural centers, and help identify other public or private property for this purpose.

Make city financing and other resources available to community cultural center rede­
velopment projects. Both the Viatorian Mansion development and the Mexican Fine Arts Center have received public support of this kind.

Bring existing and new community cultural centers into a citywide network of centers.

Equip certain cultural centers – in geographically diverse areas of the city – with
features such as climate controlled galleries, adequate stage area and security to permit them to host exhibits and performances from downtown institutions and touring groups.

Establish local control and possible ownership of community cultural centers. Com­
munities would be responsible for programming and maintenance of centers, with support from public agencies.

Plan to include appropriate revenue~producing and fundraising activities in commu­nity cultural centers to help underwrite the costs of operations.
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Center City and Major Institutions

A vibrant city depends on the vitality of its cultural life. fn Chicago, our cultural institutions, including museums and performance facilities, have received international acclaim. These institutions greatly need resources for renovation, expansion, and sometimes, for new facilities. The private sector and the Park District have played leading roles in assisting organizations such as the Field Museum and the Art Institute with their facilities programs. The city and the private sector created a unique partnership to save the Chicago Theater. We must have more creative partnerships to meet the future needs of our great cultural institutions.

R E c o M M E N D A T o N s
Increase coordination of cultural facilities policy and planning among the Planning,
Economic Development, Public Works and Cultural Affairs departments.

Identify new public and private sector financing sources and techniques to support
development of new facilities and renovation of major institutions.

Identify tenants and private sector funding to supplement city financing for the redevelopment of Theater Rowan Dearborn Street.

Pursue private-public partnerships for the redevelopment of Navy Pier as a cultural
and recreational attraction, as suggested by the Mayor’s Navy Pier Task Force.

Include the Department of Cultural Affairs in the planning process to enhance the success of the new Chicago Public Library, the most important new cultural facility being constructed in the city.

Develop a two-fold policy of city support for major facilities development, both to major facilities without institutional affiliation (such as Theater Row or tbe Auditorium) and to existing major institutions (whether or not on Park District land).
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The Cultural Center

Under the Department of Cultural Nfairs, in cooperation with the Chicago Public Library, the Cultural Center hosts 500 free programs and exhibits annually and has a fine reputation for thematic programming and showcasing of diverse local artists. But Cultural Center program­ming has been perceived as an addendum to the facility’s primary role as a library. There is a need for a full-fledged cultural center downtown that can highlight the very best of Chicago’s creativity and diversity, give prominence to the variety of our European Ethnic, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and Black arts traditions, diversify cultural offer­ings in the Loop and become the city’s star in Chicago’s cultural galaxy. The Cultural Center
has the potential to become such a facility.

R E c o M M E N o A TI o N s
Establish a joint committee to begin preliminary planning for the Cultural Center’s future as the new public library becomes a reality. The committee should consist of representa­tives from the Public Library, the Departrnentof Cultural Nfairs and otherconcemed parties.

Explore new funding sources for the further development and operation of the Cultural Center, including such current sources as the Library Fund, hoteUmotel tax fund, private sector financing and other revenue options.

Extend the number of hours the Cultural Center is currently open to the public.
Increase promotion of Cultural Center activities.
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–TECHNICAL AND FINANCAL RESOURCES

Funding for Individual Artists and Cultural Organizations

Financial support from both the public and private sector is crucial to the survival of a healthy arts and cultural community. Direct federal support for the arts and humanities is among the lowest of all developed countries. While the private sector has been generous in its support for some elements of our cultural life, that too must be expanded and broadened. The City of Chicago started to support Chicago’s cultural life in a serious way only a few years ago. The growth of its support in the form of grants from the Department of Cultural Affairs has been great – particularly to organizations outside the parameters of mainstream philanthropy. Far more, however, must be done to support all facets of the city’s arts and cultural community, from individuals to community-based organizations to major and mid-sized institutions.

R E c o M M E N D A T I o N s
Increase the size and scope of the CityArts Grant program which provides both program and operating support for Chicago cultural institutions.
Increase the dollar amount of Neighborhood Arts Program grants for individual artists.

Initiate a fellowship program for artists to pursue their own work and inaugurate a
special artist awards program.

Provide grants – such as the forthcoming Department of Cultural Affairs “Commu­
nity Arts Assistance Program,” funded with support from the Illinois Arts Council – to organizations with limited or no access to conventional funding source grants.

Advocate increased support from the Illinois Arts Council for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

Create a revolving business loan fund for artists and cultural organizations, such as
the forthcoming Department of Cultural Affairs “Cultural Facilities Development Loan Pro­gram” offered in cooperation with the Department of Economic Development.

Subsidize rent to artists in publicly owned buildings for both living and work space in exchange for community service projects performed by those artists.

Provide sweat equity projects in which artist/tenants do post-construction work in exchange for ownership rights, similar to projects initiated in Minneapolis/St.Paul.

Strengthen the principles of peer selection and balanced distribution of grants to underscore equity and quality in all funding matters.
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Technical and Materials Resource Centers for Artists and Not-far-Profit Cultural Groups
Many organizations need administrative support – such as access to office equipment and supplies – and help in obtaining costumes, props and other items specific to their discipline. A number of creative solutions have been developed by other cities with great success. Although in some cities these resource centers are funded and operated by the city, they could also be developed by the private sector or through a private-public partnership.

R E c o M M E N o A T I o N s
Create Administrative Support Centers where organizations can use office equipment
and supplies, such as telephone answering services, copy machines and mail drops.

Create a Materials and Supply Center, where organizations can apply for items such
as furniture, office and art supplies, as well as other materials donated by corporations, other arts organizations and individuals. New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs has success­fully run such a center for years.

Create a Costume Bank, similar to the ones in San Francisco and New York State, where theater groups can both store and rent costumes.

Create Technical Equipment Banks specific to various arts diSciplines, so groups can
both store and rent such equipment as lights, public address systems and audio/visual equipment.
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Administrative Training and Services for Cultural Organizations and Individuals

The need for assistance in management, financial planning and administrative skills neces­sary to operate a cultural organization was expressed frequently during the Cultural Plan meetings. Both public and private initiatives exist to provide administrative assistance, such as the ongoing program operated by the Business Volunteers for the Arts and management training programs offered at various schools, universities and the Department of Cultural Affairs. These efforts need to be broadened and made available to a larger segment of the cultural community.

R E c o M M E N D A T o N s
Increase management and administrative assistance programs for artists and cultural
organizations available at the Department of Cultural Affairs and through local colleges and universities.

Disseminate information more effectively on management and administrative semi­nars conducted by the Department of Cultural Affairs and other organizations.
Support and enlarge the pool of management consultants available to assist artists and cultural organizations.

Make management assistance programs offered by other city agencies available to artists, as many such programs are currently restricted to for-profit businesses.
———————————————————————————————–

–ARTS AND EDUCATiON

Elementary and Secondary Schools

The arts should be an integral part of schooling and reestablished as a priority in curricula. Viewed as an “add-on” to other subjects, the arts are too often the first program eliminated when school budgets are cut. Not only do we develop future arlists and audiences in school arts programs, but children are exposed to creative learning and problem-solving that ex­pands their learning abilities.
The current Board of Education and General Superintendent have indicated not only
a willingness but a desire to return the arts to education. The Department of Cultural Affairs should work cooperatively with the Board and other non-public school systems to establish the arts as a component of basic education.

R E c o M M E N D A T i o N s
Offer a full program of arts in elementary and secondary education, including restora­tion of a two-year arts and music course requirement in secondary schools.

Advocate increased arts funding in education budgets.

Strengthen teacher education in the arts so that all teachers will have the ability to use the arts as a teaching tool.

Provide resources in the education budget to fund student access to a wide variety of cultural resources – such as museums, performing and visual arts – and to fund develop­ment of educational arts materials designed for the students.

Expand the Artist-in-Residence program of the lIIinois Arts Council, the arts in school programs of Urban Gateways, Young Audiences, and other organizations through additional education and cultural appropriations. All students can benefit from hands-on creative instruction from professional artists.

Enrich and expand the Lighted Schoolhouse Program, a program of afterschool activities for youth, with quality arts programming.
————————————————————————————————-

Adult and Continuing Education

Arts education does not stop at the schoolhouse door, but remains an important source of knowledge and creativity throughout our lives. By restoring a complete program of arts in adult and continuing education, Chicago citizens have the opportunity to fulfill their poten­tial for creative expression and development.

R E c o M M E N D A T o N s
Include the full spectrum of arts diSciplines in continuing education programs.
Use cultural centers, park buildings, libraries and other facilities for adult and continu­ing education.

Advocate increased appropriations for the arts within continuing education budgets.
——————————————————————————————–

PAYiNG FOR THE PLAN

REVENUE OPTiONS

Revenue Options
The cultural life of our city needs and deserves an influx of new dollars to realize the Plan’s recommendations. Some of the recommendations require little additional funding, but primarily involve the interest and effort of city departments and cultural organizations. Additional appropriations will be necessary, however, to implement many of the recommen­dations of the Cultural Plan. There are many innovative methods of financing recommended projects – some of which are noted throughout the plan – as well as services and programs which are revenue producing.There is also a pressing need for additional support from the private sector, through in-kind as well as monetary contributions. The city must use its leverage, through partner­ships and other methods, to encourage increased corporate sponsorship of cultural activities.

R E c o M M E N D A T o N s
Increase appropriations – at the city, state and federal l eve l – for existing and new
cultural programs.

Include cultural projects in general obligation bond issues.

Create special purpose bond issues for cultural projects, as is done in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Broaden access to public bonding procedures for major cultural institutions, which has been done successfully in New York City.

Increase and earmark funds for joint cultural projects with other city departments, such as housing, jobs and public works programs.

Encourage development of programs through which corporations contribute to cul­
tural and not-far-profit activities, such as Minneapolis’ “Five Percent Club” and other efforts currently under way in Chicago.

Dedicate a portion of the amusement tax on movie houses for film/video development. Currently, all such revenues go into the general treasury.

Eliminate the amusement tax on legitimate theater to stimulate commercial theater production, proViding a broader tax base. Chicago currently has the highest such levy in the nation.

Increase Chicago’s share of the state hoteUmotel tax, given the contribution that Chicago cultural activities bring to the economic health of Illinois.
Establish fee schedules for proposed city-operated materials and resource centers, similar to the fee schedules established in San Francisco.

Provide technical assistance to artists and cultural organizations, enabling them to move toward self-support.
—————————————————————————————————
A CULTURAL PLAN

FOR THE PEOPLE OF CH iCAGO:

THE GRASSROOTS CAMPAiGN

The Chicago Cultural Plan is based on the firm conviction that any blueprint for action is worthless unless the people affected are involved in the planning process. Although many cities have cultural plans, none has the scope and community input found in the Chicago Cultural Plan. The Cultural Plan took shape from the careful distillation of hundreds of suggestions and concerns. It is a plan by and for the city, built solidly upon the needs and aspirations of Chicago citizens. I t is not an attempt to impose one vision upon the city, butrather aplan that springs from the hearts and minds of the very people it seeks to serve. Cultural Plan Director Michael Dorf and his staff spent 18 months meeting with neighborhood, community and ethnic groups, as well as ‘vith representatives of all arts
disCiplines, cultural institutions, city departments and planning groups. In the process, they held more than 300 meetings and involved a total of 10,000 participants, induding the support and involvement of 36 aldermen.
Cultural Plan meetings were held in 65 Chicago community areas as established by the 1980 census report. Prior to each meeting, area leaders met to set an agenda. Notices were sent to members of local arts groups and community organizations and were posted on community bulletin boards to alert area residents to the meetings. Public service announce­ments and paid advertising were also used as appropriate. Three citywide meetings were held with Latino, Asian and Native American artists respectively, as well as a roundtable meeting co-sponsored by Urban Traditions and the Illinois Consultation on Ethnicity.
A special meeting was held for representatives of center city and major downtown
cultural institutions.

Six discipline-specific citywide meetings were held for professionals in dance, music,
literary arts, visual arts, film and video and theater.

Cultural Plan representatives met with labor and business leaders to seek their input
and support for the plan. Separate roundtables were held for major contributors to the arts; for organizations and agencies involved in city and regional planning; and for city departments such as Human Services, Parks and Economic Development, The Chicago Public Library and the Board of Education.

Input was solicited from Chicago area colleges and universities, from elementary and secondary school teachers and administrators and from other educational organizations such as the Archdiocese of Chicago. Citywide meetings were held with community and neighborhood organizations once the plan was drafted for their additional input and support.

A preliminary plan was presented at a citywide meeting on December 12, 1986, attended by 250 representatives from many of the organizations which participated in the planning meetings. Based on their final input, these recommendations are presented as a comprehensive plan designed to recognize and increase the crucial role that culture and the arts plays in the vitality and economic well-being of Chicago.

As members of the Board, we were the first of the many volunteers who became intimately involved in the development of the Chicago Cultural Plan. We have seen an increased recognition of the critical role that arts and culture play in every aspect of city life. We have witnessed a groundswell of citizen support and enthusiasm for the development of a sound cultural policy that recognizes this valuable role, as well as the role that our city’s cultural institutions and diverse neighborhood programs play in the city’s reputation at home, across
the nation and around the world. And we are very proud to be part of this great effort.

The members ofthe Cullural Affuirs Advisory Boord

(The Cultural Affairs Advisory Board is appointed by tht Mayor with consent of the City Council to represent neighborhood cultural organiznlions, practicing artists and the community al large. including business, labor and major citywide cultural
organizations. They have endorsed, supported and assisted the process which resulted in the development of this plan.)

Mixed Movement comes to Chi-town!

Mixed Movement, an international event will be coming to Chicago soon…here’s a bit of info on it:
Mixed Movement is an open stage for dancers to improvise with live musicians while sharpening and sharing their skills. At its essence Mixed Movement is a place where no matter what your movement background, you can come together and celebrate with others the joy of dance, whether you sign up and participate, or just watch.

The event is the brainchild of dancer, theatre artist, and poet DawN Crandell – who has created an open stage for dancers after being frustrated with the lack of spontaneous opportunities for performance and the segmentation of the various dance communities.Created in New York City, USA in February 2009, Mixed Movement came across the pond to reside at Contact in August 2009 where it is now a successful monthly event.

The night begins with improvised solos. In the second round these eight dancers are paired up chance, their names pulled out of a hat, and then magic of Mixed Movement manifests. Movers from different backgrounds find and create a common language of the body in the moment. Next we turn to the audience for the inspired Wild Card Section, where we invite three to five members to improvise a group piece on the spot.

more to come…

Re-Frame: Communing

Please join Insight Arts in their first winter series’ Nights of Insight on Friday, January 20 from 7 to 9 PM at Rumble Arts Center (3413 W North Ave).

This month we will be Re-Framing Community (facilitated by Baraka de Soleil) exploring issues and challenges artists face in the creative process. Topics to be explored include community, gender politics and artists vulnerabilities. Participants will also get the chance to experience the process of Re-Frame.

Last month artists participating in Re-Frame: A Gathering, a D UNDERBELLY initiative curated & co-facilitated by Awilda Rodríguez Lora and Baraka de Soleil, sought to create a communal space for rigorous experimentation and investigation of an expansive performance aesthetic. They offered three unique showings of their process in partnership with Insight Arts, Rumble Arts Center and Links Hall.

We also invite you to join us in Rogers Park on Saturday, January 21 for a critical discussion on Re-Framing Community from 4:30 to 6:30 PM at the Center for New Possibilities (1505 W Morse Ave).

Artist participants, witnesses and co-sponsoring organization affiliates will be present to engage in fertile dialogue surrounding what it means to re-frame creative process within community.

Artist participants from Chicago’s 2011 Re-Frame project:
Victoria Martínez
Ching-In Chen
Iman Crutcher
Michael Johnson
Rebecca Kling
Anansi Knowbody
Sojourner Zenobia Wright
Isaac Fosl Van-Wyke
Eboni Senai Hawkins

reframeagathering.blogspot.com for more details on Re-Frame: A Gathering

we (liv)

sublime is the time to recognize
how imaginings come real
when we feel beyond the reaches of space
and face the depths of our be-ing
this mile is like no other
so stop being next
be the new
dive headfirst into the calm
balm of sanctity’s
mystery
and live the unknown

tonite and tomorrow and the day after that…Re-Framing the creative process within community

 

Across cultures, disciplines & neighborhoods in Chicago, from various aesthetic backgrounds, 9 dynamic artist participants communed inside the vastness of an “open space”. Asked to bring all of who they are into the room and challenged to speak & create into existence what they felt came from their creative lineage, these artists listened, offered each other feedback through a rigorous protocol, were provoked, sometimes frustrated and took risks exploring, experimenting and excavating their ‘body of work’. Sometimes their task was to simplify, other times to layer, juxtapose or interrupt their way of routinely developing art. 5 components will be reflected from this journey: Food (we always ate together) Featured moments (3 artists will be highlighted each gathering) Installation Interaction ( a chance to participate in and/ witness other dimensions of their unique experience) Response (engage with us in dialogue surrounding the creative work witnessed) Re-Frame ( a chance for the artists to engage in collaborative moments with each other. a chance for all to experiment!) Now this evening they have gathered with you to share what it means to Re-Frame creative process within community. reframe: a gathering in Chicago

Artist Participants:
Victoria Martínez
Ching-In Chen
Iman Crutcher
Michael Johnson
Rebecca Kling
Anansi Knowbody
Sojourner Zenobia Wright
Isaac Fosl Van-Wyke
Eboni Senai Hawkins

Facilitated by Baraka de Soleil & Awilda Rodriguez Lora
A Project of D UNDERBELLY

un-finished wo-man’s song

she sings softly

sweetly

swaying  hips that were never meant to be forgiven

only to be rephrased over and over

and over once again.

the coiling of arms intertwine with scents of her lust and

beneath her tongue’s subtle ebb & flow

a spraying of mist exists

shifts

up and down

side to side

out and in

between her lips

all while she’s

singing.

no other sounds are realized

except the willfullness of  breath

exposed as she share woes for only those present to absorb

and carry with them this un-finished song long after she’s gone

she gone

gone

gone.

from Awilda to Re-frame

Thank you Baraka and all the artists that have been gathering with the intention, desire and exploration for the Re-Framing of the creative/collective process that is Re-Frame: A Gathering Project.

Currently living in Puerto Rico and sharing via skype and phone with Baraka and the artists. Time moves ever so quickly and so dynamic with all the creative energy flowing in all directions.

I made the decision after 12 years living in the US where I was able to study, train, work, collaborate, create and perform in a interdisciplinary ways to return what i call the beginning. A place where discovery was the ingredient and the unknown was scary. My spirit is one of constant movement and the decision to return to the place where it all began, Puerto Rico has been an experience of both many discoveries and challenges.

The opportunity to co-facilitate this project with Baraka de Soleil is a unique and exciting experience. I bring with me the passion and commitment to develop and promote spaces where discovery and risk are core values of the process for creation.

Based on the “Law of two feet” that is crucial for the creative process for collaborations that is the Open Space Technology(OST) framework used in this project, artists walk into a space of discovery. I thank them all for entering the space of Rumble Arts Center and that later on will continue the flow to Links Hall.

The days are passing by and the enthusiasm continues to built up. Thanks again to all the supporters of this project who have donated, spread the word and shared their thoughts with us.

See you all December 5th when I will be arriving to enter the space as both a facilitator and an artist.

We still have 28 days to achieve our goal please continue supporting this project. See you all at the Gathering.

paz,
awilda rodriguez lora

Re-framing the beginnings of Re-Frame: A Gathering

wanted to share insight into Re-Frame’s creative lineage: The frameworks of this process are drawn from my experiences in Minneapolis, Chicago, NY & Panama. Liz Lerman’s critical response method has been part of my creative ‘upbringing’ since the mid 90’s in MN; experiencing this protocol at Intermedia Arts & Walker Art Center. Open Space Technology is a model i was introduced to through a NY arts organization [Arts Connection] focused on teaching artists & deepening their relationship to each other, the organization staff and teachers, principals of schools we were collaborating with. As an artist inside the process, i had the privilege to return to Minneapolis in 2009 and experience the illuminating convergence of both protocols at Pangea World Theatre; through a challenging and exciting projected entitled “Bridges”, curated by J. Otis Powell in alliance with Pangea’s Dipankar Mukherjee & Meena Natarajan. Bridges brought together artists from various cultural, aesthetic and disciplinary backgrounds to engage in a creative collaborative process. So inspired by this experience, i sought to continue developing processes that brought diverse groups of artists together and in 2010, had the opportunity to go to Panama to work on a landmark project, “Agua/Tierra”, co-facilitated & produced with two other artists Awilda Rodriguez Lora and Tanisha Christie and co-produced by Katie Zien [who initiated the project]. The core of this multidimensional project was a coming together of Panamanian artists from distinct and diversified aesthetic background to cross-pollinate and generate a hybrid performative experience. It was phenomenal! In alignment with the critical response & Open Space, as an artist i have been honored to work inside a form that has come to be known as the ‘Theatrical Jazz Aesthetic‘; fostered by acclaimed theatre artist Sharon Bridgforth, along with Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones and an incredible lineage of artists who initiated this legacy…  A deepening of understanding & facilitating what that legacy/aesthetic had to offer, having  multiple discussions with Awilda, organizations & artists within the Chicago community leads to this moment of Re-Frame…seeking to craft a space that not only honors the making of art, but delves into the practice of the creative process; moving beyond one’s individual practice into a communal setting.. This is going to be one beautiful challenge & i am excited by the artist participants who have committed to being at the core of this project…by mid-December, all multiple communities will get a chance to witness what it has meant to be part of Re-Frame: A Gathering!

Rooted Legacies

Rooted Legacies

(the evolving new thought for  D UNDERBELLY 2011 – )


the body speaks

the voice moves

rooted in legacies sometimes only the soul knows

signifying where we have come from and who we are


Who are we?


For now

We are architects of history

invoking indelible rites of passages

We are builders of spiritual houses reigned supreme by multiple ancestral energies

We are Love not just its vessel

the calm empty

We are re-imagining life as it is

and as it should be

We are falling and rising

We are deconstructing

the inside pulse of memory

We are possibilities unifying


These are our roots


Go deep


Baraka de Soleil

Re-Framing perspective…the communing begins

Re-Frame: A Gathering…the communing begins
Across cultures. Across disciplines. Engaging thoughtful discussions within the community of artists, neighbors, anyone witnessing. Inspiring collaborations. Listening. Creating consciousness surrounding the beauty & insights from the creative process…

Artists gathered last nite [Monday, November 14th] for our second session…people shared, communed, perhaps even got frustrated as we sought to define what it means to be in a creative process with others, to be in a thoughtful process, to take ownership, to be present, to be in the unknown & work, discuss & reflect from there…
as an artist facilitator, i discovered that i need to talk less and listen more and let them take hold of this space…shape it as they desire…it’s a challenge and a necessary joy!
Over this next week, you will meet these artist participants and get insight into their ‘creative lineage’…so far 9 artists participants are at the core…with artist witnesses flowing in and out to observe and gain insight into what it takes/means to be part of a gathering…

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They began to discuss online “as an artist, what has been meaningful to you in the creative process?”.
http://reframeagathering.blogspot.com/2011/10/re-frame-gathering-discussion.html#comments

Now they get to get inside the ‘practice of that process’ and potentially explore other dimensions

Re-Frame: A Gathering

Across cultures. Across disciplines. Engaging thoughtful discussions within the community of artists, neighbors, anyone witnessing. Inspiring collaborations. Listening. Creating consciousness surrounding the beauty & insights from the creative process… 
Facilitated by award-winning performance artist Baraka de Soleil & co-facilitated by multidisciplinary artist Awilda Rodriguez Lora Re-Frame: A Gathering is a two-fold communal workshop  for artists at variant stages of creative development. We want to provide a sustainable space for active witnessing, supportive feedback  and rigorous crafting AND a laboratory for experimentation through interdisciplined explorations and cross-cultural discussions. Re-Frame: A Gathering focuses on the ‘practice of process’ – what is discovered in the act of making work is valuable and should be experienced as well, by other artists, by the larger community.

Baraka de Soleil and Awilda Rodriguez Lora initially met in Chicago. He was curating a unique multidisciplinary series “Studies n Black” for Links Hall and she produced an award-winning film STILL BLACK: a portrait of black transmen that premiered in Chicago. Since meeting, they have worked together on numerous creative endeavors including S’Kin Deep and most recently co-facilitated Agua/Tierra: A Listening Project in Panama in 2010.

Re-Frame: A Gathering is an initiative of D UNDERBELLY, a network of artists of color, seeking to create a  communal space for rigorous experimentation and investigation of an expansive performance aesthetic.  One that can serve as a model for creative process within community that can adapt and shift to various areas throughout the country &  internationally.   Through both invitation to select artists within the experimental art community and an open call, we will seek out a diverse group of 7 -10 with wide-range of disciplines who have a creative lineage (how they have been making work), a piece to ‘excavate’ and a desire to be part of a contemporary practice. Re-Frame: A Gathering will start with the artistic community of Chicago.

Our current vision:

The workshop process will begin in November with weekly Re-Frame sessions where Baraka will lead artists participants through a series of techniques in order to cultivate: communal consciousness around witnessing & offering feedback, excavation of themes/pieces brought by each individual artist and potential collaborative groupings. This leads to the beginning of December where Awilda will join the process as co-facilitator, to take artists through an intensive journey towards deepening the practice of the developing works.  Mid-December at A Gathering with the larger community, artist participants will share their developing work, engage in conversations and share food for thought and body!

Re-Frame: A Gathering’ Key Objectives

To provide:

– a reduced cost or free opportunity for artist participants.

– a platform for creative process that can be molded to whatever communities it travels to….

– a unique opportunity for experimentation, to ‘dig deep’ & try things out with developing work or already-created work that may need ‘re-framing’.

To support:

– artists at whatever stage in their career.

– exchange and community building

– sustainability for the active creative process

To enhance:

– a multidisciplinary network of artists within the Chicago experimental aesthetic community and beyond.

– an expansive & diversified cross-pollination of collaborative possibilities.

– visibility for process-driven models with thoughtful intercultural community engagement.

Funds from this campaign will support the vision  in multiple ways beyond the costs associated with creating work.  We deeply believe that with your support, Re-Frame: A Gathering will impact not only the artist participants, facilitators and community of witnesses, but the larger discussion on the value of the creative process.

THE IMPACT
For Re-Frame: A Gathering, we are seeking to raise funds to support space rental costs, materials for the workshop process, honorarium for the artist participants and facilitators involved.

More specifically if we reach:

  • $1500, this amount will cover rental & production costs associated with the space; both for workshop process & performance showings
  • $2000, in addition to covering rental, will support any materials for the workshop process, ‘bare-bones’ production elements for the showing & travel for one artist facilitator
  • $3000, in addition to the above, secures a no cost opportunity for all artist participants and provide honorarium for both artist facilitators &
  • $4000, in addition the above funds, will provide  honorarium for each of the artist participant

In alignment with this campaign, we are working to ensure Re-Frame: A Gatheringhappens, even with the smallest of funds including:
  • soliciting in-kind contributions from organizations to reduce the cost for rental of space.
  • box office contributions from A Gathering‘s three showings.
  • barter/trade of services in order to promote/market the event.
  • based on amount raised, seek financial investments from artists who wish to participate in the process.
  • re-configuring the model so that it will reduce costs but still honor the artists & the process.
  • cooking meals that can be purchased at the showings.

THE EXCHANGE
We want to you to know that we value whichever amount you pledge. In exchange for your support, Baraka de Soleil, Awilda Rodriguez Lora, artists participants & D UNDERBELLY will acknowledge you through the program, online, via phone, with hand-made art, original designs, through complimentary tickets, invitations to A Gathering and future projects. You’ll notice on our perks list what kind of acknowledgement each tier of funding support will garner.

Other Ways You Can Help

If in Chicago, come to A Gathering.  Join us for food, art, dialogue and community building….this will further support the artists & future opportunities for more gatherings…check out our site: http://reframeagathering.blogspot.com/  for the updates. Current dates  December 16th – 18th, 2011. A gathering will offer a unique experience with up to 3 different artists sharing their process each nite.

Spread the word by putting this campaign on your facebook, twitter or other social network site.

Email blast your networks.   

And be part of the discussion: What has been meaningful to you as an artist in the creative process? 
Whether you may consider yourself an artist or not, your thoughts will be appreciated and expand the discussion on why people should support the creative process of artists.  

water moves the soul – RETURN experimental choral rendering for a voice and many bodies

i share this as a beginning of distilling the memories i experienced while being in ghana in 2007…this is its first poetic rendering

RETURN: AN EXPERIMENTAL CHORAL RENDERING FOR A VOICE & MANY BODIES
water to replenish
a large body of water
breath to cleanse, fired up dry
wind to move, steady gust of wind
21 days. 37 years 3 years ago, 20 decades
how many centuries since one begets a life that amounts to 2 hours of wondering if 37 – 3 years ago would be the last year of existence…..the moment, prior to being grabbed and taken, strength… still feel weakened by the hours, days, months of years of being held against will…. shackled, imprisoned, tortured across the water…a large body …in a small vessel and taken to unknown land; unknown ways, life…
beginning in
Cape Coast Ghana – two and 1/2 hours from Accra Cape Coast
a two hour walk TO
immerse TO take in
the ocean
to Cape Coast TO ancestors…
you come here for redemption’
to El Mina’
can feel ancestral sensations the moment one steps inside the female dungeon…it is a feeling so palpable and strong …it’s like can still see smell the stench shit and blood and piss of those African females held here…on the ground there are markings
dark cavernous area
time
heaviness in my heart and longing
to
Assin Manso
the long walk of ancestral Africa to who knows where
Assin Manso
where brought to rest were the slave remains
from Salaga market up north ‘last bath’…
Tamale, WALKING, chained together feet, hands, neck, fall. rise. knees. thirst.
through trees and forest
to sacred waters flow…sacred
the ancestral bodies last cleansing
stillness
texture of the trees, the color of water, sounds of river, the quiet …
in Ghana
lookout upon a hill, past frail mango tree
ascend to a healing
of a healing
flow
sway
the pain anguish of the inflicted souls…bow
spirit’ falling
listen.
21 – 37 – 20, journey, 21 centuries
TO RETURN
RETURNING to the sensations
ancestors…
walk.
the morning ‘baptism’
awakening a deeper connection
a feeling
SWAY
ancestors being here… portrait of what transpired …. standing on hundreds of years old feces, piss, blood, sweat, skin and bones ancestors….thousands of African’s bodies piled ontop of each other as they screamed, sought comfort …fought to survive beyond the holding area –
whole being open and alive now…sensitive to air smells the ocean so close …aware of the opening of the door of no return … fishing kingdom – the Fanti – ocean coast…
guiding seeing walk lifting carrying lift carrying and lifting journey breath lifted onto
the water passage 1 1/2 hours 21 days, journey, 37 years, journey, 20 somethin decades, journey, 21 centuries”
a large body
seized by ancestors coming up from the ocean waves and on board on top cannot open eyes getting heavier and heavier sense more and more ancestral bodies piling on top of bodies tilthe weight is almost unbearable
can barely breathe….
stay
sounds of the waves and the sensation endured journey NOT knowing the end…going on for months in cramped spaces, chained, ensconced in darkness…
a day later, months years ounds voices eyes move….cross water to land….carried
land falls step
land touch water before land, lifted and land on this new site… not able to speak
distance between falling and fallen
a minute an hour a decade a century passes and returns
unfolds /souls moving
walk legacies memories
bodies
memory conscious memories of people these memories, the ancestral memories residue, shackles salty ocean water…remember whipping..
re-remembering water
elder says
“We came from the water and to the water we shall return”
elder says
the going in the sacred anointing
water to replenish
a large body of water
breath to cleanse, fired up dry
wind to move, steady gust of wind
earth. make an offering, name it, find it, ask .sense.
elder says
earth. find tree. make an offering:
the meditation, reconciliation releasing old tree elder – coarse and mangled, yet majestic….those trees that seem to have captured the many spirits of those people whom have come in contact with it
a tree that, if it could speak, would be able to tell some of the most horrific and spellbinding tales…a tree that, if it could speak, may choose not to reveal the sacred secrets or hidden encounters it has witnessed seen felt heard
embraced
released
speak elder ancestors speak
begatting
Freed Slave Gordon of Louisiana (1863)
Martin Luther King
W.E.B. Dubois
Sojourner Truth
Booker T. Washington
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Harriet Tubman
Benjamin Singleton – “walk and never tire”
Cinque
Ouladah Equiano
Frederick Douglas
George Ekem Ferguson
Marcus Garvey —
No one knows when the hour of Africa’s redemption cometh. It is in the wind,
It is in the wind
It is inthe wind, it is coming.
One day like a storm, it will be here. When that day comes, all of Africa will stand together.”

the “O” – unfinished!

Childr’n of “O” – the workshop process begins March 31st….
This piece is a journey towards discovering the multifaceted dimensions of this iconic black woman. In this regard, she is an allegory – the metaphor of Oprah or “O” as everywoman in our culture; but not only representing women, but men, children of all races. To get at the many layers of this fascinating and beloved figure, I am experimenting with how the hybrid of disciplines I employ dance, theatre, video, conceptual art) can truly embody “O”. I am also seeking to re-establish my cultural relationship with her as a black man, coming from Chicago, ‘trying to make it’. To me “O” is an American dream realized. One that has been objectified and glorified; mammy-tized & ostracized; deemed saint and blasphemously condemned. Inside the waking conscience of cosmic space and temporal distortions exists the humanity and charisma that begat ‘The Childr’n of “O”!

21 Days, 37 years, 20-somethin decades, 21 centuries

21 days of this journey…21 including the initial departure which i consider DAY 0 …Day 1 being my first landing foot on Ghana’s terrain….

37 years since i began life that amounted to 2 hours of wondering if 37 would be the last year i exist in?

20 somethin decades of historicized enslavement for Africans inside the Transatlantic triangle..of being shackled, imprisoned, tortured and taken to an unknown land; where they would be used and abused for the purposes of commerce and cultivation of fruitful but never fully delivered promises….

21 centuries of existence for a people who are still struggling to be FREE!

the residue from these cumulative memories of my trip to Ghana in July of 2007 has left an indelible mark on my soul… the recounting of the incident on my last day in Ghana spiritually linked me to the pre-captured moments of Africans..that moment, prior to being grabbed and taken, when they may have been smiling or having a great arguement or simply relaxing….that ‘pre-capture’ moment is something i never fully comprehended until i had a similar experience..similar but BY NO MEANS as in-depth or extensive….i wish i had their strength…i still feel weakened by the thought that i could not endure two hours of feeling ‘captured’, when they may have experienced months of years of being held against their will….i write these words in THEIR honor….

out of respect for the people i encountered in Ghana i have MOSTLY used their initials…please begin ‘at the very beginning’ [” D UNDERBELLY has entered Ghana”] and read your way through each ‘day’ to experience the linear journeying….or pick a day and take in a moment along the my pathway towards re-remembering ancestral memories…YOU MAY ALSO simply read the truncated version from my journeys at the end of this entry; then if you desire go deeper into each day’s recount…

the images are pulled from the internet…my pics will arrive on here shortly as this blog continues to evolve…

when beginning this blog, for some odd reason, Truman Capote’s introducing of the genre ‘non-fiction novel’ [with his infamous debut ‘In Cold Blood] came to mind’ ..by no means am i anywhere near his incredible objectivity or succint clarity….my ‘non-fiction novella’ is delivered with much subjectivity and a heap of drama!…but this is my truthful recount…TRUTH also being subjective as there are ‘select’ omissions and re-remembered details…
so
if there are questions, challenges, clarifications of or desire for more in-depth explanations on anything i’ve written, don’t hesitate to contact me at mail@dunderbelly.com…you can also feel free to leave your comments on ‘any given day’…

and lastly
some thoughts surrounding Ghanaian “hospitality”:
— Ghana is supposedly known for its hospitality…AKWAABA (welcome) is all that i hear as i arrive to ACCRA…. and throughout my stay i am bombarded with this saying…i wonder what lies beneath that veneer…for some i believe it is about survival which leads to hustling tourists for money, food or assistance with education….for others it is just their ‘nature’…perhaps it is linked to this notion of ‘family’ or ‘brotherhood’ that i will continue to become conscious of as i immerse myself in the culture and people…this notion that “we all must take care of each other” and if i am to desire to be a part of Ghana’s family, this incredible sense of brotherhood, then i must be willing to take care of ALL my brothers and sisters?…hmmm…kindness flows throughout this country, INDEED, but ‘hospitality’, i believe, is sometimes tainted with the desperate need to survive…

TRUNCATED VERSION [no images, just written excerpts from the journey] :

the residue from these cumulative memories of my trip to Ghana in July of 2007 has left an indelible mark on my soul… the recounting of the incident on my last day in Ghana spiritually linked me to the pre-captured moments of Africans..that moment, prior to being grabbed and taken, when they may have been smiling or having a great arguement or simply relaxing….that ‘pre-capture’ moment is something i never fully comprehended until i had a similar experience..similar but BY NO MEANS as in-depth or extensive….i wish i had their strength…i still feel weakened by the thought that i could not endure two hours of feeling ‘captured’, when they may have experienced months or years of being held against their will….

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

DAY 2 – Cape Coast is located in the central region of Ghana – about two and 1/2 hours from Accra and houses the infamous Cape Coast Castle along with many forts…

a two hour walk to Cape Coast Castle that i had no intention of originally embarking on…

i am in awe of its presence and i simply immerse myself in its surroundings, spatial configurations and general sensations…i decide not to go inside but take in its outer walls and the ocean

the magnitude of this historical figure renders me speechless…

DAY 3
the interaction between the West African guests (all of whom are male) and the Hotel staff (also alll male) intrigues me as i muse over:
African slavery historically and African entitlement currently; if Europeans enslaved based on economics and fear, then can it be thought that Africans would enslave and have enslaved based on status and power? this way in which i witnessed this interaction stimulated such a hypothesis….i also imagine that there were Africans whom might have been driven by greed as well, but i doubt that fear played into their connection to enslavement of other Africans..who knows?

… evening i have been introduced to hip-life music which is a rich fusion of high-life music of ghana with hip-hop culture…producing a mix that honors the old school with the new school…though i don’t think my Ghanaian brothers whom i meet would feel that high life is old by any means….here the contemporary and the traditional or past are married in such a way that it is not thought of as old or new.

seeking ‘redemption’ inside Cape Coast & Elmina Castles
Day 4  

this day i decide to return to Cape Coast Castle and go inside the spaces of my ancestors…
‘you came here for redemption’ is what i am told by the first staff member i speak to at the entrance….i wonder how many others can ‘read’ this on my face or inside my heart….

i take many pictures but am unable to say or write about the experience of being inside the male and female slave dungeons, cells, and spaces where they were held prior to going through the infamous ‘door of no return’…

outside the castle i walk around the area and see a slavery foundation site… on a white placard lists the address of the foundation and a quote by Marcus Garvey:
“No one knows when the hour of Africa’s redemption cometh. It is in the wind, it is coming. One day like a storm, it will be here. When that day comes, all of African will stand together.”

as i continue along a path that leads me to a historic part of Cape Coast, i catch an incidental march signalling the beginning of Panafest….tonite the grounds of Adisadel park will open with a marketplace and performances..

DAY 5
El Mina’s St George Castle seems larger than Cape Coast and has a moat surrounding the castle…in the distance i can see Fort Jago – walking distance away, but i decide to focus on the Castle….unlike Cape Coast i immediately decide to enter into the depths of the castle and can feel the ancestral sensations the moment i step inside the female dungeon…it is a feeling so palpable and strong …it’s like can still smell the stench of shit and blood and piss of those African females ( i say females and not womyn because young girls were there as well) that were held here…on the ground i see markings that seem to resemble some adinkra symbols or other symbolic language….along another corridor i go inside a dark cavernous area and am engulfed by bats….

by the time i have surveyed the castle i am aware of the residual sensations each area has left on me and take a moment to be still and reflect silently on what i experienced..i head back to Cape Coast with a heaviness in my heart and longing for further reflection.

the seemingly incidental opens up a memory from my past…
on the radio i hear about Panafest and its origin 15 years ago and am reminded of my first memories of hearing about Panafest in America – while i was living in MN….when i picked up an Insight newspaper and read about the remains of slaves found in New York and Jamaica…how they were going to be brought back to Ghana and taken through the ‘Door of No Return’ at Cape Coast…i had a feeling then that i would be going to Ghana and having a chance myself to experience walking throught the infamous portal of so many Africans to America….

Day 6 – Assin Manso
the long walk for my ancestral Africa to who knows where?
Assin Manso is the site where the slave remains of Samuel Carver (found in Jamaica) and Crystal (found in New York – wall street area) were brought to rest – these were the slave remains that i had read about a decade ago in the Mn Insight….and on 31st of July, 1998 they were laid here and this set forth the following day (August 1st) as Emancipation day …this is also where slaves from Salaga market up north were taken and had their ‘last bath’…though Salaga was known as the marketplace where slaves from Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali came enroute to Cape Coast and Elmina, Assin Manso (at least from what the Guide says) is the largest slave market place where they were auctioned off…hence the need for the last bath – no one wanted a ‘dirty’ slave and since they would have walked the many miles to get here (from up north at Salaga towards Tamale, it is a 5-6 hour CAR ride…so imagine WALKING, chained together at the feet, hands and neck, for that far)…

We are taken deeper into the site, through trees and forest, to where the sacred Ndonkoso(?) waters flowed…sacred because the ancestral bodies last cleansed themselves…these waters flow to the Oci river…it is a moment for stillness and DEEP reflection…i notice the texture of the trees located next to the bath area, the color of the water, the sounds of the river, the quiet …

the inside wall of the entrance gate are the pictures of certain celebrated “Emancipators”:
Freed Slave Gordon of Louisiana (1863)
Martin Luther King
W.E.B. Dubois (his name was mispelt at the site “Du-dois)
Sojourner Truth
Booker T. Washington
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Harriet Tubman
Benjamin Singleton – “walk and never tire”
Cinque
Ouladah Equiano
Frederick Douglas
George Ekem Ferguson – Cape Coast local politician and explorer
Marcus Garvey – father of black consciousness

G makes a very insightful clarification when discussing Europeans taking Africans as slaves…he refers to them as OPPRESSORS and not MASTERS because “no man is the master of another!”

this marks a significant internal consciousness awakened surrounding the legacy of slavery and i am silent for the return trip back to Cape Coast….

Day 7 – exploring the forts
to explore on my own the forts of Ghana…and interact with the people
..we first venture up Fort Victoria which is the smaller of the Cape Coast forts….the forts were created to oversee the town and protect the castle from intruders – a lookout..unlike the Castles, the forts do not offer tours or guides but most likely have overseers which live in and around the area… we make it up to the top of the hill, but in order to actually go inside the fort we must climb over the wall… a frail looking ladder is our other option but i dismiss either option and simply take in the view of a lovely mango tree nearby…

we then head over to the larger Fort Williams which is much easier to ascend to….we are also able to head inside the fort and up to the top …there i am able to take in an incredible view of the town and bask in its serenity and beauty….G points out all the distinct areas of the town (which i cannot remember their specific names)…i feel like i could be there for a whole day, but the forthcoming rain imposes a shorter timeframe….

Day 8 – time for Church
the depth of spirituality…in the midst of European artifices…and religion..
Having seen so many impressive and inventive church structures while walking throughout Cape Coast, i am glad to be able to have a moment to experience being part of a congregation…J (waitstaff at Cape Coast) invites me to his church (Christian Life Cathedral) for Thursday healing service…G and J happen to know each other and so G accompanies me to pick up J from his place and head over to the Church…

it is raining and seems to be very fitting to be part of a healing service…

though this ‘church’ is not as grand as the others, it is spiritually one of the most impressive spaces i have experienced….everyone is tuned into the pastors words as he flows from English to one of the many local languages…sometimes translated by another member of his pastoral team, sometimes only translated through a ‘feeling’ or sensation….the music is a mixture of gospel like rhythms and gregorian chanting…i am spellbound…and swayed by the depth of emotion and community inside this moment…the pastor calls on those in need of healing and first, in groups, they come to a semicircle around the pastor’s stand…the ‘pastoral team’ positions themselves behind the members as the pastors calls out the pain or anguish of the inflicted souls…some fall out while others simply bow their heads and take in the Pastor’s chanting….those that get the ’spirit’ and attended to by one of team, while others who have sought healing but have stayed grounded, return to their seat and pray…..at one point each one of us goes up to be anointed by the pastor and i wonder if i would be sent into a ’spiritual’ possession as one of the many members whom has sought healing is going through….i too sense my own need to heal but restrain from falling under and hold onto G’s hand for support and grounding…

Day 9 – The Return Journey
RETURNING to the sensations of my ancestors…
‘Return Journey’ – a ceremonial boat ride from Cape Coast Castle to El Mina Castle…it is scheduled to begin at 9am – which i told really means 10 am…i decide to head to Cape Coast at 9am anyway as i want to take another moment to walk through the dungeon grounds…

the morning as i prepare to head off to the Castle, i find out that there is no running water at the hotel and resign to using the bottle watered i had bought to drink, to wash myself with…this action transforms to a ‘baptism’ of a sort as i ponder on this boat ride- having never been out in the ocean on a boat ever!

Hearing this guide’s words awakens me to a deeper connection to these surroundings – a feeling that brings me to thinking about my ancestors being here…this guide provides a fuller picture of what transpired in the specfic areas ….i become aware of the ground beneath me at the male dungeons – that i am standing on hundreds of years old feces, piss, blood, sweat, skin and bones from my ancestors….thousands of African’s bodies piled ontop of each other as they screamed, sought comfort in each other, tried to communicate and fought to survive…

inside the holding area – directly adjacent to the door of no return – another elder (a women from USA) talks about how this space was where the first time the men and women would be together prior to being ‘escorted’ through the door to the ship…she further went into an in-depth diatribe about the women’s breast being a gateway to not only fertility but power…not at all about being sexualized but honored and respected…that in their own dungeons, the women would be violated by the European men and forced to have sex..giving birth to generations of New Africans….

my whole being is so open and alive now…sensitive to the air and smells of the ocean so close by…aware of the opening of the door of no return …now i look through the door and see the fishermen and women and children doing their daily activites – preparing nets, cleaning fish, voyaging out on the small boats to capture more fish….i call forth a brief history lesson i received earlier in my journey from my ’son’…he tells me of how this was a fishing kingdom – the Fanti – prior to the arrival of the Europeans…as they go through their daily routine, i wonder of how greatly their rituals have been impacted/interrupted by the arrival of colonialization, slavery and NOW me and other people of the Diaspora wishing to have a water experience on their ocean coast…

there are young men swimming around the small boat guiding it closer to the coast and dock it near us….i see some other young men lifting the participants on their shoulders and carrying them over to the boat; where there men in the boat lift them onto the wooden boards that also serve as sitting spots for the water ride…it seems as if this carrying and lifting is part of some great initiation that i need to do in order to go on this journey and i take a deep breath as i am lifted onto the shoulders of a young man who is probably half my age….the feeling of bouyancy overtakes me as i then lifted by two other gentlemen onto the boat…this happens to about another 15 people before we are ready to embark….

the water passage begins…not until i am on board is it confirmed that it will take 1 – 1 1/2 hours to get to the other castle…this is BY FAR the deepest experience of my travels so far!
at first i am able to snap a photo of the fading image of Cape Coast Castle; but minutes later it is like i am seized by ancestors coming up from the ocean waves and on board on top of me….i cannot open my eyes and i am getting heavier and heavier as i sense more and more ancestral bodies piling on top of me til the weight is almost unbearable and i can barely breathe….

i stay like this for the rest of the water voyage – unable to move and having only quick bursts of eyeing the El mina…the only comfort is the sounds of the waves and the sensation that this will end….i wonder how my ancestors must have endured this journey NOT knowing will or if it will end…going on for months in cramped spaces, chained, ensconsed in darkness…

for what seemed like a day later, i hear the sounds of men’s voices and the yelps of people above…i am able to open my eyes and see people of El mina on an overpass ‘welcoming’ the boat in…i am so relieved but STILL unable to move….we first try to dock at a spot where we would have to be carried AGAIN across water to land….a woman in front of me is carried from the boat to the land and falls into the water as she is almost about to take her first step on land…in some ways it seems appropriate that she should touch water before land, but this causes commotion among the welcomers and the rest of us aboard are taken to a new port to dismount….i am the first to be lifted and land on this new site…a band of revelers and welcomers try to hug and cheer and salute me but i am not able to speak and distance myself from them….

the welcoming band and revelers proceed to hug and greet the others, but for me this is anticlimatic…particular the post-welcoming ceremony and joyous march through the castle grounds…i am spent and heavy and full of thoughts…it takes me another hour before i am able to say anything…

Day 10 – 12 the “opening” ceremony and evolving consciousness
the accumulation of visceral kinesthetic, verbal and visual experiences from these past days has filled me with such a heightened state of consciousness…awakening me to a deeper understanding of my connections to Africa….
venture to the Jubilee grounds where the official OPENING of Panafest is to take place…Jubilee was Victoria Park before they decided to have the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s idependence from British colonial rule there…they renamed it JUBLILEE…
by 12noon ish the fanfare begins with stiltwalkers and musicians and MUCH pomp and circumstance…

in Elmina i walk around town and up the hill to Ft Jago…
i begin to recognize the flavor of Elmina – how the people look, smell and speak distinguishes them from Cape Coast peeps…An elderly gent approaches me at Ft Jago when he notices that i am not able to enter the locked entrance…despite his eccentricity ( imagine a homeless man in ny subway prophesizing), he profoundly professes about brotherhood and unity among all Africans…some younger men offer me food and to commune with them…there is an openess in their spirit that makes me smile…

‘Ultimate Consciousness raising Conversation with C’ – (Panafest staff)…in such few shifts of language, he opened me to re-thinking how we view slavery..i have paraphrased and contextualized what he shared with me:

*ENSLAVED not Slaves — “we need to remove ourselves from being categorized as victims and to stop thinking of ourselves as SLAVES..”

*OPPRESSOR not Master — he reiterated what G had said which was” that NO ONE IS THE MASTER OF ANOTHER..”

DUNGEON not Castle –

 “when we think of Castles, we romanticize a vision of a beautiful place with dragons and princesses and knights in shining armor…NONE OF THAT should be associated with these areas that enslaved people, imprisoned them in dark damp overcrowded enviroments; where they had little to eat and had to shit, piss and cry where they also sat, laid and waited….it’s time to remove that term [CASTLE] from history books…”

DAY 13 – PAN AFRICAN CONFERENCE & PRE-EMANCIPATION CEREMONY
..the importance of oral tradition..
Prof. Nana Opoku-Agyemong:
‘That which will not go away…the effects of the slave trade’ is my paraphrased version of her theme…An English lit professor, she eloquently unites historical perspectives with the oral narratives of people throughout West Africa to adress the legacies of our collective experience…i abstract this query from her lecture: what is our take on this supposed history that has been documented and written mostly by Europeans? and how does it reconcile with oral memories of our people?
memory is key to my work and to why i am here…to validate, affirm and bring to conscious the memories of our people that have been subverted, hidden and unexamined…these memories, in her work, have been illuminated through the oral narratives she has collected and continues to collect…these documented narratives seem to honor the memories that did not come to surface in the writings of Europeans who wrote about the middle passage…her work, for me, further illuminates the ‘coincidence of fate’ interlocking Africans on the continent with those of the continuum of the Diaspora as it seeks unmask the educational institution which, she believes, continues to systematically extract the ‘human element’ from validated historical books…’where is the feeling and emotion…where is the humanity’ she asks? for her, and i agree, it is in the oral accounts, in the songs that she brings to the foreground… i believe that added to this are the ancestral kinesthetic memories that continue to permeate present African people of the Diaspora; the purpose of my trip under the auspices of the Jerome foundation…in america we still feel the residue of lynching, shackles the aftertaste of salty ocean water… this is the ‘body connection’ to the ‘human element’ that she longs for in the past historical recounts of the enslavement of Africans inside the “triangular trade’…

there is much to take in between her and the second gentlemans impassioned speech…Dr. Kofi Sam speaks on Pan-African technology convergence…such potent and powerful information, he shares, but i can only write down few quotes:

“science is universal, technology is environmental”…

“Yes Africa is indeed suffering from AIDS: Acquired IMPORT DEPENDENCY SYSTEM”!

candlelight vigil in the center of town which will lead to the Cape Coast DUNGEON where Pre-Emancipation ceremonies and presentations are to take place…

“We came from the water and to the water we shall return – TO HEAL”
i wrote that saying about 4 years ago…drawing upon a quote than an elder in my family had passed onto me…after the vigil and the ceremonies (which i will not detail or discuss) HEALING is the necessary element i had omitted from that saying…
i will mention a few elements from this nites proceedings:

the honoring of ONE AFRICA…i know little of this man, but he was truly revered in Ghana..i believe he originally came from New York or somewhere in the States and moved to Ghana to live, inspire, and give back…

the MANY songs, dances and speeches which DID NOT exhaust me or the many people as the countdown to midnite came closer…

the going into the MALE HOLDING AREA for a sacred anointing and cleansing ceremony…

the ROLL CALL OF THE ANCESTORS at midnite (the beginning of the inaugurated EMANCIPATION DAY)

the meditation, reconciliation and releasing that continued on throughout the nite til there was but only the staff to escort me out of the Cape Coast dungeon..

DAY 14 – EMANCIPATION DAY
EMANCIPATION? i am not sure if i felt the exhiliration i longed for when first reading about this inaugurated day at least 7 years ago, but i sure DID FEEL EXHAUSTION

DAY 17 – surveying of Forts
Ft Amsterdam is the first fort in the Fante region of the Gold Coast (former name of Ghana)…it was first inhabited by British settlers(originally named Fort Kormantin) and later taken over by the Dutch which gave it is present name…it was later reclaimed by the British, but kept its Dutch name…

after giving an offering to the caretaker of the fort, i and my driver B(who originally took me to Cape Coast) roam around the the dwellings…this is B’s first time visiting the site as well and he is struck by its beauty and simplicity…unlike most of the other forts – which only served as look-out points or battle points – Ft Amsterdam served as a captive spot for the enslaved…and as i discover upon site of Amsterdam’s ‘door of no return’ , Africans were also shipped off to Europe and the Americas from here….in the center court of this fort is a very old tree – thick and mangly, yet majestic….it reminds of those trees you may find in New Orleans…those trees that seem to have captured the many spirits of those people whom have come in contact with it…a tree that, if it could speak, would be able to tell some of the most horrific and spellbinding tales…a tree that, if it could speak, may chose not to reveal the sacred secrets or the hidden encounters that it has witnessed…

DAY 18
The Nathional Theatre an impressive structure that houses very striking sculptural works commemorating the building’s opening and its relation to Africa/Ghana’s connection to the past and present…in particular are two pieces that i found incredibly detailed; both hand-carved wooden sculpural pieces – one dealing with the legacy of slavery and the other aptly titled Sankofa… intertwined in these works are elements, faces, and symbols that awaken so many memories of images i have encountered when researching the African diaspora…

 
DAY 19
SHARING OF KNOWLEDGE AND THE VISCERAL EXPERIENCE OF BEING ‘TAKEN’ AGAINST YOUR WILL…
F’s cousin, Is, shares with me geographical and contextual insight into Ghana:

– he begins with sharing about ACC – giving a couple of particular details that i would like to note–30% of the people(families) that are a part of this artisan village/marketplace are actual craftsman…..these crafts people will oftentimes pass their trade onto their children or close family members…NO ONE (knowingly or with consent) resides on these dwellings – arriving at 4 or 5am to begin their day…this is a ‘warm-up’ for him as Is then begins to go deeper in the recesses of his mind to pull up other tidbits…

– He takes me to one table and speaks on Adinkra symbols, their meanings and relationship to the earlier history of Ghana – i am too enthralled to even put pen to paper…

– Alongside the Adinkra symbols are ornate bronze and silver pieces that I tells tales of each one’s origin and connection to Ghana’s labelling as “Gold Coast”…

– He then recalls the 10 Regions — Greater Accra, Central, Volta, Western, Ashanti, Upper West, Eastern, Northern, Upper East, Brong-Ahafo…including particular names of cities, villages, ethnicities and historic sites, as he conjures up a vivid picture of this country’s topography…it is like he unlocked an encyclopedia of information from his mind by the time he finishes his ‘lesson’ with me!

i try to scribble down as much as i could, but could not keep up with his arsenal of facts, statistics and clarifications…WOW!

witnessing national dance company rehearse…my “studying” came from not masters and teachers of dance per se, but the friends and people whom i met along the way…ottom…i am privvy to seeing the dance unfold as layers of people move in and out of the space, while musicians interactm, play and sometimes act/dance inside the rehearsal…the director seamlessly moves in and out of the space that the dancer/performers inhabit; giving out instructions, critique and impromptu choreography as the work-thru continues…the movement is not disimilar to any of the other traditional performances i have seen in Ghana or elsewhere, but the ENERGY and COMMITMENT of the dancers illuminates their willingness to ‘really go there’ even though it is just a rehearsal…truly admirable…45 minutes later they have collapsed on the stage, spent and ready to receive feedback from the rehearsal director…by the time this rehearsal ‘ballet’ has ended, they have: “gone to war, been enslaved, travelled across the Atlantic, and returned to their homeland – at least that is what i gathered from the gestural language, movement and music…i wonder how it connects to the title of the piece – “In The Chest of a Woman”?

[for the incident see DAY 20 – DAY OF RECKONING]

D UNDERBELLY Home page

Day 20 – Day of Reckoning

a terrible and memorable reckoning occurred last nite…i am not sure which is more painful – re-remembering the memory of this incident or the incident itself…

the same road that i had walked along to and from the lodging would be the site of the incident…

R rode ALL THE WAY back to the lodging with me and then told me he had some time before his ‘Doctor’s Appointment’…i was suspicious of his intentions and questioned if he had an appointment …he called someone and spoke in Fanti, then told me the Doctor was running late and he was to call back…he then tried to follow me back to my room and i told him i didn’t feel like hanging out…he walked away and headed out of the lodging’s gateway and onto the main road…i headed back to the room and there was a gentleman there working on my toilet [in hindsight this was a true BLESSING]…R called the room and told me he felt i had disrespected and shamed him in front of the lodging staff…i asked him where he was and then told him i would like to talk to him about this..he came BACK to the lodge and entered my room..he then proceeded to tell me that he wanted to connect with me in a way i was not interested in connecting ..i refused and he told me i was USING HIM…that he spent all that time with me and i didn’t do anything for him – didn’t buy him anything, or dash him something…i reminded him that i had bought something from his booth at Adisadel and THEN bought the jeans to help him out when he had lost his money…that wasn’t enough for him, he wanted more…he then told me he could get me arrested, that the police would come and get me, under a simple suspicion, and extort me for money…there would be nothing i could do…i said what do you want from me? MONEY? he didn’t respond but pulled in closer to me to whisper something i could not understand…fortunately the gentleman working on the toilet would, intermittently, come in and out of the room; as he kept getting tools or supplies…

R proceeded to pull out his phone ( a phone i thought he said he had lost in the bus accident that gave him the bump on the forehead) and say: ‘YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME?”
i sat on my bed, incredulous, and told him i didn’t want any trouble, that i thought we were ‘friends’ and that there must be some kind of miscommunication going on….i flashback to the earlier arguement at ACC and searched for clues as to what may have lead to this…did he and his friend try and set me up? i dismissed this thought and looked him in the eyes and said WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?

he repeated YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME! and then made some call…i said FINE and told him to leave.. i then reached for the phone and rang the front desk…he said he would go but that he had called the police and they would come for me…..i was nervous about his presence but not convinced he would actually call the police..he left my room and i, rattled by this intense interaction, laid on my bed for a moment…

i said to myself ‘i am not going to let him get to me’…i mean i didn’t ANYTHING right?
not wanting to re-live another ‘bad food moment’ with the Lodging’s Chef, i decided to go out and get something from MR. BIG’s …i told Br (lodging staff) that i would be back in about a half-hour and proceeded down the road ….

just outside the gate was R! i kept on walking and he caught up with me and made a phone call…i then heard him saying something in Fanti and then, in English,: “yeah he is wearing jeans, a white cap and has a black bag”…i became aware of the fact that he may ACTUALLY BE TALKING TO POLICE…but i was still not convinced THE POLICE would do anything…JUST IN CASE i darted to the local internet cafe and sent a quick cryptic email to a friend of mine in the states; telling her to look for me to contact her in the next day…that something was going on …that i might need help…all the while i am online R is standing by the front door of the business; speaking with someone and peering intensely at me…

i stayed online for a little bit longer…not really doing anything but just staring at the computer screen, hoping that R would just go away and i could grab some food and head back to the hotel…

i hesitantly got up to pay for my time on the computer and noticed that R had left…slightly relieved i headed to Mr Big’s …i would be leaving tomorrow (day 20 – today’s writing) and so i would just grab this food and go CHILL back at the lodge…i still cautiously looked behind and around me in case R was following me…even though this was ACCRA and ‘urban’, it could still get dark in areas and the road i would head back onto get to the lodging had alot of dark and tree-covered areas…

By now, the staff at Mr Big had come to consider me a ‘regular’ and so i got the ‘usual’ festiva (a quiche-like pie with fish and potatoe) and, of course, RICE…

i decided to follow a different pathway back to the lodging; convinced that R was up to something, but still not believing he had called the police…

i placed my white knit hat in the black bag that also contained my journal and important papers for travel…in my left hand was the take-out…for the first time i took in a chop bar that was the intersection that would lead to the lodge…i was turning right underneath a tree when a taxi swerved an indentation in the road and abruptly stopped slightly to the left of me…two brothers came out and as i continued on the road, one of them approached me reaching out his hand…i didn’t know if he was trying to greet me or grab me so i moved away from me…his soft-spoken words barely audible, he then lunged for my arm…i tugged away and shifted to my left in the direction of the chop bar…the other brother appeared in front of me to dissuade me from going any further…

at that moment i felt trapped…the plastic yellow sandals i was wearing somehow disappeared from my feet as i scrambled to get away from the brother holding onto me…i felt the sensation of hitting the earth and rising back up; a slight tug was now forcing me to focus in the direction of the other brother now pulling me towards the taxi…there i see R standing by the taxi, coming towards me…i FREAKED…i hear one of the brothers – the taller one- yell that he was police and that i was going to go with them! i was like HELL NO! i didn’t see any badge that would suggest anything official and they were’nt sporting the blue uniforms i was accustomed to seeing the police wear…. i began to pull out the I AM AMERICAN card and repeatedly kept yelling that til i felt like i was being taken back to the ground…i scrambled and tussled with them as i dragged myself inside the chop bar….CHAOS erupted as we knocked over a couple of tables …this ALERTED the guests of the bar to what was going on and as i was being dragged out of the bar, they followed me onto the dirt road…i’m still screaming AMERICAN and both of the supposed policemen had me on either side of my waist; attempting to shove me into the taxi’s back seat…i felt like if i let them get me into this taxi THAT WOULD BE IT! they could take me somewhere and ‘off me’! R is circling around them as they continue to sandwich me into the taxi…i believe i hear him saying “it’s going to be ALRIGHT, don’t resist”….the crowd by now had grown to include some chop bar guests and residents from the nearby tower …i started to calm down and try to listen to what one of the ‘plainsclothed policeman’ was trying to say…he finally was able to tell me that i was under suspect for FRAUD and he was trying to take me to the local police station where i would be questioned…in deep low breaths i finally got out the words..OK…i told him i didn’t know who he was and i was just going back to my lodging…”it’s just up the road’.. i tried to convince him to walk with me to the lodge and they would vouch for me I AM AMERICAN i don’t know what is going on…he replied that “this gentleman says you did something to him and that you owe him some money”; pointing to R….by now this policeman was only holding me by the waist of my jeans and i felt that he was at least going to listen to me without forcing me to go ANYWHERE…i again stated that i am staying at the ___ lodge and ALL my papers and passport are there..PLEASE PLEASE take me to the lodge!

R began to circle among the crowd and ALERT THEM of what i had supposedly done! He told them i had forced him to have SEX WITH HIM! that i was HOMOSEXUAL and to not BELIEVE A WORD I WAS SAYING! this made certain peeps back away and yell things which i could not understand – because it was in FANTI or another local language- but got the sense that it WAS DEGRADING!…O LORD i screamed as i felt another push to get me in the back seat of the taxi and then what felt like more than one arm, hand, fist, reaching towards me, hitting me or thrusting me…i could not make out what exactly happening as we shifted from the glow of the chop bar lights to the darkness surrounding it…it was like the crowd, or at least some of them, were joining in trying to force me to into the TAXI!

a large brother pushed through the crowd towards the taller policeman who would not let up on his grip of me…they exchange some words and i hear a tail bit of English…i think i hear the large brother tell the policeman that he is a FIREMAN and inquired as to what was going on…the policeman then pulled out a badge and tell him something about me ….the Fireman responded by pulling out his badge and asking what EXACTLY was the other gentleman(R) complaint? this banter continued for a few more seconds or minutes, i don’t know,…but only seemed to lead the policeman to wanting to push me back towards the taxi…the taller policeman, who had taken charge of the situation, refused to let me go back to the lodging…in the midst of the crowd i see an older gentleman who worked at the lodge as security..i beckoned to him and he came through the crowd and proceeded to vouch for me; telling them that i was a good guy and did indeed stay at the lodge and asked what was going on?…he then exchanged some words in Fanti with the taller policeman…in ENGLISH i then heard that the policeman had showed me his badge and tried to greet me, but I REFUSED and tried to RUN…I DIDN’T KNOW he was a policeman! i countered and BEGGED to be escorted back to the lodge WHERE ALL THIS WOULD BE CLEARED UP! the security/older gentleman told the policeman he would walk with me back to the lodge as well…the policeman was not going to let that happen and he told the security/older gent to step away unless “he too wanted to be arrested!” i screamed to the security gent NOT TO GO…or at least to PLEASE TELL THEM WHAT IS GOING ON!

O GOD i released as i saw the security man back away from us and move through the crowd..he was my only connection to someone familiar and seemingly my only hope for getting out of this madness…strangely enough i had not let go of either of my bags; even through the falling to the floor and the struggles, i had held onto those bags FOR DEAR LIFE!

finally i had come to understand that the FIREMEN had contacted the local police station and that UNIFORMED POLICEMEN would arrive to escort me to the station…this allowed me to gather my senses and calmly speak with the plainsclothe policeman…he had also calmed down but would not lose grip of my jeans…it was a grip from the back of the waist that cinched up the jeans to create a very uncomfortable sensation in my crotch! nevertheless i calmed down and was now able to see UNIFORMED POLICEMAN heading in our direction…i also noted that the FIREMAN had brought his truck to the front of the chop bar and was going to drive me, the UNIFORMED and PLAINSCLOTHED policeman to the station…a woman from the crowd reassuringly told me to ‘”GO WITH THEM” ….exhausted and worn down i agreed to go and VERY VERY SLOWLY walked to the truck…absentmindedly i asked to be able to get my sandals – which had been scattered during the struggle along the side of the chop bar – and EVEN MORE SLOWLY slipped them on….the fireman had a pick-up truck and i was placed in the front seat in between the UNIFORMED AND TALLER PLAINSCLOTHED policemen, while R and the other plainsclothed policeman sat in the back… a young gentleman that i had not really noticed before ALSO jumped in the back….FEAR leaped back into my heart as i imagined being taken to some dark place and shot…i had no idea WHERE this local station was to be and, even though the uniforms made it look more OFFICIAL, didn’t R tell them i had forced myself onto him sexually? i mean R had told the people that i WAS HOMOSEXUAL…i had heard that homosexuality was illegal in Ghana and that to be found of such an immoral violation could mean severe punishment..maybe they knew R…and even if they didn’t, maybe they would try to extort me for money….i also imagined that possibly these brothers may ‘take the law into their own hands!’ and ‘deal’ with me…. gay people, ALL OVER THE WORLD, whether confirmed to be or simply suspected, had been beaten, raped, imprisoned and killed before…WHY NOT NOW!?!

Perhaps PARANOIA engulfed me in these thoughts….it didn’t matter, because by the time i had reached the thought of ‘reconciling myself with my creator’, i could see what resembled a police station! i hoped that this could be resolved before my flight in the morning….i prayed that they would not put me in a jail cell or extort money…i resoluted that i would give them anything to allow me to be free to go!

i was led behind the front desk and told to sit on a bench, while they spoke to R and had him write something in a sort-of ledger…from my vantage point i could see, to my right, a barred door that most likely led to the cells….in front of me rifles laid precariously behind the desk…the taller policeman then came towards me and began to explain the procedure of questioning me…he told me that what had happened earlier was unnecessary, that he was only asking me to come to the station for questioning…i then convinced him that i DID NOT KNOW who he was and since he did not wear a UNIFORM , thought that R might have gotten someone to harm me…he went back to the desk, and from time to time, he and a couple of others (not one uniformed) would question me about ‘who i was’ , ‘what kind of interaction did i have with the other guy’, ‘where i was from’…in between these questions i tried to write in my journal what EXACTLY was going on and who i would need to contact…i didn’t have a CELL PHONE and didn’t know if i would be allowed to make a phone call…every now and then i would also see a uniformed policeman stare at me as he went to pick up a rifle from the back of the desk; there were no SMILES…

dazed, i just sat on the bench for maybe an hour….again trying to write and lost in thoughts that i could not decipher…moving into the recesses of my mind to figure out WHAT I COULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY TO CHANGE MY CURRENT SITUATION… i witnessed a gentleman being escorted through the barred door and led to a cell…i resolved that i too would be led though that door…

more time passed…i tried to find a clock and found one positioned on the side wall to my left…i believed it said 9pm…i remember that when i left the restaurant it was 6:45pm…so it had been TWO hours that i had been inside this ordeal…FINALLY the taller policeman returned to me and asked more detailed questions…i then noticed the young gentleman who had jumped into the back of the truck that took us here…he was looking at me..the taller policeman asked where i had met R? i told him CAPE COAST at PANAFEST..that he and another gentleman were selling clothes there…he asked if i told R to follow me to ACCRA? i said NO…that R told me he was from ACCRA, had took me to his place, just yesterday, to get measured by his brother for an outfit…an outfit he was going to dash me for my birthday…i then looked down at my jeans and revealed that i had gotten THESE JEANS FROM R, that i had bought them from him…the taller policeman released a sigh and said…”I BELIEVE YOU” …i exhaled and proceeded to ask EXACTLY WHAT R’S COMPLAINT WAS…he told me that R had told them that at the lodge room ” i GRABBED HIM AND FORCED HIM TO HAVE ANAL INTERCOURSE”….i responded that NOTHING LIKE THAT HAD OCCURRED…that there was staff at the lodging who could vouch for that AND that there was someone present WORKING ON MY TOILET and DIDN’T FINISH WORKING until AFTER R had left….He believed me..he then told me that he had ALREADY caught R in a LIE and that SOMEONE HAD COME FORWARD TO ATTEST TO THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER…that ‘someone’ was the young gentleman who had accompanied us to the station..NOW i had thought that this young guy was there to validate R’s complaint, but in fact, he had come to help ME…i HAD NO IDEA who this young man was, BUT I WAS INDEED GRATEFUL.. ‘brotherhood’ came to my mind as i looked to the young man…

the taller policeman told me to HOLD ON…he left and spoke with someone and then shortly returned…he then said BE PATIENT and that he would ESCORT ME BACK TO THE LODGE as soon as he finished up something…i didn’t know WHAT he had to finish up, but i was truly glad to feel like this was coming to a close and that i would be able to get up out of here – both the station and GHANA…

AGAIN the taller policeman returned and sat down next to me…he seemed more relaxed and even ‘friendly’….he was convinced by my answers to the questions that i was NOT GUILTY OF ANY SUCH ILLEGAL ACTIVITY…he was THOROUGHLY convinced that R was LYING and that to falsely make a complaint was not to be tolerated; falsely accuse a BROTHER FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY – ESPECIALLY THE US was even worse than the supposed illegal action i was accused of…he further told me that the FIREMAN had reported to the station that the protocol of ‘taking me in’ was mishandled and that i was mistreated…the taller policeman then looked me in the eyes and ask if he had mistreated me? as clearly as i could, i told him that i believed that he did what he thought was best for the situation and that, due to his dress, i ONLY refused because i was not from GHANA and did not understand the particular local protocol…maybe not in those exact words, but he understood that i was basically saying and smiled…he professed that R might have thought that he(the police) would try to get some MONEY from me and possibly share it with him…i simply just nodded for i KNEW that i WOULD NOT BE “OK” till i was safely in my bed in NEW YORK….

The taller policeman walked over to R and brought him towards me…he then TOLD R to SIT and asked me to STAND…i am not sure if R knew what was going on, but i DIDN’T CARE…i knew i was ready to be up out of there! i was then escorted by the taller policeman, a uniformed policeman and the young gent who had attested to my innocence…i found out during the walk back to the lodge, that he had been sitting at the lodge when i left for food…i wanted to say more to him to THANK HIM but i was SPENT and just kept on walking…

passing the chop bar i take notice of ALL OF ITS DETAILS as if its image would be forever etched in my mind…approaching the LODGE we were met with the CHEF who ALSO had been inside the CHOP BAR when the incident occurred…he was glad to see that i was OK and proceeded to again verify who i was and that i had done NOTHING WRONG…the taller policeman conceded that that was true and that they were only escorting back to the lodge and would then hand me over to the owner/director and report what had happened…
the DIRECTOR was not there, only Br and the security man who had witnessed the incident…i was SO GLAD to see both of them…Br had been alerted by the security man and the chef and contacted the DIRECTOR who was very far away, BUT ON HIS WAY…Br and the security man walked me to my door, unlocked it for me, and cautioned me to lock it! I SURE DID! they went back to the reception area and spoke with the police…i think i just STOOD in place and didn’t move until a KNOCK on my door jolted me out this stupor…i opened the door and BR proceeded to tell me that i should offer some money to the policeman for escorting me back to the lodge and to THANK HIM…i was like KOOL…grabbed whatever money i could find, showed it to BR, and then went back to the reception area…money given, handshakes exchanged, THANK YOU’S worded, i headed back to my room…somewhere in the midst of that final exchange with the taller policeman, he revealed how bad he felt about what had happened and could see in my eyes that i was an honest guy…he said “it was enough to make him cry…”

now i am back to this day, this morning…having had no sleep i floated through: packing; showering; eating breakfast(no i didn’t eat breakfast); saying my ‘good-byes’ and ‘thank-you’s’ to the staff[i gave Br the last of the three I LOVE NEW YORK t-shirts]; telling J(the contact person for the travel agency in ACCRA that collaborated with my US travel advisor) what went on last nite; getting driven to the AIRPORT by B(the driver who had taken me to and from CAPE COAST); boarding the plane; and FINALLY, arriving back in NY, in my BED where i would attempt to gather my thoughts and recount these 21 days…

D UNDERBELLY Home page

Day 19 – Cultural ‘lessons’ at Arts Center

W left EARLY this morning back to Cape Coast…
yesterday we had a great time hanging out…after the National Theatre we briefly stopped at the ACC – where i ran into a friend of R who i had also met at Adisadel…this friend tells me that the Dance Company i am looking for will be in rehearsal tomorrow(today) and so i plan to come back…

i also spoke with R last nite and told him of my plans – he will be there as well…
 

on my way to ACC, as i am heading down the road from my lodge, i decide to go to KINGS barber where i pay $1 dollar to get clean-shaved by a razor with the inscription “going to meet my maker”!

i appreciate this interval moment; as it allows me to ‘see’ this area of Accra more deeply…i didn’t notice the towers across from the barber shack that resemble tenement projects in New York or the never-ending spiritualized names(even phrases from scripture) adorning the tailor shops, record store and grocer shacks like “Jesus be with you”, “Our God is a mighty God” or “Prince of Peace”…though this was not disimilar to other parts of Ghana (all throughout the central region – Cape Coast, Elmina and adjoining areas -i would see rows of religious sayings encrypted on all kinds of structure), it felt like there was something special about this road…

i arrive at ACC and take in the surroundings…in some ways it feels very organic- as if these people could live, create and commune here…an artisan village that honors the traditional way of living…but then i look at the obvious ‘touristy’ crafts and paraphenelia and am reminded how this ‘village’ is simultaneously very commercialized…i run into R’s friend (RF) again and am given some history on the ACC…it was purported to be founded by artists – actual craftsmans – who wanted to sell their trade…it was in a different area but moved here over a decade ago(?)…there is a mix of: craftsman who create their work on site; sellers who buy craftwork from all over Ghana and bring it here; and detailers who put the finishing touches on work that comes from local artists…there are also restaurants catering to tourists, a meeting hall [where currently local chiefs of a particular region are meeting] and THE NATIONAL DANCE COMPANY OF GHANA…now i had thought the guide from National Theatre had told me that DANCE FACTORY was in residence here, but RF clarifies that it is the National Dance Company that is in fact here – they are preparing for IN THE CHEST OF A WOMAN! i look forward to catching them in rehearsal which will begin later in the afternoon…

somewhere in the midst of our conversation R arrives and soon after another gentleman who wants to be my ‘friend’ – in other words wants to show me his area where i can BUY! – beckons to me to “follow him”… so R, RF , my new ‘friend’ (F) and i head to another part of the village…after finding F’s area of crafts, we sit down and i engage in a conversation with F and his business partner( a cousin) who, though he is but 18 years old, ‘DROPS KNOWLEDGE LIKE AN ELDER’…

F’s cousin, Is, shares with me geographical and contextual insight into Ghana:

— he begins with sharing about ACC – giving a couple of particular details that i would like to note–30% of the people(families) that are a part of this artisan village/marketplace are actual craftsman…..these crafts people will oftentimes pass their trade onto their children or close family members…NO ONE (knowingly or with consent) resides on these dwellings – arriving at 4 or 5am to begin their day…this is a ‘warm-up’ for him as Is then begins to go deeper in the recesses of his mind to pull up other tidbits…

– He takes me to one table and speaks on Adinkra symbols, their meanings and relationship to the earlier history of Ghana – i am too enthralled to even put pen to paper…

– Alongside the Adinkra symbols are ornate bronze and silver pieces that I tells tales of each one’s origin and connection to Ghana’s labelling as “Gold Coast”…

– He then recalls the 10 Regions — Greater Accra, Central, Volta, Western, Ashanti, Upper West, Eastern, Northern, Upper East, Brong-Ahafo…including particular names of cities, villages, ethnicities and historic sites, as he conjures up a vivid picture of this country’s topography…it is like he unlocked an encyclopedia of information from his mind by the time he finishes his ‘lesson’ with me!

i try to scribble down as much as i could, but could not keep up with his arsenal of facts, statistics and clarifications…WOW!

i offer to take Is to lunch for ALL that he has shared with me….he dashes me with three
trinkets [mini-representations of]: a woman’s shoe (symbolizing ‘peace’); a turtle(dignity); and the ‘fertility’ doll (further symbolizing spawn of creativity)…

R and RF join us for lunch and (after Is has left) argue with me about NOT paying for THEIR lunch! RF ‘schools’ me about Ghanain brothership and “having each other’s back”…”if i eat, then my brother will eat” he spats at me…i counter with sharing my concerns on ASSUMING that one is going to pay for another – a mentality that seems very connected to each ‘friend’ i have made on this journey so far… more often i have paid for ALL my friends’ meals, etc when they have accompanied me and HAVE NOT had a moment when one has paid for me!

by the end of this arguement i have lost two ‘friends’… i head to the space where the rehearsal for the DANCE COMPANY is taking place..i use this as a diversion from the previous ‘heated’ moment and bask in the sun; as the company begins….

in 3 days they will perform the choreography for the production at National Theatre …their rehearsal happens in a a raised proscenium -like space with wooden floors…a ‘stage’ that opens out into the courtyard/spectators ground – where anyone can take a moment to witness them in action…i am glad to have this opportunity to witness them inside a rehearsal process; as this has been my only moment since i have arrived….they first go through movement on their own; sometimes working in tandem with other dancers or musicians or off in a corner of the space..

R joins me as they move through their beginning process and we make amends as to what happened earlier…he stays with me throughout the rest of the rehearsal…

after they have done some preliminary practicing, they work-through the piece from top to bottom…i am privvy to seeing the dance unfold as layers of people move in and out of the space, while musicians interactm, play and sometimes act/dance inside the rehearsal…the director seamlessly moves in and out of the space that the dancer/performers inhabit; giving out instructions, critique and impromptu choreography as the work-thru continues…the movement is not disimilar to any of the other traditional performances i have seen in Ghana or elsewhere, but the ENERGY and COMMITMENT of the dancers illuminates their willingness to ‘really go there’ even though it is just a rehearsal…truly admirable…45 minutes later they have collapsed on the stage, spent and ready to receive feedback from the rehearsal director…by the time this rehearsal ‘ballet’ has ended, they have: “gone to war, been enslaved, travelled across the Atlantic, and returned to their homeland – at least that is what i gathered from the gestural language, movement and music…i wonder how it connects to the title of the piece – “In The Chest of a Woman”?

R follows me out of the rehearsal space and insists on riding back to the hotel with me…i decline to continue to hang out with him, but he says that he has a doctor’s appointment in the same area…i oblige and of course pay for the ride back…

it is at this moment that i go into the ‘underbelly’ of my journey…perhaps my own rite of passage…i had wanted to experience the memories, sensations of the Africans who endured the enslavement and middle passage – trying to capture the ‘spirit’ of these ancestors, so that i may develop a performative work, a testimony, to their survival and resilience ….well I MOST DEFINITELY got a visceral experience, A LESSON IN SURVIVAL, that would most honestly make me feel like i was RE-LIVING their struggle… it is not til the next day that i am able to write or make sense of what transpired this evening…

D UNDERBELLY Home page

Day 18 – The cock crows and crows and crows…

“cock- adoodle -aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh”

a nearby cock croons a slightly familiar ‘wake-up call”..similar to the American rooster but with an edgier sound…edgier perhaps because i was not expected to be woken up by his call!

W arrives at 9am JUST as he had said he would..all smiles he greets me with a big hug…at breakfast we plan on heading to the National Theatre, Arts Cultural Center, and the beach…

 

The Nathional Theatre is an impressive building…constructed by a Chinese architect in either the late 80’s or early 90’s, it has a modern and expansive design…i was surprised that it only seated 1500 people, but quickly understood this limitation, as the lobbies and stage area take up MOST of the structural space…the lobbies house very striking sculptural works commemorating the building’s opening and its relation to Africa/Ghana’s connection to the past and present…in particular are two pieces that i found incredibly detailed; both hand-carved wooden sculpural pieces – one dealing with the legacy of slavery and the other aptly titled Sankofa… intertwined in these works are elements, faces, and symbols that awaken so many memories of images i have encountered when researching the African diaspora…

 

currently the theatre is is booked for a production titled: ‘In The Chest of a Woman; honoring the Chief Justice Her Lordship, Mrs. Georgina Wood and featuring the National Symphony Orchestra, Abibigromma of National Theatre and THE NATIONAL DANCE COMPANY….i find out from our impromptu guide that National Theatre rents out yearly to international, national and local arts companies…i ask about Dance Factory and he tells me that they are no longer housed there but we can find them at the Arts Cultural Center (ACC)…i thank the guide (with a donation as well as the Ghanaian hand-shake) and we head off to ACC…

Later that nite we head back to the lodge and, at the staff’s request, have dinner there…a NEW Chef is in place and is eager to prepare a meal for us…he was a former Ship’s Cook and cooked like he was A FORMER SHIP’S COOK unfortunately…i had ordered REDRED with plantains and rice – NO MEAT…when he brought out the food, he asked if we wanted some meat dish he had made for himself…i, being the vegetarian i work hard to be, declined but W accepted…this was BY FAR the worst meal i have had in Ghana – overcooked and salty beans; dried out plaintains, mushy rice and the MEAT that W ate was also overcooked and tough…AND THEN the Chef had the nerve to try and charge us approximately $14 US dollars for the meal…this would had been the most expensive meal i had eaten since my arrival in ACCRA…after my most diplomatic reasoning with him and the staff, they asked for $9 dollars – still too expensive for THAT meal, but i obliged…perhaps it was the fact that he specially prepared the food for us AND that we were the ONLY people eating at their restaurant accounted for the HIGH price; it doesn’t matter, like pretty much everything i had gotten in Ghana, i was able to negotiate a deal!

stomachs full we spent the rest of the evening dancing with THE RUDE BOYS at a local spot on the main road of the lodging…kool to be able to hang out, listen to an inventive mix of HIP-LIFE and American HIP-HOP, and be among the ACCRA young peeps doing their latest moves; not at all un-similar to the youth in New york!

D UNDERBELLY Home page

Day 17 – The Return to Accra

“i am really going to miss Cape Coast”

by the time i head back to Accra i have given away four pairs of shoes, couple pair of pants and tops, lots of underwear and socks, and, of course, monetary tips….as the last suitcase is lifted into the van i extend goodbyes to: ‘my son’, T, W, V, J, A, and the rest of the hotel staff…i am truly saddened by the thought of leaving here….no tears are shed, only smiles..

on the way back to Accra i do take a moment to visit by Ft Amsterdam…this structure is located in the village of Kormantse – a historical, powerful site of the slave trade era…though it is surrounded by the Fanti kingdom, Kormantse is not considered a Fanti state – due to its name and origin; which is purported to be connected to Ashanti of Kumasi…these Ashanti warriors held off an invasion from the Fanti and were fabled to have said “Mikore Mantsi”(“i was with the warriors); shortened to “Kormantse” and given as the name of the village..this i one of the possible source stories that is linked to the name and area…

Ft Amsterdam is the first fort in the Fante region of the Gold Coast (former name of Ghana)…it was first inhabited by British settlers(originally named Fort Kormantin) and later taken over by the Dutch which gave it is present name…it was later reclaimed by the British, but kept its Dutch name…

after giving an offering to the caretaker of the fort, i and my driver B(who originally took me to Cape Coast) roam around the the dwellings…this is B’s first time visiting the site as well and he is struck by its beauty and simplicity…unlike most of the other forts – which only served as look-out points or battle points – Ft Amsterdam served as a captive spot for the enslaved…and as i discover upon site of Amsterdam’s ‘door of no return’ , Africans were also shipped off to Europe and the Americas from here….in the center court of this fort is a very old tree – thick and mangly, yet majestic….it reminds of those trees you may find in New Orleans…those trees that seem to have captured the many spirits of those people whom have come in contact with it…a tree that, if it could speak, would be able to tell some of the most horrific and spellbinding tales…a tree that, if it could speak, may chose not to reveal the sacred secrets or the hidden encounters that it has witnessed…

i make it back to the lodging where i first stayed in when i flew into Accra…i am met warmly by the staff whom remember me very well… “Akwaaba”… “medasi (thank you)” i reply…i have not much to say as my journey back here was interrupted by an interaction with B, the driver…it seems that fuel had gone up since i first went to Cape Coast and, because i am responsible for paying for fuel TO and FROM the Cape Coast, have to pay a substantial increase..i find this out after a VERY extended arguement at the gas station – English loses its validity and clarity when speaking with another brother who is not interested in communicating via a ‘slave language’….

nevertheless i find comfort in the hospitality of the staff and seek rest after a much-longer-than-expected travel back..

i take a moment to settle in and then head to the internet cafe just down the road…
when i return to the lodge i am surprised with a visitor – R (a very friendly vendor i met at Adisadel village in Cape Coast)..i am TRULY SURPRISED..he had told me to call him when i arrived into Accra and then we could arrange to POSSIBLY meet up…i was planning to take a nap before i even called and NOW here he was…i greet him and welcome him back to my room where we conversate about my return and his near fatal accident in a bus ride back…i had noticed a bandage on his forehead and inquired as to what happened…’what happened’ is that he was riding back tto Accra in a public transit van (the same kind of van i had taken with G to Assin Manso) and was in an accident.. 5 people were killed and he was lucky to come out alive…fortunately he was in the very back…he only lost his wallet and cell phone…now i hadn’t mentioned that R had told me another story of losing his money a few days after i FIRST met him at Adisadel; at that time i had bought a pair of jeans that i had saw him wear and liked…i thought this would help him with his sudden lack of funds and i would get a hip pair of urban coutoure ghanain jeans! NOW here i am with another story, an even SADDER story…i sense something not so right, but cannot dismiss his injury or visible signs of shaken nerves…i console him…he says that he has a birthday gift he would like to give me – he is having his brother make an outfit for me…we need to go over to the house where his brother is to take some measurements …tired as i am and weary of going anywhere too far, i acquiesce…

Accra is an urban city, but my thought about its urbaness changed on the way to R’s brother’s place…it shifts from cleanly designed and neat houses and businesses to more basic crudely crafted structures…the roads, never really smooth, become even rougher and remind me of Chicago’s pot-holed streets…but instead of Chi-town’s every-three-or-four-feet-of-the-street-hole, the driver is maneuvers around successive hole-ridden roads…and i realize that i have NEVER really witness an area like this in all of my travels in America….and this is by no means considered a ‘ghetto’…we finally arrive in the middle of a circle of home structures that would not survive a New York winter or a bad rain season…i find out that this is not R’s brother’s place but a family home where ALL of his family live…i thought when he said ‘brother’, he was using it in the more expansive term..NO this was his flesh and blood!

i am struck by the ironic contrast to R’s dress and manners to his surroundings…thoughts of brothers and sisters in America who drive fancy cars but live in tenement projects…where a young person may have an ipod but not a private room or bed ….i see only one big room that attaches to a smaller room where R’s father is resting…”he is not well” R tells me and then invites me to meet him…i tell R that i do not want to disturb him and so we sit close to where R’s brother is working on some outfit…unlike the smiles of the many other people i have met so far, R’s brother ( i cannot recall his name/initial) very politely and coldly shakes my hand…he takes my measurements very methodically and calculated…

as we head back towards my lodge, i tell R that i sense that his brother feels “put upon to make this outfit”..R assures me that is is ‘fine’ with making the outfit; that it is a birthday gift, a ‘dash’ and i cannot refuse it… he then escorts me to a restaurant where i tell him that i will call him tomorrow..he pressures me to make plans to meet up, but i tell him that i may not feel like doing anything tomorrow but resting…i do not invite him to eat with me, because:
– i want to be alone
– i do not feel like paying for his food
– i am trying to create a distance from him, for i fear he is becoming attached to me for purposes of money and whatever else he may want from me….
He reluctantly obliges to wait for my call and asks for money to take a car back…i give it to him and retreat into Mr Big’s restaurant – the closest thing to fast food in Ghana i have encountered…i take the food back to my lodge and ‘chill’ in front of the tv of my room…

just as i am about to close my eyes, the phone rings…it is W from Cape Coast ! i am glad to hear from him …he tells me that he would like to come visit me in Accra…after a quick ‘check-in’ with each other, he confirms that he wil be there EARLY tomorrow morning…i trust his words and his spirit and rest assured that he WILL BE HERE tomorrow…

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Day 15 & 16 – post Panafest “R & R”

Day 15 R & R
Day 16 THE RETURN OF TD

Panafest has officially ended and the marketplace at Adisadel has been emptied….
i am glad to have some time for simple Rest and Relaxation…i utilize this time to also catch up with what is going on in NY and US online…i had been checking in now and then but i would spend quite a bit of time at an internet cafe over these next couple of days…

i find out that in MN (where i lived for almost a decade) a major bridge has collapsed! i email some friends/associates there to check-in…i flashback to being in DC when the airplanes hit the twin towers…

i also search for information on National Theatre in Accra and Dance Factory(a Ghanaian company i had seen in Senegal a few years back)..i find out that they are supposedly in residence and make a plan to connect with them when i return there in a couple of days..

when not online, i shop for gifts and trinkets to bring back…particularly getting some new traditional ‘gear’ to wear when i begin teaching classes in the fall…ironically i also search out Ghanaian versions of American cuisine – in particular ‘good ole’ fashioned mac & cheese…at this cafe in the center of town i find their version …of course it cannot compare to the US South and i become aware of the lack of cheese or dairy i have had in Ghana…it is not something they make or try to make and i vaguely connect this thought with the high rate of lactose-intolerance among African-Americans…hmmm

while Ghana may not do cheese they most definitely do CASHEWS! i don’t think i will ever find a better tasting cashew than Ghana’s GOODY bag… even in an un-salted and raw version, these cashew taste like some of the most decadent of chocolates! the same expansive flavor without the guilt!

i realize that while i have been immersed in Panafest activities, “Mormons” have come to stay at the hotel and are slowly trying to convert the hotel staff…i find out though that they are NOT Mormons but with the L____ Ministry in Texas…THAT IS EVEN MORE SCARY!

i secretly and covertly alert the staff to “beware”…they are amused at my concern and at these “oboni”[white people] who are so kind and talkative…since my time at the hotel, i reflect on the panorama of peeps who have passed through:
– the religious African brothers who loved to ‘hiss’ at the staff
– the young sistas from DC who were not interested in anything too “‘Ghanaian”
– the people whom i know were not American and yet were definitely not “African”

it is also during these days that i meet W whom becomes not only my favorite driver but a good friend; he takes me around to find hip-life music, chill spots in Elmina and particular specialty gifts…he was the first driver in Cape Coast to take me back to the hotel and his re-remembering of our earlier interaction impresses me…i wish i could have had him take me back to Accra, but have already pre-paid for another driver…He wants to come visit me in Accra and i give him the contact information to the lodging…i spend the last of this time of R&R hanging out with him and T at this very impressive Hotel in Elmina…

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Day 14 – the exhaustion of EMANCIPATION!

 

i am worn out! and the markings are GONE!

the markings i received during the pre-emancipation ritual last nite have disappeared…somehow the mystery of their disappearance comforts me and i begin my journey back to Assin Manso – where EMANCIPATION day activities are to take place…i was told to meet peeps from Panafest at Adisadel and we will all leave from there…fortunately on my walk there, T spots me and redirects me to Heritage house (Panafest’s headquarters) where he has been told there will be vans to take us to Assin Manso…we are supposed to be there by 8am for pick-up…we arrive by 8:30 and by 10am (right on GP time) a van arrives…

They are still setting up for Emancipation at Assin Manso, so i take this opportunity to revisit the sacred slave bath BEFORE the Emancipation laying-of-the-wreath ceremony brings the throngs of people to the river…

i dip my hands in the water and cleanse my face and feets…i feel refreshed and ready to deal with MORE POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE…this event will feature GRAND DURBAR of many chiefs of the regions and i am excited to see this procession…

the sun is BLAZING and the tented areas are packed…i stand on the perimeter of the partitioned square that encases the commeration area…due to intensity of the heat i only get glimpses of the DURBAR as i move from one shaded area to the next searching for a place to sit and stay out of the sun….

i see Chiefs being lifted and carried by their assistants as large umbrella like props shroud them…they are carried in a circle around the crowd in what seems to be a very specific procedure…language is spoken that i cannot make out as another Chief is lifted and carried around…..this goes on for hours and then leads to introduction after introduction after introduction…

this is by far the LONGEST display of ceremonial circumstance that i have encountered ever…
i go back and forth between the ceremonies and the impromptu marketplace that has been set up… getting worn down by the sun, i finally just find a place to sit and wait for the Events to shift towards the Slave River…for what feels like three hours later, the Emancipation ceremonies have ended – including the one at the river…i must have dozed off or dazed out while this was going on, but am glad to be ready to head back to Cape Coast…

the Emancipation activities are far from over though…from Assin Manso people will head to El Mina for the St Joseph project Healing ceremony at the Dungeon….there people will do the final step of the journey – heading back through the door of no return as it is redeemed as the DOOR OF RETURN…this is the climax of Emancipation – drawing upon the first time the remains of the slaves were brought through the door of no return at Cape Coast….it should not be missed!

i took my tired bones back to the hotel and missed it! fortunately T went to El Mina and was able to detailed the events that occurred..i would have to bask in hearing him speak about the ceremonies there and extract what i could from his recount, as this was the LAST day of Panafest…

EMANCIPATION? i am not sure if i felt the exhiliration i longed for when first reading about this inaugurated day at least 7 years ago, but i sure DID FEEL EXHAUSTION

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Day 13 – Pan-Af Confab: try again?

last nite Blackout #16 and 17 occurred…

this morning ‘TD no more!’

this day marks two weeks since my arrival in Ghana and i have become increasingly aware of how i have become accustomed to life here…my dress has infused the traditional items i have bought here with my clothing from America; sporting a Afro-European style….my head is freshly shaven (releasing anything that would distinguish me from other Ghanaians) and my time in the sun has blessed my skin with a sheen and darkness that has me staring longer in the mirror at myself…i wear sandals more often- abandoning the cautionary advice to ‘always wear closed toe shoes’…

this morning i prepare for the Pan-African conference…it begins about two hours later, but i take this moment to speak with T – the Panafest volunteer whom i met a couple of days ago; who has become very interested in getting to know me…He reveals that his family often hosts Americans and his affinity for connecting with others of the African Diaspora…he has some family who are in the states as well…his dress and manners remind me of an ivy league collegiate…i also find out that he lives across the road from where my hotel is…we laugh about the proximity and yet earlier lack of interaction between us…i also converse with a reporter who used to be an assistant of the President of Ghana…

after more pomp and circumstance, the conferring begins with a keynote address by Prof. Nana Opoku-Agyemong…it is only the second time that i will have an extended interaction with a Ghanain woman – even though this is across a podium…
‘That which will not go away…the effects of the slave trade’ is my paraphrased version of her theme…An English lit professor, she eloquently unites historical perspectives with the oral narratives of people throughout West Africa to adress the legacies of our collective experience…i abstract this query from her lecture: what is our take on this supposed history that has been documented and written mostly by Europeans? and how does it reconcile with oral memories of our people?
memory is key to my work and to why i am here…to validate, affirm and bring to conscious the memories of our people that have been subverted, hidden and unexamined…these memories, in her work, have been illuminated through the oral narratives she has collected and continues to collect…these documented narratives seem to honor the memories that did not come to surface in the writings of Europeans who wrote about the middle passage…her work, for me, further illuminates the ‘coincidence of fate’ interlocking Africans on the continent with those of the continuum of the Diaspora as it seeks unmask the educational institution which, she believes, continues to systematically extract the ‘human element’ from validated historical books…’where is the feeling and emotion…where is the humanity’ she asks? for her, and i agree, it is in the oral accounts, in the songs that she brings to the foreground… i believe that added to this are the ancestral kinesthetic memories that continue to permeate present African people of the Diaspora; the purpose of my trip under the auspices of the Jerome foundation…in america we still feel the residue of lynching, shackles the aftertaste of salty ocean water… this is the ‘body connection’ to the ‘human element’ that she longs for in the past historical recounts of the enslavement of Africans inside the “triangular trade’…

there is much to take in between her and the second gentlemans impassioned speech…Dr. Kofi Sam speaks on Pan-African technology convergence…such potent and powerful information, he shares, but i can only write down few quotes:

“science is universal, technology is environmental”…

“Yes Africa is indeed suffering from AIDS: Acquired IMPORT DEPENDENCY SYSTEM”!

a much needed break occurs after the two speeches and questions/comments from the audience/participants..i use this moment to get Professor Nana’s and Dr. Kofi Sam’s email addresses… i then take leave with some others whom happen to be headed back towards the hotel…

i end up at Adisadel (go figure) but this time in the afternoon…and have a really incredible breakthrough conversation with a sister from Coite-d’voire who has recently re-located to Accra and a brother from the Volta region’; both are in Cape Coast interning with “G” [from another region in Ghana that i cannot recollect]- who owns a Travel agency business in Accra…they are also volunteering and supporting Panafest.. it is a breakthrough conversation because it feels so grounded, so human, so REAL and so simple…unlike any conversation i have had in America surrounding themes of Pan-Africanism. We were living the Pan-African community right there at that moment!

the day is FAR from over though…i relish the conversation and their new friendships i head back to the hotel and prepare for the candlelight vigil in the center of town which will lead to the Cape Coast DUNGEON where Pre-Emancipation ceremonies and presentations are to take place…

“We came from the water and to the water we shall return – TO HEAL”
i wrote that saying about 4 years ago…drawing upon a quote than an elder in my family had passed onto me…after the vigil and the ceremonies (which i will not detail or discuss) HEALING is the necessary element i had omitted from that saying…
i will mention a few elements from this nites proceedings:

the honoring of ONE AFRICA…i know little of this man, but he was truly revered in Ghana..i believe he originally came from New York or somewhere in the States and moved to Ghana to live, inspire, and give back…

the MANY songs, dances and speeches which DID NOT exhaust me or the many people as the countdown to midnite came closer…

the going into the MALE HOLDING AREA for a sacred anointing and cleansing ceremony…

the ROLL CALL OF THE ANCESTORS at midnite (the beginning of the inaugurated EMANCIPATION DAY)

the meditation, reconciliation and releasing that continued on throughout the nite til there was but only the staff to escort me out of the Cape Coast dungeon..

we came from the water and to the water we shall return TO HEAL…

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Day 12 – B-day revelations

for my b-day i reflect on an earlier conversation that for me became such a revelation… i call it the ‘Ultimate Consciousness raising Conversation with C’ – (Panafest staff)…in such few shifts of language, he opened me to re-thinking how we view slavery..i have paraphrased and contextualized what he shared with me:

*ENSLAVED not Slaves — “we need to remove ourselves from being categorized as victims and to stop thinking of ourselves as SLAVES..”

*OPPRESSOR not Master — he reiterated what G had said which was” that NO ONE IS THE MASTER OF ANOTHER..”

DUNGEON not Castle —

 

“when we think of Castles, we romanticize a vision of a beautiful place with dragons and princesses and knights in shining armor…NONE OF THAT should be associated with these areas that enslaved people, imprisoned them in dark damp overcrowded enviroments; where they had little to eat and had to shit, piss and cry where they also sat, laid and waited….it’s time to remove that term from history books…”

That is all i shall offer up for this day…all else was insignificant and/or too sacred to reveal…

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Day 11 – Pan-African conference :to be or not to be?

all the visceral kinesthetic, verbal and visual experiences from the previous days fill me with such a heightened state of consciousness that i am glad to have an opportunity to just sit in a chair and hear brothers and sisters ‘intellectualize’….

Panafest’s Pan-African conference is to be held at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) over the course of 3 days…the theme is ‘Pan-Africanism in the context of Africa’s political and socio-economic development’!!!

such fodder for me to get lost in intellectual discourse and academic blah-blah GHANAIN style! i couldn’t wait….or could i?

i had forgotten to corner one of the Panafest organizers to tell me EXACTLY where the conference would be held at UCC…i venture over there anyway with a driver i had used previously….i thought that once we got on campus it shouldn’t be too hard to find out…i mean there should be signs and how big could the campus be?

the campus is HUGE! miles and miles of academia and development…A drives me around for twenty minutes before i decide to try to contact Panafest on a phone…he stops to get credits on his phone and i call C and then N…C calls back first and tells me that it will be at Sasakwa? BUT it is going to be cancelled …N calls and says he will be at the conference shortly…i am thoroughly confused but A seems to know where Sasa–ka-w?? is and takes me there….i approach a security guard there whom, after consulting with an administrator, affirms C’s statement that there will be ‘ no conference activities today’…i am shocked and so are the 15 others participants who arrive on a bus for the conference..or the 4 others in a taxi who don’t believe that it has been cancelled…or the 3 who walked to the campus…the administrator of UCC rides off on a motorbike to contact the president of the university and double-check if indeed there is a cancellation…NO ONE from Panafest is around to verify…finally 1 hour later N shows up as the Panafest rep and profusely apologizes for the sudden cancellation…he let’s us know that the “2nd day of the conference will convene tomorrow as scheduled at 9am on the dot!”…this conference’s speakers will not be rescheduled or shifted to tomorrow – we will only be having 2 day colloquim instead of 3…i have no other choice but to believe him… A, my driver, has been waiting all this time and i wonder aloud to N about how i should not have to compensate this driver for this mistake on Panafest’s part; that Panafest should be responsible for payment since i made a significant investment in registering for all these events including a 3 DAY PAN-AFRICAN CONFERENCE….

i retract my statement and pay the driver once i return back to the hotel…in lieu of the conference i decide to re-visit Elmina and take in the Fort as well as the surrounding area of the Castle…

in Elmina i walk around town and up the hill to Ft Jago

 

i begin to recognize the flavor of Elmina – how the people look, smell and speak distinguishes them from Cape Coast peeps…
An elderly gent approaches me at Ft Jago when he notices that i am not able to enter the locked entrance…despite his eccentricity ( imagine a homeless man in ny subway prophesizing), he profoundly professes about brotherhood and unity among all Africans…some younger men offer me food and to commune with them…there is an openess in their spirit that makes me smile…while walking about i am continually complimented on my skin, my clothes, my smile, my hair(i am still sporting my ‘afro-hawk’), my voice…it seems that they are truly trying to read/sense my origins, why i am there, who my relations are…or are some of them simply trying to get money? i think about this when i am approached by two thirty year old men whom share that they have no money and that, rather than steal (not necessarily from me but in general), they ask if i have anything to offer…touched by their honesty i take them to lunch at the restaurant adjoining the Elmina Castle…later i am told by a Castle security guard “to be careful of those thieves”…i am not phased by his words….

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Day 10 – the “opening” ceremony and evolving consciousness

TD or Not TD? that’s the question riddling me as my stomach attempts to reconcile with the Ghanaian cuisine that has held it captive…well the proof is in the _____…

Anyway i am up with a quickness as i venture to the Jubilee grounds where the official OPENING of Panafest is to take place…Jubilee was Victoria Park before they decided to have the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s idependence from British colonial rule there…they renamed it JUBLILEE…well i wasn’t too jubilant about attending this event because:
1. i knew it wouldn’t start on time – more like two hours past their posted start time — extreme ‘CP’ time and i am so stuck in European timeliness (ET time)..
2. pomp and circumstance – there would be so much fanfare and introductions and processions and protocol prior to the commencing of the opening ceremony that my TD would not allow me to sit for…not even for a moment to witness a traditional durbar (procession of Chiefs of Cape Coast and surrounding areas)
3. i was so stuck in the experience of the water ride from the nite before that i would have loved a whole day to just sit and reflect…

by 10am i am at the JUBILEE grounds despite the 3 abovementioned reasons not to attend…
i cannot help being on ET time and decide to go shop in close vicinity of the Jubilee grounds…


by 12noon ish the fanfare begins with stiltwalkers and musicians and MUCH pomp and circumstance…
 

i fade in and out of the introductions and search for G in the crowd…He finally comes up to me and we agree later to meet at the hotel – he has volunteer duties to attend to and so he heads off…no Durbar occurs (at least nothing that i would imagine to be the grand procession) but do catch some North American urban flavah from a Canadian all young men’s group named Baby Boyz….they perform hip lock contemporary movements and motiffs to a pastiche of music…. i, exhausted by the sun and seeking sustenance head back to the hotel soon after they end….

sometime later in the afternoon G arrives at the hotel…after deep and heated discussion related to religiosity and matters i do not wish to disclose, he decides he no longer wishes to continue a close friendship with me …i offer to give him back a gift he had given me, but he vehemently refuses to accept this ‘dash’ – ‘ i dashed you this so you cannot give it back’ – if you try i will be insulted” …a ‘dash’ is an offering one gives to you that often has ‘no strings attached’, but sometimes will require a reciprocation (at least from what some “hustlers” told me later)….i spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening in deep reflection on my connection and dis-connection with G …

that nite at Adisadel blackouts #14 and #15 occur…but this does not dissuade the energetic music and movement of one group of men who decide to continue to have joy and fun in the midst of the darkness….i decide to sit close to them and bask in their joy and the beauty of the moon…by now i had been accustomed to being accompanied by a new friend to the village and around town, but was not afraid of being ‘solo’….

being solo i had opportunity to dialogue with the many vendors at adisadel….northern ghanains from dagoma and tamale…peeps from accra and volta …even some women from nigeria who claim that their craftmanship “is better if not the ‘best’ of the marketplace..”
i particularly enjoy a conversation with a brother from Kumasi – land of the Kente village, Ashanti kingdom known for their mighty warriors….he entices me to go visit there – “it’s only 4 hours away” – so i can see up close how they weave the kente fabric; as well as experience the big city life…he also shares a story of how the warriors fought off the enslavers; explaining why Kumasi’s region remains less impacted by the slave trade…

in the midst of all these exchanges of pleasantries and extended conversations i meet T (another volunteer of Panafest) who becomes very interested in knowing about why i am here in Ghana …why am i here? his querie leads me to an evolving growth of consciousness around connections and disconnections so far to Ghana and its people…

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Day 9 – The Return Journey

up to this moment my interaction with Panafest has mostly been through visits to Adisadel village at nite (for performances of local musicians ) and conversationa with the Panafest staff as to what exactly is going to happen and what will NOT happen…i finally got my Panafest t-shirt and a schedule of events …however these events may be subject to shift in time or space, if in fact, they aren’t cancelled.

i release this frustration and make plans for the ‘Return Journey’ – a ceremonial boat ride from Cape Coast Castle to El Mina Castle…it is scheduled to begin at 9am – which i told really means 10 am…i decide to head to Cape Coast at 9am anyway as i want to take another moment to walk through the dungeon grounds…

the morning as i prepare to head off to the Castle, i find out that there is no running water at the hotel and resign to using the bottle watered i had bought to drink, to wash myself with…this action transforms to a ‘baptism’ of a sort as i ponder on this boat ride- having never been out in the ocean on a boat ever! my fears do not keep me from taking the steps to the taxi awaiting me …

by 9:15 i am at the Castle…no one, not even the castle workers are there…about 30 minutes later, castle staff arrive…another 15 minutes later a couple from Barbados come sit next to me…i find out they too are waiting for this Boat Ride….another 40 minutes and someone from Panafest arrives .. we are told that the water is rough and we may not be able to go on this water excursion….another 30 minutes pass and they check in with the Chief fisherman of this area and finally are cleared to head out….the ceremony begins (impromptu) in another 45 minutes…we gather in a circle (by now about another 25 participants have shown up) and are lead through the castle grounds by an elder who has been involved in guiding people for over twenty years…


Hearing this guide’s words awakens me to a deeper connection to these surroundings – a feeling that brings me to thinking about my ancestors being here…this guide provides a fuller picture of what transpired in the specfic areas ….i become aware of the ground beneath me at the male dungeons – that i am standing on hundreds of years old feces, piss, blood, sweat, skin and bones from my ancestors….thousands of African’s bodies piled ontop of each other as they screamed, sought comfort in each other, tried to communicate and fought to survive…

inside the holding area – directly adjacent to the door of no return – another elder (a women from USA) talks about how this space was where the first time the men and women would be together prior to being ‘escorted’ through the door to the ship…she further went into an in-depth diatribe about the women’s breast being a gateway to not only fertility but power…not at all about being sexualized but honored and respected…that in their own dungeons, the women would be violated by the European men and forced to have sex..giving birth to multiracial generations of New Africans…. though they may have been violated by these men, the breasts of our [African ancestral] woman are INDEED sacred…

my whole being is so open and alive now…sensitive to the air and smells of the ocean so close by…aware of the opening of the door of no return …now i look through the door and see the fishermen and women and children doing their daily activites – preparing nets, cleaning fish, voyaging out on the small boats to capture more fish….i recall a brief history lesson i received earlier in my journey from my ‘son’…he tells me of how this was a fishing kingdom – the Fanti – prior to the arrival of the Europeans…as they go through their daily routine, i wonder of how greatly their rituals have been impacted/interrupted by the arrival of colonialization, slavery and NOW me and other people of the Diaspora wishing to have a water experience on their ocean coast…

i recall how i do not know how to swim as i reach for a life preserver and then strapped into it by one of the Panafest volunteers – no actually it is the Chief Fisherman who is assisting me…i am hearing the sounds of the fisherpeople and the ocean….i go back to an earlier memory of seeing children taken through the Castle foreground and on their own guided tour..i think about the many children in the states who need to be here….i am brought back to the present with the sight of the boat that will supposedly take us over to El Mina…it more resembles a large canoe! there are young men swimming around it who guide it close to the coast and dock it near us….i then see some other young men[fishermen] lifting the participants on their shoulders and carrying them over to the boat; men in the boat lift them onto the wooden boards that also serve as sitting spots for the water ride…it seems as if this carrying and lifting is part of some great initiation that i need to do in order to go on this journey and i take a deep breath as i am lifted onto the shoulders of a young man who is probably half my age….the feeling of bouyancy overtakes me as i then lifted by two other gentlemen onto the boat…this happens to about another 15 people before we are ready to embark….

i tried to write as i wait but the shifts of the boat do not allow for it and one of the young men overseeing the boat laughs at me….

the water passage begins…not until i am on board is it confirmed that it will take 1 – 1 1/2 hours to get to the other castle…this is BY FAR the deepest experience of my travels so far!
at first i am able to snap a photo of the fading image of Cape Coast Castle; but minutes later it is like i am seized by ancestors coming up from the ocean waves and on board…i feel the density of that salt-tinged ancestrals bodies on top of me….i cannot open my eyes and i am getting heavier and heavier as i sense more and more ancestral bodies piling on top of me til the weight is almost unbearable and i can barely breathe….

i stay like this for the rest of the water voyage – unable to move and having only quick bursts of eyeing El mina…the only comfort is the sounds of the waves and the sensation that this will end….i wonder how my ancestors must have endured this journey NOT knowing will or if it will end…going on for months in cramped spaces, chained, ensconsed in darkness…

for what seemed like a day later, i hear the sounds of men’s voices and the yelps of people above…i am able to open my eyes and see people of El mina on an overpass ‘welcoming’ the boat in…i am so relieved but STILL unable to move….we first try to dock at a spot where we would have to be carried AGAIN across water to land….a woman in front of me is carried from the boat to the land and falls into the water as she is almost about to take her first step on land…in some ways it seems appropriate that she should touch water before land, but this causes commotion among the welcomers and the rest of us aboard are taken to a new port to dismount….i am the first to be lifted and land on this new site…a band of revelers and welcomers try to hug and cheer and salute me but i am not able to speak and distance myself from them….

the welcoming band and revelers proceed to hug and greet the others, but for me this is anticlimatic…particular the post-welcoming ceremony and joyous march through the castle grounds…i am spent and heavy and full of thoughts…it takes me another 1 hour before i am able to say anything…i head back to the hotel to relax before going AGAIN to adisadel for performances..

even the wuza wuza dance group from accra – with it’s exciting contemporary interpretive dance – is not able to phase me as i long for a bed to rest and cogitate …

later that day into the night the hotel and surrounding are experiences blackout number 12 & 13, but i am still too deep in thought about my water passage to be distracted by the lack of light…

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Day 8 – time for Church


Having seen so many impressive and inventive church structures while walking throughout Cape Coast, i am glad to be able to have a moment to experience being part of a congregation…J (waitstaff at Cape Coast) invites me to his church (Christian Life Cathedral) for Thursday healing service…G and J happen to know each other and so G accompanies me to pick up J from his place and head over to the Church…

it is raining and seems to be very fitting to be part of a healing service…
the church is packed! the service begins at 9:30am and ends when the last person in need of healing is attended to…i am told that the pastor used to end at 12:30pm, but due to the increasing need for healing has extended the service to accomodate…
unlike the Catholic, Anglican and Mormon churches with their impressive stature, Christian Life Cathedral is not Cathedral-like at all….the growing number of attendees has called for extensions to be created on either side of the structure and tarps to cover/protect the guests from rain or sun or other weather elements…

though this ‘church’ is not as grand as the others, it is spiritually one of the most impressive spaces i have experienced….everyone is tuned into the pastors words as he flows from English to one of the many local languages…sometimes translated by another member of his pastoral team, sometimes only translated through a ‘feeling’ or sensation….the music is a mixture of gospel like rhythms and gregorian chanting…i am spellbound…and swayed by the depth of emotion and community inside this moment…the pastor calls on those in need of healing and first, in groups, they come to a semicircle around the pastor’s stand…the ‘pastoral team’ positions themselves behind the members as the pastors calls out the pain or anguish of the inflicted souls…some fall out while others simply bow their heads and take in the Pastor’s chanting….those that get the ‘spirit’ and attended to by one of team, while others who have sought healing but have stayed grounded, return to their seat and pray…..at one point each one of us goes up to be anointed by the pastor and i wonder if i would be sent into a ‘spiritual’ possession as one of the many members whom has sought healing is going through….i too sense my own need to heal but restrain from falling under and hold onto G’s hand for support and grounding…

we leave before the service is over – as J has to go to work ( at the hotel they work 7 days a week – no time off allotted- but alternate between working the day shift (7am – 4) or nite (2 – 10)…as i head out i am called on by one of the pastoral team to state my purpose of the visit…i tell them i was invited by a member and was inspired by what i witness and experienced…they said the pastor would wish for me to come back and meet with him ….i agree that i would try…

the spirit of Cathedral Life Cathedral still resounds within me as i continue throughout the day… i begin to appreciate and acknowledge the goodness i see in my new friends… J and V from the hotel wait staff [as well as A and J who work the front desk] G particularly has been so good to me…he has shown me around, guided me to Assin Manso; when i want to buy a particular top as this “closed” shop, he finds out where the owner lives, takes me there and has the owner open the shop for me…G even clipped my finger and toenails and washed my clothes! “he is going to make a good husband to some woman some day” are his own words… indeed G will!

i also become conscious of my connection to the men in this area and lack of interaction with the women…the few Ghanaian women i have been in much contact with work at the Hotel and it has not been that pleasant….while i was at the service i saw mostly women there and ONLY women who came up for healing….is this intimacy that i was having with the men something i lacked in the states? in America i have very strong powerful women in my life as friends and mother figures and associates, but i questioned the relations i have had with men? these reflections i continue to ponder over as i continued along this journey…i came here to immerse myself in memories of the slave castles and neighboring areas and it has awakened deeper thoughts of connections and relations to people of the African diaspora in my own life…

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Day 7 – exploring the forts and koool-aid

TD (traveler’s diarrhea) has officially arrived…

G takes me to the forts that are located in the center of town…i am sporting my new sandals that i bargained for at the Adisadel market place the night before… it is not the wisest decision to walk up the hill in them and i am cursing myself…

we first venture up Fort Victoria which is the smaller of the Cape Coast forts….the forts were created to oversee the town and protect the castle from intruders – a lookout..unlike the Castles, the forts do not offer tours or guides but most likely have overseers which live in and around the area… we make it up to the top of the hill, but in order to actually go inside the fort we must climb over the wall… a frail looking ladder is our other option but i dismiss either option and simply take in the view of a lovely mango tree nearby… G decides to relieve himself by the tree – a common occurrence for men in Ghana to simply relieve themselves wherever they pretty much please…


we then head over to the larger Fort Williams which is much easier to ascend to….we are also able to head inside the fort and up to the top …there i am able to take in an incredible view of the town and bask in its serenity and beauty….G points out all the distinct areas of the town (which i cannot remember their specific names)…i feel like i could be there for a whole day, but the forthcoming rain imposes a shorter timeframe….

we head back down and go back to the hotel for banku and fish and kool-aid – i accidentally brought a pack with me (i had leftovers from my koool-aid performance piece in my suitcase) and stir up a batch for G….he doesn’t like it too sweet so i dont add much sugar…he savors its tanginess as he surmises that ‘ kool-aid is from Babylon, so it will not make you mighty!”

the afternoon is chill…watching Ghanain tv where the latest news tell of somewhere in Africa a woman’s house is torched and she is harassed for wearing trousers…

at night we are back at Adisadel where G and a Rasta brother get in a heated conversation …G translates what the brother says in Fanti ” he told me he would end my happiness’ is what G says the Rasta brother yells at him…i try to dissuade them from continuing this heated arguement and we move on to another area to clear our heads…. i also hear about the vendors’ frustration with the frequent blackouts and lack of sales….in particular two Rasta brothers who speak in Fanti about how they are tired of seeing me but i am not buying anything from them… i later speak to them about their frustration and ask them why they couldn’t simply talk to me instead of speaking in Fanti ‘behind my back’…they are apologetic and i STILL dont buy anything from them…i continue on with G throughout the village and meet R and B two hip Ghanaian vendors creating fusion design and later have a more in-depth conversation with R…seeing that G is tired i tell him that R can escort me back to the hotel, so he can go home if he wishes…i agree to meet G tomorrow morning so we go to Church…R and i continue our dialogue for another hour and then he escorts me back to the hotel…

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Day 6 – Assin Manso and the Return of my son

My newest friend G agrees to meet at my hotel in the morning and accompany me to Assin Manso via local transit…it will take almost 2 hours to get there…we take a taxi to the center of the town’s market known as Kotokoraba…from there we get in a van that will take us to Assin Manso..the fare is crazy cheap – 2 dollars for the both of us combined…


Assin Manso is the site where the slave remains of Samuel Carver (found in Jamaica) and Crystal (found in New York – wall street area) were brought to rest – these were the slave remains that i had read about a decade ago in the Mn Insight….and on 31st of July, 1998 they were laid here and this set forth the following day (August 1st) as Emancipation day …this is also where slaves from Salaga market up north were taken and had their ‘last bath’…though Salaga was known as the marketplace where slaves from Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali came enroute to Cape Coast and Elmina, Assin Manso (at least from what the Guide says) is the largest slave market place where they were auctioned off…hence the need for the last bath – no one wanted a ‘dirty’ slave and since they would have walked the many miles to get here (from up north at Salaga towards Tamale, it is a 5-6 hour CAR ride…so imagine WALKING, chained together at the feet, hands and neck, for that far)…

We are taken deeper into the site, through trees and forest, to where the sacred Ndonkoso(?) waters flowed…sacred because the ancestral bodies last cleansed themselves…these waters flow to the Oci river…it is a moment for stillness and DEEP reflection…i notice the texture of the trees located next to the bath area, the color of the water, the sounds of the river, the quiet …

i head back to the original site we began the tour and take in the memorial wall of return – where people for all over the diaspora can pay to have their names or their departed’s names commemorated ….also along the inside wall of the entrance gate are the pictures of certain celebrated “Emancipators”:
Freed Slave Gordon of Louisiana (1863)
Martin Luther King
W.E.B. Dubois (his name was mispelt at the site “Du-dois)
Sojourner Truth
Booker T. Washington
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Harriet Tubman
Benjamin Singleton – “walk and never tire”
Cinque
Ouladah Equiano
Frederick Douglas
George Ekem Ferguson – Cape Coast local politician and explorer
Marcus Garvey – father of black consciousness

G makes a very insightful clarification when discussing Europeans taking Africans as slaves…he refers to them as OPPRESSORS and not MASTERS because “no man is the master of another!”

this marks a significant internal consciousness awakened surrounding the legacy of slavery and i am silent for the return trip back to Cape Coast….

G heads off after i make it back to the hotel and promises to meet me at Adisadel later…

in the late afternoon my son returns and we further discuss his goal of continuing his studies…i am not moved by his outline or impressed with his excuses for not having a job…we distance from each other for the next couple of days…

that nite at Adisadel (which became my nitely hangout for the rest of this journey) a BLACKOUT occurred…. this marks the 7th blackout i have experienced since arriving in Accra – ghana has a energy shortage issue i am told…but my spirit is not disturbed by that – i am still full from what i witness and heard while at Assin Manso….

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Day 5 – Plantains and Red Red and Kenkey — oh my!


i decide to journey to El Mina solo as i had a deep discussion with my son last nite about learning to understand the value of money and the woes of hustling ….he professes that he is truly in need of assistance to go to school to continue his studies and that i as his new american dad should help…i counter with asking him to map out very specifically his goals and plans to look for a job to assist his finances…i give him a couple of days to finish this and then i will consider his wish for me to help…he is not happy with my challenge, truly wants to go to El Mina and be my guide….i tell him i will be ‘boko’ and he needs to have his outline ready on our agreed date to meet…he obliges.


i set off to El Mina in the morning with my driver Amank- …taxis are easy to come by and you can negotiate with them to pay by the trip, hour or day…El Mina is about 30 minutes from Cape Coast and it costs me 40,000 cedis or 4 new ghanaian dollars ( about 5 us dollars) each way…he will take me back as well…


El Mina’s St George Castle seems larger than Cape Coast and has a moat surrounding the castle…in the distance i can see Fort Jago – walking distance away, but i decide to focus on the Castle….unlike Cape Coast i immediately decide to enter into the depths of the castle and can feel the ancestral sensations the moment i step inside the female dungeon…it is a feeling so palpable and strong …it’s like one can still smell the stench from the centuries of spilt blood and piss of those African females ( i say females and not womyn because young girls were there as well) that were held here…on the ground i see markings that seem to resemble some adinkra symbols or other symbolic language….along another corridor i go inside a dark cavernous area and am engulfed by bats….i am haunted by each of these spaces i move through…

by the time i have surveyed the castle i am so aware of the residual sensations each area has left on me and take a moment to be still and reflect…i head back to Cape Coast with a heaviness in my heart and longing for further reflection.


By now i have become immersed in the savory world of Ghanaian cuisine and order Redred with Plantains for lunch… Redred is a stew based dish with beans that is usually served with some sort of meat, but i am keen on maintaining a vegetarian based-diet and can no longer look at the beady eyes of the fish (tilapia) that they often serve…i can also choose fufu (ground casava), kenkey (ground and fired maize) or bankra/bankuy( cassava/maize mix) with a soup (what the fufu or kenkey would be dipped or sitting in) a or stew (more like a sauce or paste to accompany rice and meat)…almost everything i eat has palm oil and pepper in it and my stomach is beginning to challenge these local substances… i also learn about ‘gari’, kokoutey but am not able to figure out what they are exactly…

i continue the day preparing to go to Adisadel for Panafest performances of Hip-life and Reggae artists as well as learn more fanti — ‘hey’ in fanti means umm ‘hey’; ‘nde’ (today); ahbahzee (what?)…i am told that the hat i bought in new york was originally worn by soldiers in northern ghana or at least that of a soldier-like quality named nsodafo….on the radio i hear about Panafest and its origin 15 years ago and am reminded of my first memories of hearing about Panafest in America – while i was living in MN….when i picked up an Insight newspaper and read about the remains of slaves found in New York and Jamaica…how they were going to be brought back to Ghana and taken through the ‘Door of No Return’ at Cape Coast…i had a feeling then that i would be going to Ghana and having a chance myself to experience walking throught the infamous portal of so many Africans to America….

in the evening i do make it Adisadel Village (Park) which is a 10 minute walk from my hotel and enjoy the marketplace and music – i learn about hip-life artist Kaye and first hear the electric Coite-de-voire music that taunts me for my entire journey…. it is also at Adisadel that i notice the holding of hands of men, interlocking of ‘pinkies’ and other intimate ways men are physical with each other…with no regards to sexuality but simply friendship…it is truly a beautiful thing to witness brothers being close and not afraid to be connected…it was during this moment of witness that i meet G whom becomes a close friend for the next couple of days…he is volunteering for the Panafest and is more than glad to walk me around the marketplace, dialogue, escort me back to my hotel and hold hands….

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Day 4 – seeking ‘redemption’ inside Cape Coast Castle

last nite i had a in depth conversation with my son and another brother about their life in Cape Coast as well as larger issues…


i ask them if it was the other way around, if Africans enslaved Europeans, would we (they) treat them any better? YES without a doubt is their response…i am intrigued…

this day i decide to return to Cape Coast Castle and go inside the spaces of my ancestors…
‘you came here for redemption’ is what i am told by the first staff member i speak to at the entrance….i wonder how many others can ‘read’ this on my face or inside my heart….


i take many pictures but am unable to say or write about the experience of being inside the male and female slave dungeons, cells, and spaces where they were held prior to going through the infamous ‘door of no return’…

outside the castle i walk around the area and see a slavery foundation site… on a white placard lists the address of the foundation and a quote by Marcus Garvey:
“No one knows when the hour of Africa’s redemption cometh. It is in the wind, it is coming. One day like a storm, it will be here. When that day comes, all of African will stand together.”

as i continue along a path that leads me to a historic part of Cape Coast, i catch an incidental march signalling the beginning of Panafest….tonite the grounds of Adisadel park will open with a marketplace and performances..

i stop by Adisadel en route to the hotel and meet C – the Panafest assistant who oversees the Festival…he and i talk about the disorganization of the festival and what may or may not be happening tonite as far as performances are concerned….

back at the hotel i have lunch and chat with V & J who begin to teach me Fanti – one of the local languages spoken:
wohotadin – ‘hello
boko – (i am) good
madamfo – my friend
may-do – i love you
may- bo seturik – i will slap you
(these are not a true spelling of the words, but as close as i could phonetically understand); besides Fanti i hear about Ewe and Ga (both the name of the other major ethnic groups and their respective languages) which neither V or J speak..

by nite i am too spent to go to Adisadel; having had deep conversations with the staff, my son and learning fanti …so instead i relax and prepare for a day in El Mina – neighboring town that hosts another major Slave Castle – St George

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Day 3 – ‘the hands are not equal’

today i plan to visit the panafest office so that i can register and check in on the panafest activities coming up…my ‘son’ tells me that the office has moved to heritage house in the center of town…

i begin the day with breakfast at the hotel and take in the banter between the staff waiters and the current guests….having met the waiters last nite (“V” and “J”) i chat with them about the way the guests treat them…when one of these guests (whom i believe are not Ghanaian but definitely West African) wants something they ‘hiss’ or snap intently towards the staff…
i find this very disrespectful but find out that this way is often used to get people, taxis’ attention.

i refuse to engage in this’ hissing- snapping’ and rather just say their names…in the midst of this breakfast event ‘we shall overcome’ is sung by these same guests…i wonder if the staff should be singing it…

this interaction between the West African guests (all of whom are male) and the staff (also alll male) intrigues me as i muse over:

–African slavery historically and African entitlement currently; if Europeans enslaved based on economics and fear, then can it be thought that Africans would enslave and have enslaved based on status and power? this way in which i witnessed this interaction stimulated such a hypothesis….i also imagine that there were Africans whom might have been driven by greed as well, but i doubt that fear played into their connection to enslavement of other Africans..who knows?

by midday i am heading to the panafest office at heritage house and am ‘schooled’ by an elder who lives at the site…i accidently come into his ‘living’ area and assuming i knew better (ie thinks i am Ghanaian) he speaks harshly to me about not knocking and respecting someone’s place…i apologize and say that i thought this was an office space and pull out my ‘i am American’ card on him (i would use this a couple more times during my journey)….he looks at me intently and says ‘ no excuses!’ and directs me to the office in the basement…there i meet some of the staff and finally register and get some insight into the locals and line-up for the Panafestival.

i meet up with the visual artist from the previous day and have a deep discussion about his lack of knowledge surrounding his artistry…” do art that speaks from your heart and not just sells coins to feed’ is my response to him when i look at what he tells me is his art….i find out that it is not that easy to dismiss the fact that selling for food is a necessity and speaking from your heart is always connected to artistry…however this art that he was selling for food was not his own! i think about the European/American art dealers and challenge my own assumption that Africans have too much integrity to be selling SOMEBODY ELSE’s art OR they SHOULD be sharing ONLY what comes from their experience…well whom am i to suppose this art that this brother is selling is NOT connected to his own personal experience?

anyway…

by evening i have been introduced to hip-life music which is a rich fusion of high-life music of ghana with hip-hop culture…producing a mix that honors the old school with the new school…though i don’t think my Ghanaian brothers whom i meet would feel that high life is old by any means….here the contemporary and the traditional or past are married in such a way that it is not thought of as old or new.

Oasis Beach Resort
i end the day at a spot called Oasis – actually not too far from the Cape Coast Castle and the spot where i met the ‘conscious’ brothers the other day….my son takes me there and meets up with a friend of his who tries to hit me up to ‘sponsor’ his football team…i suspect this is a hustle but stay kool with him….later we check out a dance and music performance of a local group and i have my first interaction with Ghanaian police!

it seems that the owner of Oasis (Turkish gentleman who acts like he was living in South African apartheid) calls the police on my son’s friend….there apparently had been a mugging at this spot a week ago and so the locals at the spot are suspected….i am standing next to my ‘son’ and his friend and the police reach for me and the others…i pull out the ‘i am AMERICAN’ card again and am immediately released…they reach for my son whom i state is with me ….the owner then goes for the friend and says ‘ he needs to go’ …the police proceed to pull, then push, then shove, show off their rifles and ‘escort’ the friend off the premises…


i am reminded of a saying that i heard earlier that day ….’the hands are not equal’…interestingly enough from the “visual artist” G …one hand may offer you LESS than the other hand…one brother may give you a GOOD DEAL and another may try to WRING YOU DRY…
but i discovered another understanding by the end of the nite…here in Ghana brothers are dealt ‘not-so-equal-hands’ similar to brothers in America… a thought but not a conclusion…

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Day 2 – Arrival in Cape Coast

after a rather relaxed nite i awaken to the sound of the ‘cock’ crowing…

by 7am i am off to Cape Coast – the base of my stay for this journey. i am taken there by Ben who is a relaxed and quiet “brother” ( the term brother became more expansive as i continued on this journey)


Cape Coast is located in the central region of Ghana – about two and 1/2 hours from Accra and houses the infamous Cape Coast Castle along with many forts…


along the way i also see Ft Amsterdam which originally was a Dutch castle taken over by the British… Ben asks if i wish to stop to visit, but i am compelled to continue on…noting the Ft’s existence and my interest in visiting it on my way back to Accra…

i arrive at the Cape Coast hotel which is an impressive ‘castle’-like complex on many acres of land…

by the afternoon i am on my way into ‘town’ to find an internet cafe and make some calls…


however by the end of my walk i find no internet cafe; instead i have made it to the beach ajoinining the Cape Coast Castle – a two hour leisurely walk that i had no intention of originally embarking on…

at the beach i am greeted by a couple of conscious brothers who flatter me with compliments on my style and chat with me about their particular artistry/crafts…one is a painter, the other a wood carver and then later l meet a visual artist…they dialogue with me about pan-africanism, garvey, rastafarians and, of course, about black americans returning HOME TO GHANA…

i take down their information and continue on to the castle…


i am in awe of its presence and i simply immerse myself in its surroundings, spatial configurations and general sensations…i decide not to go inside but take in its outer walls and the ocean

i cannot speak on any of this at the moment as the magnitude of this historical figure renders me speechless…


i later head to the shops located in the castle foreground and meet my first attached ‘hustler’ who wishes me to become my ‘son’…i use the term hustler to refer to the many young and old men around the castle and throughout my stay who seek out americans, tourists and anyone whom they think will be able to help them out in some way…

i will refer to this first hustler as ‘son’…and he attaches himself to me throughout the rest of the day and into the evening, as i proceed to be charmed by him and his story…i take him to lunch and dinner….

later reflections:
(on the first interaction with the brothers at the beach)
i am impressed with their ‘merchandise’ and find out later that perhaps 1 or none of them actually made the items they were wishing to sell…in fact the ‘visual’ artist asks to meet me at my hotel the next day to show me more of his paintings — only to find out he does not have a clue as to holding a brush to canvas…

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Day 1 In Ghana – AKWAABA

12 hours later, after much delay, pomp and circumstance, i arrive to thousands of black people staring at me….

could not locate my contact by sign, face or smile, so i was provided with a phone and an escort/transport to my lodging by one of the all too happy to help me attendees…on the way to the lodging, he introduced me to his family, where he lives, his good friends, trustworthy bank…always with a big smile …

he removed his uniform top to reveal a t-shirt that said CHICAGO – my hometown and he became my brother in spirit and friendship…named emmanuel meaning godsend…he told me of his mother’s funeral happening in a couple of days and his father’s death two years ago while handing me a photo and obituary…

at the end of this exchange, with all friendly measures, he asks for $180, 000 cedis…i find out two hours later that that was more than TWICE what he should have charged!

i gave him a I LOVE NY T -SHIRT and he gave me a very important introductory lesson in GHANAIN FRIENDSHIP…

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D UNDERBELLY has entered Ghana!

Background info on Ghana:  

  • First sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence
  • Democracy with full and fair elections
  • 2007 is Ghana’s Golden Jubilee celebration of fifty years of independence
  • Well endowed with natural resources, Ghana has twice the per capita output of the poorer countries in West Africa 
  • The domestic economy revolves around subsistence agriculture, which accounts for 50% of GDP and employs 85% of the work force, mainly small landholders

Image from a typical EWE village. 

 

 The courtyard of a coastal Ghana holding prison or “slave castle”, built in 1480 for Africans awaiting transport to the Americas.

All slaves brought to a castle were put into a windowless dungeon down a hole underground.  The only way in or out was through this trap door and hole.   The pit is pitch dark when the trap door is closed.

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