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Field Notes

glombaguzm's picture

Friday, 9am


I arrived to the center and went downstairs to work with *Sam* since he was now back working at the center. There were five artists at his station; four were painting long wooden strips and one was working on a personal project: a plaster sculpture of a Venus fly trap from a movie. There wasn’t much for me to do, so I mostly just observed the artists as they worked. I also spoke to some of the artists. It was interesting to see *Sam*’s relationship with the artists. He appeared to know them very well. *Sam* would often describe to me someone’s personality. For example, he would point to someone working in another table and say, “Oh, that’s *Carl* over there. He is just a character. Lots of talent, but he is always picking on the others. He’s a real character.”


I started talking to one of the artists, *Sally*, working in *Sam’s* station. *Sally* was telling me a story about something that happened last year. I couldn’t understand what she was saying though. I could pick up pieces of the story, but she spoke quite fast and couldn’t understand the entire story. I wanted to ask her to repeat herself, but I didn’t. I regret now not asking her to repeat the story and I hope to work on this in the future. Later on in the day, a family came in to check out the facilities. It was a mother and her son and daughter. It appeared that the son was planning to start frequenting the facility. *Sam* saw this and told me, “Oh god, this center just keeps growing. We have too many people and not enough workers.”


I asked him more about this and he began talking about how there were several people in the center that shouldn’t be in the center. He mentioned that there were not enough “high functioning” people. He mentioned that people who are very “low functioning” should not be in the center because the center does not cater to their needs. He then proceeded to point out people that shouldn’t be at the center. He pointed to a man who was mute with low mobility and then he pointed to another man who apparently steals from the other center-goers. He finished the conversation by stating that the center needs to start taking in more high functioning artists and getting rid of those who do not work well in the center. It was uncomfortable to hear this.


 I then began to help *Lenny,* the artist working of the sculpture of the Venus fly trap. It didn’t seem like he wanted help, but *Sam* really wanted me to work with him. *Sam* said it would motivate *Lenny* because *Lenny* was a very good artist, but often lazy. I tried to work with *Lenny* in a way that wasn’t intrusive. I mostly just held the sculpture in place as the worked on it. We worked in silence. Then it was time for snack and I packed my things and left for the train station. 


smalina's picture

I'm surprised to hear about the teaching artist who felt comfortable enough to indicate to you which artists he felt "didn't belong at the center"--while it's reasonable for him to express his concern that the center doesn't have the resources to create a positive and nurturing space for some people, it sounds like, by labeling some people specifically as "low-functioning," he put the spotlight and responsibility on them. This is complicated, too, because it sounds like one of the artists is responsible for making the experience of other artists more difficult, by stealing. 

My immediate thought is that he is working within a very limited and uncreative framework in terms of relationships. I remember *Stacie mentioning, in her intro, that one of the artists had a tendency to steal--but she got to know the artist and realized that this was because the artist was one of many who had been institutionalized, and because many of her things had been taken from her, she felt the need to cling to objects and make sure she always had enough. Responding to this very real need, *Stacie watched out for the artist--when she saw her taking somebody else's pair of scissors, she would simply say "I think *Andrew* needs those, but we can print out a picture of the scissors and you can take that home with you, if you'd like!" *Stacie's way of looking at the artists demonstrates understanding and a desire to work with, rather than against (as disciplining, or "kicking out" would do). It sounds like *Sam is seeing some of the artists as "bad" at their core, rather than people who may act in hurtful ways because they themselves have been hurt. 

alesnick's picture

I've always been uncomfortable with these terms.  To me they derive from and assist in perpetuating a deficit orientation to individuals, and also one that is acontextual and mechanistic.  I don't mean to deny regard for what it takes to get by in this world . . . but to describe a person is described this way is generally counter-productive to my mind -- and the opposite of healing presence, which holds that every individual has the capacity for wholeness and shares in the essential life flow.  This paradigm seems to limit this teacher's capacity to be an empowering learner rather severely.  So then my question is: what kinds of support could enable a teacher to relate to the participants there from a position of respect and abundance rather than judgment and scarcity?