Sunday, September 26, 2010

Abuela Grillo

Abuela Grillo from Denis Chapon on Vimeo.

A simply delightful animation by Bolivian artists. Grandmother Cricket is perhaps part of the force behind the famous resistance of the city of Cochabamba to the attempted privatization of water by the World Bank, a consortium of private corporations (including Edison, Becthel Corporation and others) and the Bolivian government of Hugo Banzer. Thanks to Christine at Equitas for passing this on to me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Neoliberalism as Water Balloon

Just came across this playful presentation on neoliberalism by Tim McCaskell who should be a national treasure. Tim worked for many years for the Toronto District School Board in the anti-racism department. Thousands of Toronto highschool students went through multiculturalism and anti-racism workshops that Tim was instrumental in leading. A leading queer activist and educator in Toronto, Time has also published Race to Equity: Disrupting Educational Inequality.

In addition to a persuasive presentation about the flaws of neoliberalism, this video begins with a powerful graphic presentation about the structure of inequality according to class, sex, sexual orientation and "race". This alone makes the video pedagogical gold. I highly recommend this resource (either showing the video or reproducing some of its contents yourself).

Sunday, August 08, 2010

My New Favourite Book on Popular Education

A friend just sent me the link to Jugar y Jugarse: 2da edición: Las técnicas y la dimensión lúdica de la educación popular by Mariano Algava (thanks, Josh) and i am wowed. Algava appears to be an Argentinian professor and popular educator. He's one helluva writer, for sure. I read spanish slowly but it was quickly obvious to me that here was a discourse of popular education that is rare in the english-speaking world. He articulates a radical vision of popular education that is very much in keeping with how i have always imagined popular education could become - despite the limitations and resistance of a liberal, hegemonic culture such as Canada. (You can download the whole book on this page or from this link to the 6MB PDF.)

I've worked on a translation of a few paragraphs (see below) from the introduction (with thanks to Clara, Patricia and Olivia) and i would dearly love to have access to a full english translation so i could make wider use of this in my work in Canada and with the Catalyst Centre. Algava is also part of a popular education collective called Pañuelos en Rebeldía (Scarves in Rebellion or Rebellious Scarves). There is some remarkable stuff here as well and i'm working on some translations. Feel free to work on some yourself (i'm starting with the page on Sistematizacion).

A word about the title (thanks to reflections from Patricia and Clara): Jugar y Jugarse can be translated as "Play and Playfulness" but "jugarse" (likely an argentinian idiom based on jugársela) has a different sense than mere playfulness in that it includes a notion of risk taking which, though always a part of successful play, is not often thought of consciously. In english, my best guess for a more accurate translation would be "abandon" as in "to play with abandon" or "to abandon oneself to...". This has provoked for me many thoughts about the role of play in education and i will incorporate this into my ongoing project of articulating a trickster pedagogy.

Thus, by way of concluding this post, my translation of a part of the introduction:
We would like to say something about this delayed re-release of "Play and playfulness." Delayed in the face of the four years of demand for this book during which we have been asked at marches, meetings and assemblies, “don’t you have a copy of ‘Play and playfulness’?” When we’ve discussed this in popular education groups, it gets out of hand quickly: word spreads widely from person to person and we end up exhausted with the "conference presentations" we’re asked to do.

One tendency of paternalist politics regarding "popular education" has been the movement of a watered-down form into teacher training institutes, government programs, courses for volunteers, etc. However it is the “nice” version that moves this way – where popular education is seen as a “nice” way to intervene, a way to "look good" in group work, a “fun” alternative to transfer content, and, what is worse, includes the fatalism of naturalizing poverty and oppression. This is popular education acting within the framework of "the possible", where anything that dares dream beyond the horizon of "the possible" is repressed, jailed, frowned upon. The intent here is to drain Popular Education of its rebellious nature, of its origins in pedagogy of the oppressed, in order to integrate a dumbed-down form that can safely supplement the paternalism of "risk control."

Given this, we affirm once again from our practice, that popular education is not a set of techniques and workshops for use by marginalized groups as remedial education for those who “dropped out”. Popular Education does not replace the "organization" needed to transform reality, nor is it a place for militancy without class consciousness. Popular Education aims to support diverse forms of resistance to capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, racism, imperialism; and for socialism and challenging the commodification of all aspects of life. The construction of popular power (for the individual and the social) subverts and problematizes; this action is joyful, embodied and intellectual at the same time, creating new ways and new forms, is playful.

It is the power of dreams and utopias and a radically liberating Popular Education that cannot be arrested. It is flowing water giving verdant life to the driest of deserts, nurturing seeds of rebellion, making it flower. Play and playfulness is the water that flows through local, popular and activist experience.

Telling Does Not Exist Without Listening

Reflecting on so-called "community arts" in preparation for teaching this Fall, i've been revisiting many texts about arts, creativity and activism. This book, If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland was recommended to me over 20 years ago by a friend (thanks, Clara). It remains one of the most inspirational and useful texts i've read in my life. Over and over again Ueland makes the point that everyone is creative, that creativity is hardwired, as it were, into what it takes to be human. She puts it plainly and unequivocally in the first pages: "This is what I learned: that everyone is talented, original and has something important to say." The rest of the book, in one sense, is the persuasive case for this proposition. It is filled with practical advice and it is also one very extended and effective pep talk. Ueland is very good at persuading you that you have it in you to write or create with whatever medium on which you set your hands and eyes and imagination. Strangely, having read this book, i did not think to hunt down other writing by Ueland. This is unlike me; characteristically i "discover" an author i like and then proceed to hunt down everything they ever wrote. As a teen this was almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy writers (Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, Leinster, LeGuin), later it was politics, pedagogy and spirituality (Starhawk, Freire, Galeano, Alice Miller) and so on. I'm uncertain why i did not apply my usual readerly zeal to Ueland but perhaps it was because i knew it would be years before i had satisfactorily absorbed the lessons i had to learn from her words. And simply exercising my normal fanboy instincts would, ironically, be an act of avoidance. Re-reading Ueland's work after 20 years i can see that i have internalized many of her ideas so effectively that i cannot recall the moment (if there was such a thing) when i did this. And what i'm noticing is a profound similarity between her ideas and those of Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal, Alice Miller, Corita Kent and many others. These are ideas that have shaped my life.

Now i have turned to see what else Brenda Ueland has written and i am eager to read her autobiography and her essays. I have found one essay that i already know will be a core text in my teaching: Tell Me More: On the Fine Art of Listening. I found an HTML version of it here and a PDF here. I often speak of the power of listening in both my popular education and work and storytelling. Ueland again writes plainly about the "powerful thing that listening is" :
This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weakens up and dies. Well, that is the principle of it. It makes people happy and free when they are listened to. And if you are a listener, it is the secret of having a good time in society (because everybody around you becomes lively and interesting), of comforting people, of doing them good.
It is a strange thing about language or perhaps it's just our use of it that we talk about "writing" as though it were a thing apart from "reading" - first one, then the other. We do the same thing with "telling" (or "speaking") and "listening". I have long been persuaded about the power of listening and i am really excited to find this elegant and persuasive text. If this is what listening meant in our political, pedagogical, economic world, what then?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Art for Social Change

This fall i will be teaching Community Arts Practice Practicum Seminar at York University. It's the culminating course for students of the Community Arts Practice certificate program. This is giving me a chance to revisit much of my own art practice and learning as well as remember fondly a dear friend dian marino who taught at the Faculty of Environmental studies until her death from cancer in 1992 and with whom i worked on mural projects and some important theory of art and social change (see Wild Garden: art, education and the culture of resistance.) As i've mentioned previously, dian had a teacher, Corita Kent, whose work, for me, has also been an inspiration. I was quite excited to learn that Corita's book Learning By Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit has been republished in a second edition. I found the video clip above on the blog Chumpchampion (which has a number of entries featuring Corita's work) - it is an excerpt of a documentary about Corita: Become a Microscope - 90 Statements on Sister Corita “ABC”.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

In 1980 or '81 i had a radio show at CKUT (campus-community radio station based at McGill University). My show was from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. which pretty much ensured that no students were listening. But i did have a few listeners who connected through cable. Rooting through the bank of vinyl i looked for anything but pop music and one morning found a record by Willie Dunn that included the song Ballad of Crowfoot. I was immediately struck by it played it that morning (and probably several others after that). I learned about the NFB film and tracked it down. I was very moved. And am delighted to find that it is on the NFB site and available for embedding in other websites. So here it is.

Gil Cardinal, on the NFB site, writes:
Notable for being one of the first films produced by the NFB’s Indian Film Crew, The Ballad of Crowfoot is also remarkable for its haunting archival images set to an impassioned ballad written and performed by director Willie Dunn...
I am moved once again to watch this film and listen to this song. Especially given the context of recent aboriginal activism in Canada (from the work done on the legacy of residential schools to Defenders of the Land). And given the nature of my family, i am more connected to this history than i ever imagined i would be.

The NFB site also notes that this film was made in cooperation with the Company of Young Canadians, a fascinating community development/youth program that started in 1966 and lasted until 1969, 1972 or 1977 depending on who you ask (it lost its autonomy in 1969 when the government felt it had to impose controls; the CYC is, unfortunately, mostly-forgotten community development history but i found a few interesting pages on the internet: excerpts from two books about the CYC; an article Strange Bedfellows: Youth Activists, Government Sponsorship, and the Company of Young Canadians (CYC), 1965-1970; a short entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia).

I tracked down more of Willie's music and have enjoyed his songwriting and his beautiful baritone voice for a long time. And about fifteen years ago i had the pleasure of meeting and working with Willie for a week on a theatre project.

It is interesting to compare this film with the now famous work of american documentarist Ken Burns who has a film process named for him (the Ken Burns Effect) which uses panning and zooming in and out to dynamize the use of (mostly) black and white photographs. This film uses some of this (effect) and, notably, it was made in 1968. The NFB does have a remarkable history of documentary film-making and one that is well-worth exploring. You can do so here: Challenge for Change.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Out of Place - Jumblies Community Arts Writing

This publication includes some excellent articles on community arts practice by Jumblies members - a Toronto, Ontario-based arts group. Ruth Howard introduces the collection:
This publication was conceived in 2007, out of enthusiasm for Jumblies’ new public seminars, which grew, in turn, from our learning and mentorship program – the Jumblies Studio – and the realization that there is a lot of knowledge and experience to share.
There is a groundswell of community arts practice in Toronto, both as a result of the excellent work of several groups that have been creating wonderful work and community for years: Jumblies, Shadowlands, Clay & Paper, Red Pepper Spectacle, Sketch, ArtsStarts, Regent Park Focus, Storytelling Toronto, 1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling, Carlos Bulosan Theatre and many more. For several years now York University has had a Certificate in Community Arts Practice (CAP), unique in Canada (here's their blog), and a joint program of the Faculties of Environmental Studies and Arts.

Michael Burtt, a friend of many years, in his article Community Art-Making: Where Heaven and Earth Meet shares his thinking and practice connecting his art with his explorations into spiritual contemplation. He shares a term from writer Alan Clements that i loved immediately: "the holy unexpected." Maggie Hutchison, a fellow community artist of many years, in her article The community artist in the Creative City Engaged citizen or‘regeneration bulldozer’? writes critically of the "creative city" phenomenon. She opens the article with what i consider quite the shocker:
[Joe] Berridge [a partner in Urban Strategies] encouraged conference attendees to revitalize our workplaces, our working practices and, ultimately, our cities; transforming them into exemplary hubs of creativity. And he had specific ideas as to how we should do it. In order to revitalize, Berridge suggested that we abolish meetings and other collective processes, and embrace the individuality and inductive thinking that he argued are essential to an artistic modality. “Beauty is not a collective product, it is an individual product...This runs completely counter to the way we have structured all of our institutions, in which the power of the collective suppresses the power of the individual”, Berridge insisted.
I find it rare that advocacy against collective creativity and for an individualistic notion of the artist and art is as brazen as this. I'm sure Joe has some goods ideas about art in the city. But this opinion that Maggie reports is one of those dominant notions that fits so nicely with a capitalist-individualist (even aynrandian) world. And it is one that i think is wrong - but that's a longer discussion than i have time for now.

Here's a few reports of community arts discussions that are worth reading:

What About Me - CFS/ME Trailers

What About Me? Trailer - USA from Double D Productions on Vimeo.

A good friend who lives with CFS/ME sent me the links to two trailers being used to raise funds to produce a feature length documentary. CFS/ME remains misunderstood, misrepresented, disbelieved in and ignored by medical systems and practitioners around the world. The suffering that people living with CFS/ME is made all the worse by this ignorance. This documentary could help a great deal.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The joy, the joy, the wonder

I learned from my aunt in Bath many years ago that my scottish grandmother's favourite expression was, "and this too shall pass." I learned these words from the story of King Solomon's ring:
King Solomon once commanded his councillors to fashion him a ring and inscribe on it something that, when read, would turn his mood of joy to sorrow and of mood of sorrow to joy. The councillors worried over this conundrum for some time and, after much thought and work, presented Solomon with a ring. Solomon took the ring and was pleased when he read the inscription: and this too shall pass.

The whimsy and wonder of this video fills my heart. And the dedication and hard work it took to pull this off is an inspiration. Mostly, this is simply wicked funny! It's also a brilliant study of the wildness of creativity. Anyone who feels stuck on a creative project should watch this as medicine.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Our World, Our Imagination and the Gods

I picked up John Banville's new novel The Infinities, read the first paragraph and was instantly hooked. Narrated by none other than the ancient winged-helmeted trickster Hermes, the prose packs a poetic wallop that brought tears to my eyes. Here's how the novel opens:
Of the things we fashioned for them that they might be comforted, dawn is the one that works. When darkness sifts from the air like fine soft soot and light spreads slowly out of the east then all but the most wretched of humankind rally. It is a spectacle we immortals enjoy, this minor daily resurrection, often we will gather at the ramparts of the clouds and gaze down upon them, our little ones, as they bestir themselves to welcome the new day. What a silence falls upon us then, the sad silence of our envy. Many of them sleep on, of course, careless of our cousin Aurora’s charming matutinal trick, but there are always the insomniacs, the restless ill, the lovelorn tossing on their solitary beds, or just the early-risers, the busy ones, with their knee-bends and their cold showers and their fussy little cups of black ambrosia. Yes, all who witness it greet the dawn with joy, more or less, except of course the condemned man, for whom first light will be the last, on earth.
This morning's Astronomy Picture of the Day (above) got me to thinking about terrestrial and celestial phenomena and the fantastic imagination of human culture. Is it any wonder that humans once looked upon such sights and created stories of angry and fearsome superbeings? Do we see here Zeus' or Odin's wrath? And, as we know from geological science (if not simple observation) following such volcanic activity is the formation of new land which, as many know, is what the word lava means. And so we have a piece of the puzzle of wrathful, titanic gods and their equally titanic abilities to destroy and, of course, to create.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ethics for Activists 20

What are you carrying?

Two monks, one old and one young, were walking through the forest from one monastery to another when they came upon a woman standing beside a river. She was finely dressed in delicate fabrics and was clearly afraid to attempt crossing the river however shallow it might be. The old monk approached the woman and offered to carry her across. The young monk was shocked. Once on the other side the old monk put the woman down and together with his young companion continued through the forest. Many hours later, as the day was drawing to a close the young monk spoke up saying, “Master, I do not understand. It is strictly forbidden in our order to touch women and yet you didn’t hesitate to pick up that woman and carry her across the river.” “Ah, yes,” said the old monk. “I am surprised at you. I put her down many hours ago. You must be very tired from having carried her all day.”

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ethics for Activists 19

One day, a talmudic student was meditating in the synagogue when the rabbi came in, went to the front of the synagogue, fell down on his knees, shouting, “I am nobody! I am nobody!” The student, so overcome by this display joined his rabbi and also shouted, “I am nobody! I am nobody!” This went on for a while when the caretaker of the synagogue witnessed this strange scene and, also overcome, joined the rabbi and the student shouting, “I am nobody! I am nobody!” It was then that the student nudged the rabbi, saying, “Look who thinks he’s nobody.”

Ethics for Activists 18

Tetsugen was a zen monk in 17th Century Japan and he had a dream to publish the sutras (buddhist teachings) in Japanese for they were only available at that time in Chinese. His plan was to carve wood blocks with which to print the sutras in 7000 copies. And so he began to travel and collect money. He would ask for donations wherever he went. He thanked everyone equally, whether they gave him 100 gold pieces or only a few small coins. After ten years he had the money he needed to begin. But at that moment there was a flood; the Uji River overflowed and many lives were lost and many destroyed. Tetsugen used his money to help the people, to save as many as he could from the starvation that followed. And once again he began to travel and collect money. An epidemic swept the land and many people died and many suffered. Tetsugen used the money he'd collected to help the people. And then he returned to his task. Finally, after twenty years, he'd collected enough to begin carving the wood blocks to print the sutras. The wood blocks that Tetsugen carved can be seen today in Obaku monastery in Kyoto. However, people say that Tetsugen made three sets of the sutras in his lifetime and that the first two are invisible and far surpass the third.

Monday, February 15, 2010

5th Int'l Conference of the Popular Education Network

I've just learned about this 5th Int'l Conference of the Popular Education Network and am urging people to connect with it. If anybody trips across a pot 'o gold and feels like sharing... hint, hint. More likely, if someone from the Toronto-area can make it, please bring back news. Edinburgh, folks! Sweet. (It's my father's land).

I learned about this network a year ago and, despite a number of e-mail attempts to connect, i've not actually connected with anyone. It is volunteer-run and that, no doubt, is a huge limiting factor. It also seems to be exclusively academic - "not that there's anything wrong with that" (some old Seinfeld humour for you fans). And there is some excellent theory emerging from this network some published in Popular Education: Engaging the Academy - International Perspectives (eds. Crowther, Jim et al; NIACE) and some found in some excellent podcasts found here (i particularly recommend the two-part interview of Joyce Canaan by Dr. Gurnam Singh).

It's been a dream of the Catalyst Centre to connect some of the many popular education groups around the world - the Freire Centre in Sao Paulo (and some of the many other Freire Institutes/Centres that have been established in the past ten years), Highlander in Tennessee, Popular Education for People's Empowerment in the Philippines, L'Institut d'Education Populaire outside Bamako, Mali, IMDEC in Guadalajara and more. However, finding the resources for such networking has proven, to date, fruitless. The grassroots nature of many of these groups compared to the somewhat better resourced academic networks, is certainly one limiting factor in doing more than e-mail, website linking and (the rather overly-vaunted) social networking. Still, the dream persists.

Spread the word about this conference. Looks like some excellent connections to be made.

The Power of Puppetry

This music video, featuring the most adorable sock puppets i've seen in a while, tells a very sad story. There's one moment in this puppet performance that is an act of genius. And, overall, this work demonstrates what beauty can be created by simple things. Thanks to Dana for sharing.