Jo Kreiter is launching a site-specific performance project in partnership with Quesada Gardens Initiative, College Track, and 10 young women ages 14–18. The project responds to the transformation of one street in the Bayview District of San Francisco, where neighbors have radically remade their block from a junkie paradise to an inspired greenway that encompasses several community gardens.
Day Three. B. surprised me today in the garden. We started the day working with the image she drew the first day; that of a seed made stronger if it grows with help from the whole community. She said that the image would be more real if we used the hose in the garden. She is a girl after my own heart, choosing props, or apparatus, to influence movement invention. Her group proceeded to create the image of a seed growing. While I had to help them along with the translation process from image to action, they were inventive and clear in how to convey the idea to an audience. This is the group that is a bit more reticent to open themselves up to their own creative muses. So it was quite a break through day. The second group is bursting with vitality as they go to make things up. Their solo phrases and ensemble work are so fresh and are offered up with unfettered clarity of purpose. They are the best of teenage creativity, in that they are thoughtful like adults are but still have the enthusiasm that children have when it comes to unstructured play.
In the afternoon we heard from Joel and Mary, a married couple who have stewarded the Bridgeview Garden since its inception. They basically took the dump yard that is right next to their house, cleaned it out and got to work transforming the land. Along the way they transformed their street, as the garden has become a manifestation of community, much like Quesada Gardens. But unlike Quesada, Bridgeview grows food: corn, squash, citrus trees, chard, strawberries, and tomatoes dot the terraced garden. It is an award-winning garden, visited by students from Russia, England, Japan and people from all over the States. It was helped along by people at USF and also, eventually, from the city. The food grown there is distributed weekly to neighbors, mostly seniors, whose incomes are fixed and low. What strikes me about the garden is its scale of activism. It is one plot of land on a tucked away corner of a down and out neighborhood. But its beauty and productivity are very real and effect real people literally in the gut, where they eat. And in their wallets as well. It has brought healthy food to a lucky handful on a regular basis, and has brought an incredible symphony of hope and courage to an ongoing group of neighbors.
Hearing about its inception made me feel a grave responsibility to deliver a piece of art, a bit of performance, that adds another layer of hope into the terraced land. I feel much more tasked to pull the girls into that responsibility right along side me.
Day Four. Today was the first day the girls showed their dance material to each other. Our intention with the showing was to help them inspire each other toward greater investment in the process, the collaboration, and their performance. I was impressed, as I always am with teens, how high they rise to the occasion. I was particularly impressed with L. today who for the first time showed some initiative in her collaborative material. It was a delightful development. I think artistically we are in good shape, given that we have a week to complete the work and bring out both the material and the girls’ performance personas more fully.
We spent the last hour in conversation, working more deeply on the girls’ relationship to their own neighborhood/s. We divided a large piece of paper in half and asked them to list the good and bad elements of their neighborhood.
On the positive side we had:
- Always something going on
- Happy and active
- I know everyone
- The Black Rock Church Choir
- A new library
- A view
On the negative side we had:
- Smells like weed
- Drug dealers, thugs, drugs
- Kids throwing rocks
- Rampant sexism
- The 24 Bus stop
- Guys hitting on you
- The bus at night
We then asked them to work in groups, picking one of the listings from the negative side and design a solution. Interestingly, most of their solutions involved getting the police. This surprised me. I felt a bit disappointed.
But Jeffrey from QGI was not surprised. Jeffrey shared with the group that the thing about QGI is that so many people on his block went through trying to solve problems and nothing changed…until Annette and Karl started to plant flowers. And the group decided to do something that they felt good about, like joining Annette and Karl, instead of complaining and focusing on the negative. Jeffrey spoke of what a relief it was to stop going to meetings at the police station. In expanding their positives list, the QGI neighbors started to reduce many of the negatives. Jeffrey describes this as the magic of QGI.
We then asked the girls to go back to the positives side of our communal list and think of how to expand the good things on their own streets. The conversation ended very positive, very hopeful.
I learned a lot today about a kind of community organizing that is self-reliant, based in the passions and personalities of the people doing the actual work—who are really the beneficiaries of the work, as they should be. I think about how what I do is steeped in my own passion for motion, velocity, and the swinging, spinning body. It was good to be reminded that the passion for what I do…a passion I carry around with me relentlessly, almost obsessively… is an essential ingredient for good community building. It is interesting to me to think of the power of a plié over the power of a call to 911.