If we're able to look at the river of blood that runs through the Americas, that runs through the world, and we're able to look at our own blood connection to that river, we will be able to wade into the river together.—Diane Roberts, Personal Legacy (paraphrased)
From Central America to Canada, the ¡VIVA! Project, summarized in a colourful book and an accompanying DVD set, features communities engaged in transformational arts processes. The project's collectively established objectives involved reflecting upon and sharing community arts practices, learning about each other's processes and building relationships toward furthering the broader social goals of healing, decolonization and transformation.
The projects highlighted in ¡VIVA! are as diverse as the lands and peoples of the Americas: The Kuna Children's Art Workshop (Panama), Personal Legacy Project (Canada), Jumblies Theatre (Canada), Telling Our Stories (Canada), Cultural Marketplace/Tianguis Cultural (Mexico), Painting by Listening (Mexico), UCLA Artsbridge (U.S.) and BilwiVision Community TV Nicaragua.
Refreshingly, all projects acknowledged, discussed and managed the tensions inherent in the continent's colonial history and participant experiences. Though some projects probably managed their tensions more effectively than others, the book takes more of a celebratory approach rather than focusing upon those tensions.
While a mere book and DVD set cannot possibly do it justice, ¡VIVA! provides a snapshot of how community arts projects have the potential to both change individual lives as well as transform communities. Among the examples:
The Kuna Children's Art Project from 1994-99 enabled youngsters displaced from their indigenous home communities generations ago to recover histories, learn new skills and explore their creative potential through culturally relevant dance, drama, poetry and other artistic practices. Participants from the program today serve as community leaders and attest to how the project not only strengthened their individual confidence, skills and networks but also encouraged collaboration within and among Kuna communities, across generations, towards more decolonized ways of thinking, doing and being.
The Personal Legacy Project (ongoing) aims to support participants in awakening ancestral memories, stories and teachings that reside "in our bones." Workshops have taken place across Canada, involving participants from a multitude of backgrounds and life experiences. What started as a theatre exercise grounded in indigenous Africentric knowledges aimed at facilitating embodiments of character, evolved into a profound process of relationship-building across time and space as well as within the room. A network of relationships among participants and ancestors inevitably forms, grows and deepens through the process.
Participants in these workshops begin by choosing an ancestor on whom to focus. The journey involves exploring the ancestor's life through concrete methods like research as well as abstract activities such as developing body awareness through specific exercises and witnessing each other in order to catch story that emerges in movement, posture and gesture. As stories and the intersection of stories manifest, participants experience different but equally profound discoveries about self, family, community, migrancy, displacement, settlement, land and much, much more.
Among the wisdoms contained in ¡VIVA! is the realization that arts is to the spirit what food is to the body. The ¡VIVA! Project speaks to the powerful potential art has to shape and re-shape our reality.—Zainab Amadahy