Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Community Art Updates

I have been trying to send regular email updates about the Community Arts Program here at Ayuda. I will be mailing a new one tomorrow. If you do not receive these updates and would like to, please send me an email and I'll add you to the list. The latest update will include some stories from the students in our program. I feel that I am being transformed by sharing the stories of those around me. I would love for you to join in. Email me at: misk77@yahoo.com

Pictures from the Art Show

I've added pix from the art show here to my Ayuda Collection with descriptions of the projects and quotes from the students.

"Art-making can be extremely relaxing and claming."

This was my favorite typo for our art show program that I thankfully caught before printing! Click below to read the program post-edits. More writing to come.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Christmas Video

Christmas Video
On December 1st, Ayuda joined the Friends of the Hunting Park Community Garden to throw a Christmas Celebration for the community. Wow... we had a blast! Ryan was blasting the Christmas tunes. We put up 3 Christmas Trees in the garden and decorated them as well as wired garland and tinsel all up and down the fence and the mosaic mural. Then we moved inside where Chosen Generation Worship Center set up some space for us to do crafts. We had the kids color and decorate Christmas cards that will be sent to the local nursing home and make an ornament that they could take home or put in the garden. The adults were busy making pine swags and centerpieces with Andy Nolan for them to take home. Once it was dark, we moved back outside for S'mores over an open fire in my firepit. Each child received a gift bag with small toys and goodies as well as a nice book called "His Story." We also celebrated Ikeisha's 12th Birthday with a cake that Ryan bought. There were folks from our after school program, community arts, college access, Spirit and Truth Fellowship Church, families from my block up on Wingohocking as well as families from all over Hunting Park. It was truly quality time spent together as a community.

November Adult Art Workshop

We gathered together on November 29th to make Handmade Cards. The instructors were Jen Burkhart and Amanda Hatch, two coworkers from my days at People's Light and Theatre Co. They have been making cards professionally for a while and they had several styles for our participants to choose from. Everyone left with 10 finished cards or the supplies to finish them at home. We had a loud, rambunctious group; several renditions of "Let It Snow" broke out. On the response card, one participant remarked, “Thank you for the free time for myself.” Great. That's the idea.

Monday, October 29, 2007


This word plays a pretty important role in the mission statement of Ayuda and the Community Arts Program as well (as stated in an August post). The art programs are developing the creativity that already exists here in Hunting Park and providing a way for that creativity to be expressed. And the overarching goal is this word: Transformation. What needs to be transformed? I was talking to my parents yesterday and they were again attacked by the media as the nightly news had some story about North Philadelphia and the intense violence and poverty that rules the streets. My parents have been here on my block in Hunting Park and know that life here is a mixed bag: true sorrow and tragedy side-by-side with true joy. I had a piece of that on Friday at work and wanted to share.

While Ryan and I were working on a grant proposal, a fight broke out right outside our door. It was Ameere and another little guy (they are probably both 8 or 9) and they were really going at it. Daquan stepped in and broke it up then I walked Ameere home to keep them apart. Daquan is a boy who lives 2 doors down from our community center; he makes daily visits. He loves Ryan. They build model cars together and Ryan takes him along on lunches and such. He's a great kid; he's also spending time at Boone, a disciplinary school, b/c he was kicked out of the local school. He struggles; life is challenging. He's been coming to the Alpha meetings at our church for several years and now he is a helper. I was asking him on Friday, "Why do you think Ameere fights?" I worry about Ameere. He and I worked pretty closely when I did the first mosaic in Hunting Park around the doorway to Ayuda. He was there every day in the cold w/ me and we laughed a lot. It's not just that he fights alot. He beats kids up pretty bad. I had my neighbors bring a young boy to me who was pretty bloody and they told me it was Ameere. He's so young that it feels odd to say so, but I'm afraid he's on his way to prison. Daquan told me that Ameere fights to prove to his older brothers that he's not a punk. I said, "You know Daquan, I don't hear about you fighting much at all." He said, "I used to, but I don't anymore." I asked him why and he said quickly, "Because I'm changing."

There it is. I told Daquan that Ameere needs his help; he needs to see other options than just fighting your way through life w/ your fists.
About 5 minutes later, Daquan shows back up w/ Ameere and told him that I wanted to talk to him. It was so hard to talk to him; he quickly climbs nearly up on my lap and I feel so much love for his little life and such weight at what is facing him every day in HP. The quote I put in the margin "Violence and addiction reveals a lack of imagination" came from the Arts in Criminal Justice Conference. I want my days to be about work that exercises imagination in an effort to see the possibility of transformation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Music Theorist Wanted

For anyone local in or around Philadelphia, I would really like to offer a Youth Art Class in Music Theory. There are a few budding musicians that I would love to help them expand their skills in performing and writing music. If you're interested or know someone who might be, post a comment. Thanks!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The work that gives life a human face

My friend Dan pointed out this excerpt from Daniel Berrigan's book Isaiah exploring 33:2. In light of recent struggles we have been experiencing in our neighborhood, I feel a slight struggle to wake up and try it all again. Berrigan captures the ache of waking up, intending to go out again and turning the morning into a prayer of hope for the day ahead:
"One thinks of the difficulty of starting anew each day. One is haunted by a conviction that one's work will never be finished as long as life lasts... What one sees one undoubtedly will continue to see into the indefinite future...
The morning prayer day after day, year after year, makes the long haul bearable. Life, and the work that gives life a human face, must be renewed, started over, again and yet again... To pray... is to taste death, to let go, cut loose. The world is in better hands than ours even though it is also in our hands."
I'm so thankful for the work that gives life a human face.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thursday Night Art Classes

We gathered together tonight for Oil Painting and Graphic Arts and we were two students down. One student was left at home to care for her little sibling and wasn't able to leave the house to come to class and the other student's mom said that he didn't have time between school and his job to be taking an art class. Things do come up, I know, but...

After Painting class was over, I was chatting w/ one of the students, Tyshae, (17) about some of the rough stuff that has been happening on our block lately; she lives close by. I was up 4 times last night because of loud fighting and other crazy stuff. Her response was, "All I know is that I was glad to be painting tonight; I feel alot better. I needed that purple!" It's her favorite color.

I hope the other two will be able to make it next week.

Good reviews on the Mosaic Mural

My friend Randy just sent me this fun news in an email:

"...BTW, I was just admiring your work on the mural at the community garden on Saturday, and another woman from the neighborhood came by to do the same. She had brought a visitor from out of the country to see it--so now you can say that the work has attracted international attention!"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

One more post for the day:

My friend Tyler just let me know that our tickets for Sinead O'Connor just arrived. October 30th. 13 days left.
Most of you will know what this means to me... to see Sinead. And our tickets are REALLY good. (I'm trying not to use any exclamation points.)

Ayuda's Fall Newsletter

If you haven't seen it and would like to, email us at newsletter@ayudacc.org and specify whether you would like to receive it by snail mail or email as a PDF file and please include the appropriate address. This newsletter includes lots of pix and a great letter from our Interim Executive Director Kate Perez. (Clicking on the image should opening a larger version in another window.)

"What does your voice look like?"

This is the theme for our fall youth art classes. We are in week 4: Graphic Arts, Intermediate Drawing, and Oil Painting. We have been talking to the student artist about how creating art is a way to express our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. When we create visual work, we create through our own lens.

I'm continuing my own classes at Fleisher downtown (free for adults!) and I'm taking Oil Painting this semester. I am always glad to do the "classroom walk" after we have all worked on a still life for a couple of hours. We're all painting the same objects and while we're working, we're all in our own zone. When we look around, every painting is different; every painter is different. I remember once during my Figure Drawing class, I asked the model what it was like to see herself on everyone's drawing tablets. She said, "Oh, you all are just beginners. You're not drawing me; you're drawing yourself. It takes a master to draw what is really before you." I find that I look at creative work differently since that conversation.

I was talking with my good friend Dan about the prevailing presence of God in both the light and the dark places, in the joy and in the sorrows that I see in my days here in Hunting Park. He told me he'd be interested to see how the "holding" of all of that is coming out in my own artwork. I told him I'd be interested as well...

I'm now thoroughly saturated...

in rainbows

Rocky Video

If you haven't seen Ayuda's the new ROCKY VIDEO, check it out. We had a LOT of fun.

Arts In Criminal Justice Conference

I was there. I'm still processing it all. More to come, but you can read about it here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Community Art Program Statement of Purpose (recently composed)

Ayuda Community Center’s Mission Statement:

Our mission is to reveal Jesus’ mercy, restoration, and justice in Hunting Park so that families and neighborhoods are transformed. We seek to accomplish this mission through community development efforts, direct services and advocacy. Restoring lives; rebuilding families, redeeming communities.

Community Art Program’s Mission Statement:

Our mission is to seek the transformation of our neighborhood by developing the existing creativity within the community members of Hunting Park and provide a medium through which that creativity can be expressed.

We seek to accomplish this mission by providing the following direct services:

  • art training and mentor relationships for youth
  • art exposure and skill building workshops for adults
  • coordinating the execution of public works of art for the beautification of our neighborhood which are completed as a collaboration of the residents of Hunting Park and specialized artists

Ayuda Community Center is committed to the families in our neighborhood and their prospects for a hopeful future. We are determined to focus on academic success, educational attainment, spiritual development, and overall enrichment for the residents of Hunting Park, young and old alike, to the absolute best of our ability. As we seek to serve the whole person, we believe that artistic expression plays an important role in the development of the whole person. Ayuda believes access to creative expression helps strengthen struggling communities and contributes to the declination of poverty rates, especially in neighborhoods like Hunting Park. The Community Arts Program at Ayuda seeks to “fill the gap” and become part of the city-wide effort in Philadelphia to provide mediums of artistic and cultural expression to all of its residents.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Summer Camp Fun

Summer Camp is over and we're registering kids for the S.O.S. (Support Our Students) After School Program. I've got three really talented teachers for the fall youth art classes and I will start registering students soon. I love the fall. It just makes me want to buy a new folder and maybe a new pencil case. In advance for the weekend: Happy September!


A quote from a letter from Linford from Over the Rhine as the revel in their home after lots of touring:

"Maybe home has more to do with the work we've all done as individuals to increasingly become people we can live with. Maybe home is the desire to live soulfully, the tiny ongoing decisions we make that allow the soul room to breathe.

That's our prayer for our extended musical family: that we would all find lives that allow the soul to thrive."

...allowing the soul room to breathe.

OTR on November 1st at the Keswick.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ayuda Albums Too!

Two albums that display a little of the fun we have been having this year. Our 5th Annual Family Day was a blast. We closed down the block to traffic and had a ball. Water slide, inflatable bouncing thing, face painting, art show, and tons more as you will see in the pictures! The Youth Programs album will introduce you to some of the awesome kids I've been working with in the after school program here at Ayuda. Enjoy!

New Flickr Albums

Check out my new album of my trip to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Wall #2 in Yonkers, NY

Lance, Lourdes, Sara and I worked a few weekends ago to mosaic the 2nd retaining wall in Lourdes' backyard in Yonkers. The lower wall was done Memorial Day Weekend 2006; it was much larger. This upper wall ran almost as long but was not as tall. The terrain presented quite the challenge though. Thought I'd share some pix. We were lovin' that blue!

The Grand Tetons, Wyoming

I just returned from being there for a week. It was an amazing place to get away and gain some head-space. I went with 3 friends of mine and we did about 35 miles of hiking and lots of relaxing and soaking in the sights of those mountains. The mountain range is pretty unique and I found myself constantly reaching for my camera in an effort to capture what was before me; impossible, but I kept trying. I took over 500 photos while I was there. The whole trip was truly a gift. I thought about the beauty of those mountains; whether I or anyone else was there to take it in or not, they were always that spectacular. It didn't take a human eye to call it beautiful for the mountains to be so beautiful. They are created by a God who seems to find joy in creating beauty for the sake of beauty. After climbing up "Hanging Canyon" (ouch, my quads!), we came upon a field lavished with many different kinds of wildflowers. I felt like I was being let in on a wonderful secret. I thought about the kids on my block and how when Isaiah smiles and waves "hello" or Makia siddles up for a hug, I feel the same emotion... like I'm getting a precious opportunity to see something that not everyone get the chance to see.

It's all making me think about the creative process. Most of our creativity is squelched or paralyzed by the thought of what an observer will have to say about the product. Creating for the sake of "correct-ness;" seeking to make the beauty that others will call beautiful. In fact, these types of inhibitions can be transferred over into the way we live our lives; we're paralyzed by our fear of failure in the eyes of any observer that may have an opinion about what we have done. I know that I fall prey to that sort of mental struggle whether I am working on an art project or even picking out an outfit for the day. I would like to gain the freedom to take more risks; I would like to spend more time creating for the sake of the process as opposed to the product. How can this be part of the character of the community arts at Ayuda?

How can we spend our days as those wildflowers? Bloom... just fully go there and lay it all out whether anyone passes by to take note or not, enjoying the beauty of being and the beauty of the surroundings we find ourselves in, and then pass when the time comes. Shine simply for the sake of the glory of the One who created us; find pleasure in seeing the work of God in other's faces and in where we find ourselves planted. Driving into Philly at 1AM early Sunday morning, I was glad to see the familiar skyline (although returning to the Philly humidity was quite a shock). It's good to be back on our block and good to be back at my work here at Ayuda. I'm feeling excited to be here, create here, and partake of the creative work of those around me.

Friday, July 13, 2007

My new curriculum available online


The theme for our summer camp this year is "Opening Doors to New Beginnings through Literacy." I worked with my friend Matthew Miller to compile a packet for the summer camp staff to give them some methods for exploring literacy through various avenues of art. I met recently with Dr. Nathan Corbitt who is the President, CEO and C0-founder of Buildabridge International. I have done some painting for BI in the past and have attended some of their excellent trainings provide for their teaching artists. Dr. Corbitt was discussing the new expansions of BI and the latest additions to their website and requested to post some of the curriculum that I've written this year under their resource page for their teaching artists. It's really great to be able to work with people of like-mind and be able to share our research and our resources. Dr. Corbitt is a true visionary; when you check out the link, explore the site. BI is growing by leaps and bounds!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Check out this video about the recent fire in Kensington, Philadelphia. www.thesimpleway.org.

2007-2008 Ayuda Community Art Goals

I've been doing some writing about my goals for my next year as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Ayuda. Check them out and let me know your thoughts:

Goal #1: Create a sustainable Community Arts Program which will include three components:
  • advanced art training for youth ages12-18
  • monthly community art workshops for ages 18+ taught by local artists
  • the creation of public art work by the members of the community for the ongoing beautification of the neighborhood of Hunting Park

Activities from August 07 - August08 to accomplish this goal: Recruit volunteer art teachers to teach 2 - 10 weeks sessions of art classes for the fall and spring. Recruit students to take these classes (2 students per instructor). Recruit instructors from the community to teach the monthly art workshops and advertise these events. Request in-kind and cash donations for the creation of the public works of art. Compile a resource manual to effectively establish time-lines, contact lists, recruitment techniques, form templates, and assessment tools to be used for future programing. Pursue sources of sustainable funding which will provide a yearly budget for supplies for the youth art classes and the monthly art workshops as well as provide a part-time salary for an Art Director to supervise the community arts program after August 2008.

Goal #2: Develop a business plan to purchase and renovate a "Community Art House" which will house the art programs of Ayuda Community Center in the future and provide for an expansion of its existing programs.

Intended result: Ayuda Community Center will be able to use the business plan to begin a fundraising campaign in the future.

Ayuda Benefit Pancake Breakfast

Community Arts July Update

I know, it's been way too long; I am the worst blogger... but I'm working on it! I've added a feature to my blog to alleviate frustrations when I post so infrequently. You can subscribe to my blog over on the right; when I actually do post, you'll get an email of the post and can visit the blog for new pix and such. Hopefully, this will keep all interested parties involved!

As you can see, we finally added the lines back into the mosaic mural in the signature Isaiah Zagar technique (http://www.isaiahzagar.com/); it really changed the look of the mural! We are all very happy. We had a potluck celebration on Sunday, July 8th where we were hosted by the Mansons yet again. Great food and lots of good conversations about what we are excited about for the future of the garden. The next art project: a removable mural to be attached to the wall that is adjacent to the garden. Two local artist volunteered to render a design for this mural, Bernie Wilkie and Matthew Miller, and we have been gathering reactions to the design from community members with suggestions for improvement. Due to current financial circumstances, I am projecting that we will focus on this project in Spring 2008.

I have recently decided to do a second year as an volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA. This means that the VISTA program will continue to fund my position here at Ayuda Community Center until August 2008. I felt that because community art is such different work for me, my first year was spent learning so much. Often I spent time focusing on something that headed in the entirely wrong direction; once I'd realize this, I would stop, re-evaluate, and re-direct. I have spent some time this week setting up goals for my next year and I am getting pretty excited about the possibilities. I have outlined the new goals in a separate post for you to check out. Also, once I post my goal on the www, that means it's for real, right?

Making the decision to stay here at Ayuda took some time. When I asked myself what I would do if I left, I knew some things that I didn't want to do: I didn't want to seek a full-time scenic art job at a theatre and go back to that work (I truly miss the work of painting; I don't miss the rest.) I didn't want to seek a job that would pull me out of the community I live in for 40 hours/week. My work here at Ayuda involves much more than what happens when I'm in the building on Cayuga and N. Marshall; everything seems to inform and contribute to my work: my walks to and from work, my time on my neighbors' porches, the fun w/ my kids on the block (dodgeball, bowling, summer movies projected on the side of houses, etc.), conversations with block captains about their dreams for our neighborhood, time spent with my church, the many guests and roommates that come and go at our house... it feels kind of like a new way to live life; so intertwined. I'm loving it. So let's keep going. Let's see what happens here in Hunting Park...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sorting it out

It has been a great few weeks getting ready to do this project, going through it, and now living in the aftermath. We finished all of the tiling on Saturday, May 26th and then grouted the mosaic mural on Sunday, May 27th. We were all cleaned up by 4PM! Everyone left very tired, but also very full. I said before that I was most excited about the gathering of a whole bunch of people coming together to create something beautiful. Now looking back on the two days of doing the mosaic, I reflect most on conversations that were had, interactions that others tell me about, time w/ some old friends and getting to know new ones, and the "looky-lou's" as the block captain, Jeff, calls those who slow down as they drive by to check it out. There was, and still is, a ton of enthusiasm for the project. A woman in the neighborhood told me that this is the most beautiful thing she has seen happen in our neighborhood since she moved her 11 years ago. It did "happen." It's not just piece of public art work for all to enjoy; the process was quite a creative, beautiful thing itself.

I said in the intro to my blog that I started blogging b/c life is very full here in Hunting Park. My main struggle is that it is all passing me by too fast and too full for me to make attempts to grasp it all for reflection and growth. There is just so much to think about, pray about, talk about, laugh about... This mosaic mural simply has my head spinning. I have never witnessed such a diverse group of people creating art together. I loved the points of tension as well as the points of connection for they both teach me so much about myself and about those who are different than me.

I am learning that I am a very controlling person; I like to know exactly what to expect and I have very strong opinions how things should be done. Maybe you all knew, but I didn't really know that about myself before I started working at Ayuda Community Center. Being involved in Community Arts could be one of the most "out of control" environments possible! Various artists within and without of the community, children, other community members... all together trying to do something... who knows what to expect?? When I was working in the theatre, I always had such a strong framework to work within. There were certain structures in place (budget, industry standards, expectations of collaboration, etc) that I could expect and strive for when they were not there. Now, as I am striving to develop an arts program at Ayuda, everything seems a bit up for grabs. I'm beginning to see the whole POINT of doing are projects within the community setting is to let go of that need to control and let the creativity evolve because of the people who have gathered. I definitely got a taste of that from doing the workshop w/ Isaiah Zagar in South Philly (Spring 06). He is all about the process and holds the product very loosely.

As I do more projects like this, I hope to learn to let go of that need to control my circumstances, bit-by-bit. I think that this is why I am so drawn by this type of work. I have faith in a God that seeks to provide uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and yes even "out-of-control" circumstances for me in order to teach me to look towards Him for transformation. I want to become more loving. I want to choose more often to be kind and gentle. I want to provide a safe place for people to be who they are. I want to be generous and to be a good listener. I think I'm in the right line of work to practice all of the above.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Check out this video!

My friend Ryan put this together with our pictures and videos from our weekend. Ryan is our Director of Development at Ayuda Community Center. It takes a while to load but it's worth it. Nice tunes, too. (By the way, I posted a few pictures at the end of the blogs; scroll down to check them out.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Posting some more pix

Update on mosaic mural

Just a note to let you all know that the mosaic mural at the Hunting Park Community Garden is DONE! We had a tremendously successful weekend: weather, participation, food and beverages, and lots of good conversation and fun! I'll get some pictures posted soon and try to tell some of the stories of the two days. We are all pretty excited and it is truly beautiful. More to come...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Project Details:

Hunting Park Community Garden, North Philadelphia
Corner of W. Courtland Street and 6th Street.
Dates and Times:
Saturday, May 26th; 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Sunday, May 27th; 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Rain date: Monday, May 28th (Memorial Day); same times.

Preparations for the weekend

(Photo: Last Memorial Day's Mosaic Mural. Located in my friend Lourdes' backyard.)
Well, I admit that as Saturday approaches, I am becoming more and more anxious. It's not the task of doing the mosaic mural that worries me. I feel pretty confident that with all of the people gathering together to do this project, something will be created which will be stunning. It's the details of the preparations that I am consumed with and that are keeping me up late at night. I have never been the point person before: the one hosting the project, making all of the arrangements, buying all of the supplies, organizing food, etc. I keep telling myself, "when it all falls through, (because it always will, whether majorly or a little bit), just roll with it." That is one thing I have learned these past 9 months working at Ayuda Community Center: gotta stay flexible!

But I'm not just anxious; I am really getting excited. I am ready for my hands to be busy doing; I am ready to glue some stuff to a wall! I'm also ready to enjoy learning more about Community Arts by doing. I am so grateful for the past 9 months and the opportunities I have had to glean from the years of experience of other organizations and artists through networking meetings, conferences, site visits, lectures, or just great conversations. As I go into this first community arts project with Ayuda Community Center, I feel certain that the only 2 things I can count on are chaos and greatness! It's really the WHO of the day that I'm most excited about: the residents of W. Courtland St., my after-school kids, mosaic artist friends, soon-to-be mosaic artist friends, W. Wingohocking kids, Spirit and Truth people (my church), and all in between. Let's gather to create; let's respond to each other; let's try out the ideas of those next to us; let us invite the kids surrounding us into our "zone" as we place our tesserae; let's be together.
Side note: When I called Isaiah Zagar with some detail questions and I told him about our project he said, "That's beautiful; decorate the world, honey." Yes. Let's. Come on out!

(If you're unfamiliar with Isaiah's work, check out his site: http://www.isaiahzagar.com/. I did a workshop with him in Spring 2006 along with two of my friends, Lourdes and Lance, who will be joining us this weekend.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Title: Tesserae to Invest

Tesserae refers to one of the small pieces used in mosaic arts to create a larger work of art. Most tesserae are gathered fragments of some object that has been broken... sometimes accidentally... sometimes for the purpose of creating. A conversation that I recently had with my housemate got me thinking about investments. I was expressing to her my feeling that as I turn 30 this year, I should be establishing some sort of goal or path or plan or whathaveyou in order to further my career/self as an person and as an artist and to begin to make some sort of financial progress. Investments for the future. Then she began to speak about investments: time, care, space, of self in others, from others in self, within, toward God... Invest in a person that interrupts you. Allow a child to invest in you by telling the WHOLE story. Light a candle and invest in you soul for a moment. Read; invest in your brain. Paint, draw, and capture to invest in the object at hand. It is true that nothing is free; each investment costs something. Especially time: If you spend 15 minutes talking to the neighbor, that is 15 minutes you have invested in that relationship that can be spent nowhere else. If alone, you spend 15 minutes in prayer or simply being alone, that is 15 minutes you cannot give to someone else.

Why Tessarae to Invest? Anything we have worth investing usually comes from brokenness. From that broken place, lasting investments become possible to both give and receive.