Mobilizing the Creative Community

There is something spiritually uplifting about choral singing, even if the tune is as mundane as the Camptown Races. It is the complex blending of voices, joyful even in sadness, that speaks, no sings, to an inner spirit that craves not only beauty but community. It is the coming together of separate strands of song to make a larger, richer sound that fulfills a need for completeness, peaceful or exuberant, and sometimes both.

The ultimate chorus experience is Ysaye Barnwell’s communal sing.  . The spontaneity and subtly structured combination of a random collection of voices can move the heart more profoundly than the practiced Hallelujah Chorus sung by the elite Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It is the mix of intergenerational, uncurated voices, infused with joy, that works the spiritual magic.

Now imagine this: a community visual art project that engages the hands rather than the voices of hundreds of neighbors from 3 to 93, of every ethnicity in the area. They are being “mobilized” over a period of weeks to create dozens of mobiles that will hang initially at the Atlas Performing Arts Center . The project is the inspiration of sculptor Kevin Reese and playwright/director Mary Hall Surface, funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and under the aegis of the Atlas. Like Dr. Barnwell’s “sings,” there is no songbook to study or set composition to read. The pieces of the mobiles are designed and crafted from foam core by the participants, then are cut out with a matt knife, sanded, painted and wired by Kevin. The community artists find the balance points to create the mobiles, working from the bottom up, as Kevin instructs. This happening is being repeated over 40 times in various venues – schools, churches, senior and community centers, and, of course, the Atlas. The finished mobiles, consisting of over 400 pieces designed by as many community artists, will be installed and displayed at the Atlas September 19-26, 2015. They will then be parceled out to the 40 participating organizations and perhaps some collectors.

Like choral voices, these mobiles will soar. With the edges sanded, the painted foam core pieces look like finely honed metal, ready to take flight, Calderesque in their elegant balance and bright colors. But the process is itself equally enthralling. Envision a three year old who begins by scribbling circles, then observes the designs of older children, and sets about drawing a gently curved wave. Transferred to foam core, his work becomes a graceful piece that will float along side of the others in the completed mobiles. Pride and satisfaction in the art are shared by children, teens, millennials, boomers and seniors, who dream up and balance the shapes that will compose the larger installation.

These mobiles will be the sum of their parts, but the parts are more than foam core and wire. The parts include the collective yearnings for communal expression — a non-verbal, non-competitive collaboration to envision and shape something beautiful, something that transcends an individual’s hands and self, something that enlarges our possibilities, like a community of voices in a chorus. Thus the mobilization of this community for art’s sake speaks to the highest creative purposes of humankind.

One Comment on “Mobilizing the Creative Community”

  1. mhsurface says:

    Beautiful reflection. Thank you.


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