Part of the core principles of the expressive arts philosophy is to meet you where you’re at. In the clinical setting, an important part of attunement: “a felt embodied experience that can be individualistic as well as communal, that includes a psychological, emotional, and somatic state of consciousness” (Kossak, 2009). This means that, as someone who facilitates an experience or stewards a connection with another, you would offer someone the space to be seen and the time to be heard, just as they are.
Meeting someone where they are requires us to be plainly and profoundly connected to another, without any bias. It is to cultivate inclusivity in an environment by transcending differences and arriving at common threads that bind us together as a human society. From bringing understanding to sometimes misunderstood circumstances of individuals with special needs, to bridging cultures through a universal language of creativity and community, inclusivity cuts across a wide range of the needs of our society today.
Could inclusivity be a principle that applies to more situations than just an expressive arts experience? Here are a few ways the arts is facilitating attunement among individuals and within communities.
Art bridges cultures.
Visual, tactile, and experiential language can bridge culture in ways that go beyond verbal communication. Arguably, this is because such language runs deep in the way we live. With Cartwheel Foundation, the arts bridges two different cultures and allow each one to be enriched by the other.
“Art can be found everywhere,” says Charissa Lopez, Program Officer for Education at Cartwheel. “Every time I visit our partner IP communities it enables me to experience their rich culture and tradition through their unique life ways.” Life ways is a profound way to see and define culture.
Administrative Officer and member of the Talaandig community, Berose Tacal, supports the importance of the arts to understand different ways that people live: “Nang dahil sa art, lumalalim ang pag-intindi mo. Nakikita mong may sariling pinanggalingan individually ang art. Nang dahil doon, lumalabas ang kultura, ang kwento ng tao.” (“Through art, understanding deepens. You begin to see where others come from, uniquely. Because of that, culture emerges: the story of the people.”)
Former Education Coordinator and member of the Talaandig community, Bricks Sintaon, also shares the impact in the educational setting: “Nakakatulong ang workshops sa art sa pagturo ng pagiging open at appreciative. Na-lessen ang judgement. Na-process na ganito ang pananaw para tingnan ang ibang kultura, nagiging madali gawin ito. Nagkaroon ng chance para mag-merge sa ibang community.” (“Arts-based workshops help by teaching us how to be open and appreciative. There is less judgement. When we have such a perspective when it comes to other cultures, it becomes easier to learn about them, and the opportunity arises to integrate into communities.”)
The core of Cartwheel’s developmental work is in thoughtfully and respectfully integrating support and offering opportunities for empowerment in indigenous culture, to help its members be more self-sustaining, gain access to equitable resources, and most of all, be empowered as a people. The arts helps in this process through cultivating connection on a deeper level, and tapping an innate creativity that builds upon differences and new learnings; that is inclusive. As Lopez says: “Through their life ways, art is naturally born within [indigenous peoples]. Art creates a bridge between IP and non-IP, through sharing of their stories, cultures and traditions.”
Art can be an accessible vehicle for discussing important issues.
Get Wired! at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde ran for the second time last July. Spearheaded by the Arts and Culture Cluster, the two-week program brings together the college’s members and network to open discussions around a common theme: art and healing.
“[It] has been my personal research interest for the last ten years,” says Project Head Ange Viceral, “and has magically manifested in the last two years of leading the Get Wired! Projects.” Get Wired! practices interdisciplinary and participatory approaches of the arts. As its name suggests, the activities and talks “help people ‘get more wired’ to themselves by connecting to other people in the workshops,” Viceral describes. “The expertise of the invited guests in the roundtable connected the people and stakeholders in Benilde towards one goal of helping out our students and associates in their mental wellness through the arts and a holistic view of the body through the self, soul and the other.”
The first of Get Wired!’s two events tested the waters by starting conversations about the landscape of therapy practice in Metro Manila, as well as exploring the emerging field of neuroaesthetics. Motivated by positive response, this year’s focus was deepening the discussion around neuroaesthetics. People wanted to understand how the brain worked, to understand how healing can happen. Viceral had different groups of students produce aesthetic responses to her own personal brain map — an assessment done by Mindworks Center for Mind Health that measures brain activity through EEG technology. Students responded to a recording of the music produced as feedback for the brain during the session.
As participants in both years’ events, the team at MAGIS has seen how art can be an accessible vehicle for people to discuss important issues. Witnessing the art of a brain map being interpreted through movement, textiles, and visual art was a discussion in itself.
Discussing themes that run common threads through individuals is a valuable step in becoming better attuned to each other. “I think people had the same fascination and curiosity to this topic continuing the neuroaesthetics perspective and now integrating it into a more local context,” Viceral explained. “The performative installation we did as a collaboration with the students and faculty of Benilde, together with the experienced panel in the roundtable discussion, gave a very meaningful flavor to this year’s Get Wired! 2 and contextualized the context of Ginhawa as a Filipino aesthetic of the body. People still wanted more. I think that we are all in the right path.”
Art can start conversations.
Conversations and meaningful discussion are not exclusive to organized roundtable discussions. FAM Mnl thought about how everyday objects in our day to day routine can start the conversation, too.
“We chose everyday items because it can serve as friendly reminders to our buyers and also conversation starters to those around them,” says Jill Santos, Co-Owner at FAM Mnl. Their first collection, the Semicolon collection, includes apparel, and accessories like waterproof stickers, water bottles, and notebooks. “We believe that with our products more and more people can start conversations on mental health.”
Jill is part of a team of Clinical Psychology graduate students who were inspired to start FAM Mnl as they were exposed to environments where stigma about mental health is evident. “We interact with individuals who express that their feelings aren’t understood or how their voices aren’t heard. We also noticed the increase of individuals who experience mental health problems,” explains Jill.
The objects all around us tell stories about us, and can help us tell stories as well. Jill paints the picture: “With just one question of ‘What does the Semicolon on your shirt mean?’ They are given the opportunity to share their knowledge and stories through powerful narratives.”
To say our narratives are powerful could be an understatement. When we begin to relate to stories–feeling the emotions, growing a connection with the characters whether or not we know them–we are building the foundations of empathy. Paul Zak puts it well: stories bring brains together. We form connections and relationships through empathy, and human connection is the first step in growing into better, more inclusive societies that are safe spaces for all kinds of stories, especially the ones that need to be heard.
Do you know of or have a project that gives the arts the chance to promote inclusivity? Tell us your story.
MAGIS designs experiences and gatherings that bring people together through the arts. This November, join us in Expressive Arts Philippines Network’s conference for 2019 – Duyan: cradling diversity through intersections of art and healing. EXA Philippines is a network of practitioners from a diverse range of fields, with the common advocacy in growing the practice of the expressive arts for social impact.