An In-Depth Look at Discover Near West Indys

Bryan Fonseca, Project Leader, describes the project in his own words:


Project

We will create a Mobile Cultural Center, which will be capable of operating and presenting programs representing the following disciplines: theatre, dance, music, visual arts, and civic engagement. Perhaps the most important element of the project is activism. There are many models for this proposed program, but we draw from a model that highly influenced us as students, Teatro Campesino, which began as a traditional theatre performance group, but evolved to focusing on creating theatre as a means to affect social change through civic interaction.

 

The Mobile Cultural Center will be a flatbed trailer designed and rigged with a tent, as well as light and sound equipment, which will be used for live performances and to facilitate exhibition and classroom activities. There are no permanent performance venues in our chosen community; the Mobile Cultural Center will overcome this obstacle, as we can perform in open fields, parking lots and/or at the end of a block. Some events will happen at indoor locations including the Haughville Library, Hawthorne Community Center and in churches, while others will be processions or outdoor activities throughout the neighborhoods without needing the Mobile Cultural Center. Theatre, music and dance programs will be developed to accommodate 20 minute, 30 minute or full-length performances. The Mobile Cultural Center will also serve as the venue for exhibitions, classes/seminars, and other non-performance based activities, which will last between two and three hours.

 

We chose the Near Westside (Haughville, Hawthorne, Stringtown and We Care) because they are seriously underserved in respect to art and culture—completely devoid of any resident artistic company (of any discipline), performance space, or museum and/or gallery. This community is almost equally populated by Latinos, African Americans and Appalachian/Caucasian residents. Our first goal will be to build bridges between these communities by using various artistic disciplines to illustrate shared experiences and history. Our team is multicultural and bilingual, so not only will we reflect the makeup of the community, we will eliminate language as a barrier to our programs and performances.

 

Our community partners include the Westside Community Development Corporation, The Haughville Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library, Nopal Cultural, the Indianapolis Department of Parks and Recreation, Indy Convergence, Food Not Bombs, Engine Initiative and the Near West Collaborative. We will employ 17 artists on the project plus community organizers who will attract public involvement and lead all civic engagement activities.

Artists include professional actors from Indianapolis, company members of Sancocho (the Afro-Cuban dance and drumming company), the visual artists/instructors from Nopal Cultural, and Eduardo Luna, a musical promoter/DJ.

 

Time Frame

We will interview people from the selected communities, as well as write and develop the plays in February through April of 2016. Then we will perform the pieces and conduct workshops on community activism from June through December of 2016 and 2017. Our follow-up project (Unity Festival) will be in the spring of 2017.

All of our engagements will make connections to the similarities between the three cultures and will include the following:

1.) We will create three short plays based on folk stories provided by interviewed members of the three chosen sub-communities of the near Westside. Playwright Tom Horan will develop the plays through interviews with members of the community in February and part of March; then he will take one month to write the scripts. Six actors will be hired to perform the pieces. It will be necessary to hire a company of bi-lingual performers, as we will represent Appalachian, African American and Latino cultures. Rehearsals will last two weeks per play (with three plays total). We will present 20 presentations of those plays. I am hiring the performing troupe, Sancocho, to present the music and dance demonstrations. Their Artistic Director, Iris Rosa, will also be part of the acting company. We will develop and perform five dance/music presentations. Performances will take place over the course of June 2016 and December of 2017.

2.) We will produce three music concerts, each focused on one specific cultural community.

3.) We will present five workshops focusing on visual arts. The Artistic Director of the Nopal Cultural, Daniel Del Real, will hire a team of visual artists to conduct the five visual arts workshops through the summer 2016 and fall of 2017.

4.) We will conduct six community engagement seminars/work sessions. Our community engagement team will include Nicole Martinez-LeGrand, Danny Marquez and Patricia Castañeda. They will train and conduct civic engagement workshops and lead activities such as neighborhood clean-ups, tree plantings, voter registration and legislative engagement.

5.) We will create an annual Unity Festival and Blueprint, which will allow the community to continue the Unity Festival beyond the life of the grant. The big event—the Unity Festival—will be a daylong activity combining the plays, dance performances, visual arts presentations and concerts. We will develop a “Blueprint” for community members to continue this event on an annual basis. The Unity Festival Blueprint will include outlines and plans for the facilitation of the Unity Festival, as well as CDs of the gathered stories, which will be distributed to all of the households in the three communities. Also included will be the Mobile Performance Center itself.

 

Cause and Effect

As the Producing Director of the Phoenix Theatre, I am primarily known as a professional director, actor and stage manager, but what I bring to this project is a gift for producing. As a Producer, I completely understand the balance between art and budget as well as the balance between mission and practical application. I am a firm believer in the intersection of art, civic engagement, and societal responsibility to make change, and I do believe that applying our dedication and passion for our crafts to socially relevant theatre will transform the hearts and minds of our community. More importantly, though, I understand the realities of how to implement our plans to make change. My experience as Producing Director of the Phoenix Theatre has taught me that a vital arts project can have a long-lasting impact on both the economic and social development of a neighborhood. A strong arts program will attract businesses and give pride to current residents, inspiring them to make improvements and, thus, attract more residents. It happened in the Chatham Arch/Mass Ave. neighborhoods as the Phoenix anchored the community in 1983, and I believe I can recreate the experience on the Near Westside with this particular project as the nucleus. My team and I have the necessary skills to bring together small businesses, government programs, and neighborhood development opportunities to engage community residents and bring about change.

 

The primary focus of the Mobile Cultural Center will be performance. However, we do not want the community simply to be audience members of the performances, but to become engaged participants for years to come. The rest of my team and I will train a troupe of locally engaged community members, in hopes that they will continue the community engagement after the project completion, furthering the project impact for years to come. In addition to the performances, we will also include classroom presentations in the creation of visual art and workshops focusing on community development and civic engagement, which will include neighborhood enhancement activities.

 

Because my creative team and I have lived and witnessed the transformative power of art in our personal and professional lives, we feel the need to share that knowledge. My team has a proven record of accomplishment of successful community engagement and we know that real transformation takes place when the community becomes involved and desires change. Our goal is to enlighten, inspire and teach necessary skills so that this project will have longevity and participation well beyond the period of the grant. That longevity will be cultivated both through the community engagement and participation in the workshops, performances, and seminars we will present during our time in the community, and by sharing the Unity Festival Blueprint materials after the completion of our project timeline, helping this community to develop a permanent cultural and civic center.

 

We have reached out to the four neighborhood associations to discuss our ideas and to solicit their feedback. They are in support of the project and with the assistance of Westside Community Development Corporation, we are scheduling a series of meetings to discuss our project in detail.

 

Currently, there is little interaction between the communities and cultures, creating a lack of overall engagement amongst the residents. We see the creation of art as a means to unify, motivate and inspire the community to participate in improvement and enhancement projects, and we will use our art events and programs as a means to build bridges between the communities. One example of a way we will build this bridge is to connect similarities in how we all celebrate. We plan to celebrate the holidays by having the traditional caroling of the Appalachian and African American cultures, while also including a Posada, which is an important part of Mexican Christmas celebrations. The Posada begins with a procession in which the participants hold candles and sing Christmas carols and make their way to a particular home (a different one each night), where a special song (“La Cancion Para Pedir Posada”) is sung. This cultural exchange will bring the neighbors together by highlighting their similarities, while still celebrating the variance in traditions.

 

Furthering our goal of cross-cultural engagement, we will design each performance and workshop to be interactive. Our artists will serve as facilitators to open up dialogue amongst audience members, which will be made up of community members of each of the four neighborhoods. Once these communities are united, we will then turn our focus to using art as a means of community activism. In our experience, activities that build pride and unity in a community help to decrease crime and attract economic investments. Community activism is key to this effort. One example of art and activism is our plan to create “luchadores” masks, which are worn by Mexican wrestlers and are very popular with kids, during one of our hands-on activities, and then enlist those budding artists and others to wear them during a neighborhood cleanup effort. Another example is to follow a performance of folk stories about nature with all participants dressing as costumed characters while they plant trees and flowers, and mow neglected areas and pull weeds.

 

Measuring Success

Determining the success of the project will be a collaborative process determined by the community and the transformational impact artist. To assess this, we are following the Results Based Accountability (RBA) model, which uses a data-driven decision-making process to take action, and therefore, solve problems. We will start by determining what changes we want to see implemented by the end of the project life, and then develop the plan of how our project can assist in these changes.

 

We have been meeting with the stakeholders in the Near Westside neighborhoods to present our project and determine together what the success indicators/performance measures will be at the completion of the fellowship. Measures will likely include crime reduction, growth/development of cross-cultural engagement and community events, growth in community activism, and developing safe and clean neighborhoods. We hope to demonstrate success by showing data of: 1.) the number of residents who participate in our activities as audience members of our performance pieces and as participants in the workshops/seminars, 2.) the number of residents participating in neighborhood cleanups and other organized social/political activism activities, and 3.) the number of residents from each of the four neighborhoods participating in the creation of community art and the development of the Unity Festival. We will differentiate between youth and adult participants in each of the activities. We will be able to measure changes in crime rate based on police reports before and after the period of the grant; this will also help us measure whether the neighborhoods have become more clean and safe.

 

It has been well documented that an empowered community is generally safe, clean, and lead by engaged residents and stakeholders. These types of communities attract economic investments and new residents who want to live in a vibrant community. While we may not be able to measure this change within the life of the grant, the economic growth of the community will also be a measure of success that we believe will more than likely be a side effect of introducing art into the community.

 

After-life

I hope to leave behind an empowered and engaged community. I believe that if art can be a catalyst for change, this project is a way to move the community towards action. It is my hope that the Near Westside community will continue the work we started and create new initiatives that continue to improve the quality of life for all.

 

The Mobile Cultural Center will be a physical leave-behind for the community. My team and I will train a troupe of locally engaged community members that will continue the community engagement after the project completion. This team will continue traveling throughout the community, telling stories, creating art and building bridges into each neighborhood for years to come. It is also my desire to have educated and trained the next generation of community leaders (who will have been participants in our activities) on ways in which they can continue to build community through art, as well as how they can interact with local government and community stakeholders to continue the improvements necessary for a strong quality of life. Finally, we will leave the community with a blueprint to continue the Unity Festival, a powerful community engagement event that will be unique to the Near Westside neighborhoods.

 

  1. We will be sure not only to teach but to learn from the communities.  Everyone wants to be heard and understood, more than they want to be taught.  Collecting folktales is good but we will also consider other ways of having them tell us who they are and what they are concerned about.  We will have community members map their neighborhoods, marking where the important things happen, where the most important conversations take place, where the most memories are, etc.  This can help start the conversation.  We will find out what foods they especially like and where to get them.  The goal might then be to mirror the culture and concerns of the neighborhood, thus engendering pride and promoting sharing.

 

  1.  We will involve locals in the performances as performers whether or not they have previous experience – even if they act as a chorus occasionally shouting out YES!  Or BRAVO!  Or OLE!  Or gesture. Also, in interactions with members of the community, perhaps we will identify individuals with special talents and provide them with a platform to share. Pride again, in being involved, in participating, in being considered someone worth watching and hearing from.  Making a difference, as you know from racial or gay rights activism has to start with acceptance, and celebration, not missionary activities.

 

  1.  We’ve provided some fabulous examples from Latino culture.  We are concentrating now on a few from the other cultures involved. Perhaps we will find Appalachian fiddlers, wood-carvers, ballad-singers in that community.  We will seek rappers or spoken word artists in the African American community. We will start by finding out what’s currently there.  What do they do at a church social, on the street corner?

 

  1. We will create a Day of Masks, in which all different cultures paraded through the city, wearing the masks of their cultures, performing, making masks, etc.   Again, emphasis on pride in what they already have and are, reflecting that back with an artistic product.

 

Change comes from acceptance and celebration of difference.

 

Mirroring, reflecting current concerns, blending past and present for greater relevance, telling THEIR stories through a classical or folkloric model.  Hearing what they think is important and worth telling.