TED, Interdependence and Blue Pants

I spent last week with my head in TEDxWaterloo, an independent TED event where I got to speak about what we’re doing at The Bench (woohoo!).  My hope is that the video will be posted in the next few weeks (o technology), but I wanted to share the gist with all of you.

My talk is about Artist-Community Interdependence, which you will be familiar with, having read our About page.

*crickets, crickets*

Right.  A refresher.  Artists need communities and communities need artists.  The Bench works hard to model this interdependence. A helpful way to understand this model is to contrast it with what it is not, two models I call 1) The Artist Alone and 2) Community Arts.

The Artist Alone is what we normally think of when we think of an artist.  This person is devoted to art, very creative, emotionally in touch, a little nuts.  She may be estranged from her community of origin, having found her people in other artists. She’s starving or she’s rich and famous.  She’s not like us.

Speaking of us. In this model, there is a community. But in this model, art is a frill, competing with more practical concerns for time, space and resources.  Stephen Harper says ordinary Canadians don’t care about the arts, and in this model, they don’t.  But ordinary people struggle with depression, injustice, straight-line thinking – a lack of hope, truth-telling, creative, barrier-breaking art.  In this model, the artist and the community are estranged, and it’s not good for either of them.

Which leads me to Community Arts.  Community Arts tries to solve the probelm of art being inaccessible by creating programs designed around accessibility.  These programs are often found in places where marginalized folks hang out and they do a lot to promote access, inclusivity, emotional processing, and listening to new voices.  However, what these programs often lack is a focus on art itself.  This art isn’t excellent.  And because it isn’t excellent, it isn’t dignified.  It’s not real art, it’s art for people like “them”.  This kind of art also tends to burn out the professional artists who engage in it because it taps their time and emotional resources.

So, what to do?  Well, this is where I think we need a creative third option: Artist-Community Interdependence.

In artist-community interdependence, the artist and the community are in relationship.  The community is directly involved in the creation process, but the artist has the time, and the personal and financial support necessary to undertake the art well.  Further, the artist is responsible to tell the truth about the community, but is also responsible to look beyond the darkest parts of that truth, to find a way towards hope.

The big secret to what The Bench does is that we’re reaching towards this.  The Elephant Man, Transient Voices, Wonderful – we’re not just making theatre, we’re making revolution.  Wanna come?


[Awesome photos, particularly the top one, by James Bastow.]

4 Responses to “TED, Interdependence and Blue Pants”

  1. Wayne Rumsby says:

    YES!! Yes, yes. Yup. I can’t wait to hear the moment.

  2. I have to say that your talk on Artist-Community symbiosis at TEDx had me nodding and grinning like a Bobblehead! Your passion and dedication to what you do speaks to me as both an artist (of probably far too many mediums) and as a social community advocate. I spent the last several days reflecting on what I absorbed from the whirlwind of incredible speakers at TEDx, and recently posted a blog on my site of what I took away from the event. I’d love for you to have a look (considering you were one of the two speakers I featured in the piece!). Thanks again for all you do and all your initiative represents – and, of course, all the incredible people that make what you do possible!

  3. Kristyn says:

    I am so anxious to see this video! What a brilliant opportunity to spread the fantabulousness that is the Bench to a broad audience. Bravo!!

Leave a Reply