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Field Notes - 4/13/2016

smalina's picture

Wednesday was a hectic day in the woodshop, as it was our last time visiting the center before our gallery at Haverford. The goal was to finish our boxes, and Carl and I were in pretty good shape compared to the other pairs, so we went ahead and got started by drilling holes into the legs of the box. After that, we had to glue in the pegs that connected the legs to the box, and then had to attach the sides of the box to the bottom by drilling holes and hammering in small wooden dowels. Because there was only one set of tools available for everyone, we had to take turns with the other pairs, and the process was stretched out over the course of the two hours. When Carl got to the room after snacktime, he greeted me loudly and excitedly, and seemed to be in good spirits. We worked together very smoothly--I got instructions from Sharon* and relayed them to Carl, and he and I took turns drilling the holes and steadying the wood while the other drilled. By the end of the session, because there was so much waiting, Carl was getting distracted and wandering around, but we kept the mood up in the room by making more music with the wood and the tables--artists and Haverford/Bryn Mawr students danced around a little bit, and joked with one another. Ultimately, we didn't end up finishing the box, so I think the participants will be finishing them in the coming weeks while we're planning the exhibit at Haverford. 

I had a complicated visit this week in terms of empowerment, because I watched another student treat some of the participants very condescendingly and with a very negative attitude. She seemed to be frustrated that her project wasn't wrapping up quickly, and that it didn't look the way she wanted it to, and she became very snappy with her partner, with the teaching instructor, and with an administrator who came in to pull out her partner for a picture. Initially, it took me a while to react, because I was so surprised that she was acting that way. I tried to assume good intentions, and that it was just a momentary frustration that would blow over. However, her attitude and inappropriate way of interacting with the participants continued. 

My next thought was to step in and say something to her--however, I worried that putting her on the spot would be ineffective, and maybe even backfire, creating more frustration. Instead, I decided to do my best to engage my partner and the other participants (whom she was pushing away from her work station), so that they would both have something to do and not become the target of her negative energy. Because I feared that her attitude was making the artists around her feel useless and stressed out, I tried to engage them with the opposite goal, offering them things to do and asking for their help as people who had worked on similar projects before (most of the artists I've worked with are very responsive and excited to work when I acknowledge that they have more experience than I do at this kind of thing). Some spirits were raised, but I wished I could have intervened earlier, before some of damage of the interaction with the student was done.

Next week, we will be working at Haverford to start planning the gallery, especially in terms of accessibility--how we can make the space accessible for people with a variety of disabilities to engage with the exhibit, which will include everything from more legible and multisensory signage, to nametags that will allow visitors to indicate whether or not they are interested in engaging with others socially while they are in the space.


alesnick's picture

What stands out to me was that a sense of time-scarcity (haste, urgency) and a concern with product (over process) led to the student's losing her cool.  I am so appreciative of how thoughtful, aware, and strategic you were -- summoning and weighing options.  I am confident you did the best you could and that your healing presence was felt albeit along with other energies!

I wonder if you would consider saying something to your classmate now that the moment has passed?

The prospect of thinking of receiving guests at HC from the Center in terms of accessibilty is thrilling. I look forward to hearing what your class devises.





pbernal's picture

As you described the incident of the student becoming frustrated and poorly treating the participants, I could envision it and as you mentioned, became disappointed with the way the student reacted to the situation as well as the way she interacted with her partner. I think the student became so invested in the project they lost sight of the purpose behind the projects and displays of them all. It became a project they felt respresented the student and not the participants. It became a project that reflected that only the groups, but them as individuals and the student's image of the project not being fulfilled not only dissapointed, but made her/him loose track of the whole purpose of this showcasing. 

Which makes me wonder, do we often loose ourselves and loose sight of the purpose of events when we become so invested in projects/etc., so much so that rather than aspiring empowerement and validation, we disempower and create an umcomfortable space for others and affect everyone else's experience as well?

glombaguzm's picture

It really pains me to read some sections of your field notes. When you describe how a student disempowered another participant I began to get angry. But then I also began to think about this student, and why they were reacting this way. When you grow up around social pressures to do things a certain way by a certain time, it can be difficult to fight those impulses as you grow away from those social norms. None the less, I think you did a really nice job of becoming aware of the situation and relieving the tension present. I don't think I could have reacted in such a thoughtful way, so I really admire your presence in this moment.