This past weekend, I was honored to be surrounded by people celebrating the power of art to empower communities and promote change at the first Passport Celebration in Durham, North Carolina.
Michelle Green — she of the red balloon — hosted 20 avid supporters of this project at her beautiful home, where we enjoyed the beautiful spring weather from her front porch while eating delectable platanos, rice, salad, and peanut chicken skewers.
After my brief update on the recent 13/13/13 voyages to Finland, Germany, South Africa, and Zimbabwe followed by a fervent pledge to connect artists from Durham with other artist-activists all over the globe, Aaron Mandel of The Clarion Content stood up to make a brief entreaty that stunned and humbled me:
As most of you in this room already know, Catherine Howard is out over her skis, fully committed to Art and social activism. She has already traveled to four countries this year spreading the message of one artistic community to another with benefits to all. She leaves next week to continue the mission in the Dominican Republic. Her message and her adventuring is empowering and inspiring.
It should not however feel intimidating. Sometimes that is one of the distances that we feel separating ourselves from great artists: they are leaning in and forward, they are fully committed to their Art, they appear to be doing something that we cannot.
This is a false assumption.
In fact, Catherine offers inspiration through her practice of Art that guides us in how we can follow her path. It is the transcendence of the message. Can you be as far out over your skis in support of Art and the message as Catherine is? Can you lean in, forward, and commit? You can.
It is not the money. Some may have the money to contribute toward Catherine’s campaign and I know that she is grateful for it. But those who have no money at all to spare can be just as invested.
Can you be as fully committed to the message about the importance of Art, its centrality to cross-cultural communication, its presence at the nexus of protest and resistance? Can you spread the word?
Whether you are inspired by Buddha, Martin Luther, or Karl Marx, the common core of the explosive revolutionary transformations they engendered was built on spreading the word. Getting the message out.
The power of spreading the word is universal. Everyone one of us can do it. If we do it transcendentally, fully, in as committed a manner as Catherine is pursuing her project than we too can be fully engaged, fully and passionately committed to the world of Art and works of Art and the message of Art as Catherine is.
Rolling with the atmosphere in the room, Akira Morita from Orangutan Swing began to speak about how embracing uncertainty changes people:
I feel the most kinship toward Catherine and what she’s doing for the fact that this project is an ever-evolving process. Her attitude of embracing uncertainty comes from evolving something. That’s what I am about, and what I am trying to do in my work as well.
But it’s scary. It’s uncomfortable to say, “Well, I planned to do this, but it’s turning out to be that, so I will go ahead and do that, and see what happens next,” to financial backers who are looking for a tangible result or a physical output.
As a culture, it’s so ingrained into us to look for these tangible outcomes and measure the “results” of our endeavors by those physical parameters… To say, “Well, I don’t have a plan for a particular result. I have an intention, but I’m trusting the process to deliver me somewhere interesting. I don’t know where that somewhere is…” takes courage.
Without the courage to welcome these sort of uncertainties, and the perseverance in the face of the criticism that comes from those who don’t, we won’t get anything interesting or new. I look at how Catherine’s project has grown and matured over the last 5 months, and it’s immensely rewarding to look at where it is… and realize how through the process of this evolution has changed Catherine and all of us who are involved in any small way.
As our group absorbed this surprising flurry of wise words, I looked around… Each person in this sea of warm faces works tirelessly for their art, for their families, for their communities, for me, for creative souls everywhere… All I wanted to do was encourage every one of them to keep doing what you are already doing.
And today, as I sit in the Miami airport, basking in the memories of my loving community and preparing to embark on the next leg of this journey, I want to share the same sentiments with you that I shared with them.
Remember: All change is made one small step at a time by dedicated-yet-idiosyncratic individuals. Don’t waste time worrying about whether those small steps appear to be “adventurous” to others. Just keep moving. Just keep doing. I promise those little steps are culminating to make a big change.
What impromptu words of wisdom are you inspired to share with the other people in this little online community? What small steps are you taking today to encourage and empower your community through your creativity?