August 5-10, 2008
by Julia Taylor
"We have come too far / We won't turn around / We'll flood the streets with justice / We are freedom bound!" we sang in a round as we walked through the ROOTS meeting room, hand in hand, strengthening our community of artists and activists. As the elder members passed on this historic song to younger members, I felt a surge of inspiration and dedication move through me.
This unique group of individual artists and arts/social justice organizations had gathered in Arden, North Carolina for the Annual Meeting of Alternate ROOTS, a regional arts organization that serves social justice artists in the southern United States.
For five days we created art, engaged in dialogue about pressing social issues such as hyper-capitalism, war, environmentalism, and the prison industrial complex. We met in groups to create strategic planning for the next five years and we prepared and ate our meals as a community.
Members of the Thousand Kites team joined the Annual Meeting this year to both share our resources with the ROOTS community, and learn from it. Together with Caron Atlas of The Center for Civic Participation's Arts & Democracy Project and Judilee Reed of Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) , Nick Szuberla of Thousand Kites led a panel entitled "Art Innovation: Using Emerging Technologies and Web 2.0 Community Tools." In the talk they explored how artists are utilizing innovative technologies to explore new forms of production, communication, outreach, community building and entrepreneurship in the context of community-based arts.
In addition to this panel, Thousand Kites's Outreach Coordinator Dale Mackey and Professor Scott Walters of the University of North Carolina Asheville presented "Thousand Kites: Community Performance and Dialogue" in a studio at the meeting. We heard from Prof. Walters regarding his experience using the Thousand Kites play in the theatre department at UNCA last fall. He described how his students researched the Prison Industrial Complex, read books such as The Gates of Injustice by Alan Elsner, and even went inside a nearby prison to tour the facility and meet with men who are incarcerated there in order to talk with them about their ordeals.
The atmosphere intensified when Dale presented the opportunity for us to read through a new piece of work, "Voices from Otter Creek: Incarcerated Women Share Their Stories," which showcased works written by the women in a creative writing workshop she conducts at Otter Creek Correctional Facility in Wheelwright, KY. After Dale passed out scripts and assigned roles, we read and heard the stories of the women inside: stories of love, home, childhood, race, forgiveness, and equality.
The Conciliation Project staged their play, "PIC: The Prison Industrial Complex," which explored the complexities of the Prison Industrial Complex in our society today, particularly its ties to institutional racism. They also got the dialogue about the P.I.C. going at ROOTS.
ROOTS was an invigorating and challenging experience, and we look forward to incorporating what we have learned in the next steps of Thousand Kites.