Art in the Darkest of Times

By Jenuine Poetess

Whatever your beliefs—political, spiritual, philosophical, existential—we can all agree that this particular moment in time holds a greater measure of darkness than many others.  If for no other reason than it being, very simply, the time of year when shadows stretch long across the bare landscapes and night lingers for extra Winter hours.  There are more days where the sun remains shrouded behind thick, grey, clouds.  The dazzling vibrance of Autumn is a memory and the shining hues of Spring are a fast-held hope.

We are in the in-between.  The middle book of the trilogy.  And often, the in-between is bleak.

Artists have long worked light motifs into their work at this time.  This is also a season when spirituality and creativity intersect; the tools and artifacts of our diverse spiritual practices are artworks in and of themselves.

But light, light is at the center of so many ceremonies and rituals—from lighting the menorah for Hanukkah, to lighting the Advent wreath, to lighting mosques for Milad un Nabi, to lighting the kinara for Kwanza, to lighting Solstice candles, to a multitude of traditions worldwide reminding us to foster hope, even on the darkest of nights.

(Photo by @JenuineArtworks)

(Photo by @JenuineArtworks)

We use so many kinds of art to honor, celebrate, and cultivate our identities during this season.  It is in the music we play, the vestments we don, the special culinary treats we conjure, the adornments we hang, the gifts we fashion (or have fashioned by others), the wrappings and trappings, the gatherings we curate, and the traditions we pass down to the next generation.

As I reflect on this particular season of Winter, of darkness, here and now in December 2016, I cannot help but also consider the matters of social justice demanding our attention, our action, our creative response—domestically and globally.  As a practitioner of the visual and spoken-word arts, I am constantly pondering the role of arts as well as my responsibility as an artist.  Chelsea Cristene, author at Role Reboot writes, “The beating heart of music, art, and literature knows that artists are morally obligated to expose human and societal truths, or else the death of our humanity is certain.” 

I am well aware that not everyone agrees with this outlook on the arts and their creators.  Even within the community of artists there are vastly differing notions around the purpose and motivation pushing our creativity ever onward.  Being who I am, however, I cannot separate the personal from the political or the political from the personal—it is all intertwined.  We can understand how an installation, or a spoken-word poem, or a journalist’s photo, or even a popular musical (*cough*HAMILTON*cough*) can be overt art-as-activism.  Yet, I boldly assert, that even the most aesthetically pleasing piece of art is a protest—against all that is ugly, chaotic, and dark in this world.  Poet and artist, Luis Javier Rodriguez has said that, “the first move from chaos isn’t order, it’s creativity.”

Consider the defiant resilience of love poems, love songs, love dances, love paintings, love sculptures, love confessions, in the face of so much fear, hate, and violence.  Some would argue, like the unknown author of this quote scrawled onto a wall (which, by the way, is art…is it not?), that, “art is our only salvation against the horror of existence.”

salvation

(Image source and author unknown)

darlingI have no intention of debating or disrespecting anyone’s political or spiritual beliefs with this musing reflection.  What weighs heavily on my heart and mind in this season is how we can continue to create, to speak, to dance, to compose, to sculpt, to photograph, to tell, to design, to weave, to make in such a way that perpetuates light and hope and love and truth.  THAT is my challenge to you, my exquisitely diverse community: How do we continue to thrive despite dire circumstances?  We create.  However big or small, the act of creating is an act of thriving, an act of loving, an act of believing.

We create community.  We create family.  We create joy.  We create life.  We create solutions.  We create remembrances.  We create solidarity.  We create meaning.  We create kindness.  We create love.  We create ourselves.

We become art.

For me, this is the most magnificent gift of the season: our ability to create even in the midst of loss, in the midst of doubt, in the midst of grief, in the midst of shadows.  There is indeed a certain magic in this creative resilience—by whatever name you choose to call that wonder.


Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW)an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles, CA; Waco, TX; and Lebanon.  Jenuine is the founder of Waco Poets Society and co-founder of the Central Texas Artist Collective.    She writes, organizes, and creates rooted in the fierce conviction that holding intentional space, access, and opportunity for all people to foster their creative health is a matter of justice and is a vital asset to the sustainable thriving of communities.  She currently lives and poems in Central Texas where she enjoys finding new ways to disrupt the homeostasis of her city.  You can contact her at: jenuineartworks@gmail.com .

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org  for more information.

 

 

Downtown Waco: What’s it like living downtown?

By Rolando Rodriguez Soto

(This post is part of an on-going series about Downtown Waco. In a sense, Downtown is “everybody’s neighborhood.”  In this series of blog posts we hope to contribute to the on-going conversation in Waco about what it takes to have a great downtown, and what we want for our own “Wacotown.” To see all the posts in this series, click here: Downtown Waco. – ABT)

Many people in Waco have begun to forgo suburban homes and apartments for a unique place in Waco we are beginning to rediscover.  They have found a place that offers historical value, a lively environment and an opportunity to be a part of a new trend in downtown living. What’s it like to be a part of that trend in Waco?

I spoke with four professionals in the Waco community.  They have not only found home in downtown, but also have committed their careers to take action in Waco for the benefit of the city and the great people in it.

Jorge Delgado

jorge-delgadoJorge Delgado grew up in south Texas and graduated from Baylor University in 2002. He is currently working with the Salvation Army to help people that are homeless, low-income families and veterans. He grew up in a county heavily populated with welfare dependent families, so he has a good understanding of how to connect with people who have fallen victim to circumstance.

After graduating from Baylor, Delgado lived in Lacy Lakeview outside of Waco for six years. Once new developments such as apartments and restaurants starting appearing in downtown, and with his job only a few blocks away, he decided to make the move. He has lived in Tinsley Place for almost three years now.

“When I graduated from Baylor, it [downtown]was still in its infancy stage,” Delgado said. “Now, when Baylor has homecoming, my former Baylor colleagues come into town, and they say, ‘This is not the same Baylor. This is not the same Waco.’”

Delgado attributes downtown’s growth to McLane Stadium and Magnolia Market. However, he fears this new need to maintain a positive image could affect nonprofits and the citizens that these nonprofits serve.

“My fear is that, with all of this growing and expanding, that the focus shifts away from trying to help lower income folks get the resources they need,” Delgado said. “For example, in downtown you have the Salvation Army, Caritas, My Brother’s Keeper, and Mission Waco,” Delgado said. “My biggest fear is that they try to push those organizations out …this is where all of those people know to come.”

Eric Martin

eric-martinEric Martin was raised in Michigan. His educational and professional career has allowed him to visit a wide range of places including Colorado for undergraduate school, San Diego for his PhD, and his first job as a researcher in the London. He moved to Waco when he was hired as an assistant professor in Baylor’s Great Texts Program.

Martin has been living in Waco for three years in an old fourplex building near Washington and 18th. With his work so close and his dedication to transit by bicycle, his daily routine revolves around downtown Waco.

“I commute between home and Baylor University along Austin Ave and 8th Street,” Martin said. “I frequent restaurants and cafes in East Waco on Elm, in North Waco near 15th Street, and of course in downtown. I love being near the Brazos River and Cameron Park.”

He noted two major issues with downtown that limit the ability for downtown Waco to truly become a livable and sustainable area—a grocery store and infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

“It’s pretty crazy that we need to get on an interstate highway, or cross Valley Mills Dr. on a bicycle just to buy groceries,” Martin said. “If downtown is going to be a pleasant place to be rather than just a place to drive through, we need some investment in basics like sidewalks and bike lanes because car traffic speeds are pretty high along Franklin or Washington Avenues.”

Liz Ligawa

liz ligawa - 2Liz Ligawa lived in Waco and in the surrounding area before graduating from Baylor. She has her Master’s degree in divinity and social work. She currently works at Prosper Waco as the Director of community engagement.

A few months ago, Ligawa moved into an individual condo near the Waco Central Library on Austin Ave, across the street from the Prosper Waco office.

She said living in downtown, surrounded by business and commerce and a variety of people reminds her of the city experience she had in Atlanta. “It’s interesting to see different types of people from all walks of life with lots of interesting stories to tell,” she says.

Ligawa was never interested in a cookie cutter lifestyle. She was more drawn into a space with personality and variety. She fears that because downtown is growing so fast, it may all start to look too similar.

“Downtown needs to slow down to bring in diversity with a more intentional approach”, Ligawa says. “If you want to go far you have to go slow with more Wacoans insight. It needs a good mix,” she continued.

Unlike Eric Martin, Ligawa doesn’t see a great need for a grocery store in downtown just yet, because there are other places in Waco that need one before downtown. Instead, Waco resources should be put into creating a more walkable space, getting more residents and businesses in the area and creating a diverse space for people of all different age groups rather than one demographic.

Ligawa’s main priority for downtown would be creating more sitting areas in downtown. “There needs to be physical investments to encourage people to hang out with sitting areas that invite people to be together outdoors”, Ligawa says.

Cuevas Peacock

cuevas-peacockCuevas Peacock hails from Port Arthur, Texas.  His work with AmeriCorps and City Center Waco led him to downtown Waco where he currently lives in a loft in the Austin Arms building.

He is planning on moving out of the Austin Arms soon because of planned renovations, and he is considering the Waco High Lofts because he wants to stay in the downtown area.

Peacock originally moved into downtown because it is affordable in comparison to living in Austin. He enjoys the energy of the people and attractions in the urban environment, and he wanted to be a part of the movement that is pushing new developments in downtown.

Similar to Jorge Delgado and Eric Martin, Peacock said downtown needs a grocery store. More importantly, however, as each person mentioned before him, downtown needs more sidewalks to encourage people to walk around.

“Downtown needs more ‘placemaking’ items,” Peacock said. “For example, there is a street in downtown Dallas and when you look to the left, there is a big eyeball, just looking at you. Waco needs things like that to make walking in downtown Waco more interesting.”

Walking from Austin Arms to the downtown hub is empty and “a big ugly,” Peacock said. Waco needs ways to connect the various areas of downtown with “placemaking” items or initiatives.

Conclusion

I am graduating from Baylor this weekend, so I will soon be in a place where I can start searching for a place that will become my first home where I can cultivate my career and adulthood.

Through these conversations, I got a broader understanding of what it means to live in downtown. Downtown isn’t perfect yet, but that isn’t the point. Downtown is a great central environment with potential to become amazing in a few years. It only takes people like Jorge, Eric, Liz and Cuevas that are willing to make the first step.

When I asked what advice they would give to someone considering living in downtown, Cuevas said it best. “Do it.”


rolando-rodriguez-sotoRolando Rodriguez Soto was raised in Waco, TX, and he is currently attending Baylor University with plans to graduate in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing & Rhetoric. After graduation, he hopes to work in Waco in the nonprofit sector to help realize the full potential of Waco. His long term goals include hopefully creating and publishing creative work whether that is a novel, short story or even a television show.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.