A Community Inclusive Arts Success Story
The Asheville screening of A New Kind of Listening, and the organization and follow-up for this event, make a great example of our model. It’s a process that really works to build inclusion and accessibility to the arts.
In March, 2010, A New Kind of Listening screened at Jubilee!, a progressive community-centered church in downtown Asheville, NC. Leading up to the screening, there were two meetings of a local committee which included individuals with disabilities and family members, representatives from disability advocacy groups and community arts, local churches, a professional theater company, and others. (Check out the Organizer’s Toolkit for ideas on who to invite, a sample invite, agenda outline, and much more on every part of organizing a project in your own community)
In addition to spreading the word about the event through e-mails, social networking and local media contacts, the committee members talked about their vision and goals for an inclusive arts project in Asheville and generated much excitement about taking inclusive arts to the next level: reality!
Members of the arts community, as well as the faith community representatives, were drawn in by the excitement, and wanted to be involved. Several churches offered free space for rehearsals. A professional theater company eventually offered to be a fiscal sponsor which allowed the group to apply for grants and receive tax-deductible contributions.
At the well-attended community screening, people came up after the film was over to tell their stories or share about their experiences with the arts and with disability issues. Many attendees signed up to be on a local e-mail list to be informed of future gatherings.
On the morning following the screening, 15 people came to a focus group meeting on inclusive arts, and that same evening 20 people came to a workshop on disability awareness and the messages we had received as children about disabilities. Some of the stories people told were acted out by members of the Asheville Playback Theatre, and after more discussion and a closing circle, there was a real feeling of connection between workshop participants.
To summarize, the core group of Interweave Asheville came together as a result of the community meetings, the film screening, the follow-up workshop, and a ‘visioning’ meeting we held after that first disability awareness workshop.
Interweave Asheville is an inclusive, democratic and collaborative theater group which has met regularly ever since. Interweave is people with and without disabilities working creatively, playing and talking together. For the first year, we had monthly meetings at Jubilee! Community Church. During the 2-hour meeting, members took turns leading an experience, usually improv-based, which was related to their talents, training and interests. We always had at least 30 minutes of discussion, where participants shared feelings and ideas about their group and individual perceptions. The participants’ vision for Interweave is also an evolving topic of conversation. Occasionally we asked arts professionals from outside the group to lead an experience, and a few of those leaders had a donation basket, but most of the experiences were offered freely, as was the space.
In the second year, and up to the present (Interweave has been together now for 4 years!), the group decided to meet once a week, in order to work more intensively on their unique inclusive approach to improv, and to develop performance pieces. Two of the members live in an accessible/affordable apartment complex in downtown Asheville which has an amazing rooftop meeting space looking out over the city and the Blue Ridge mountains, and that is where the weekly rehearsal/meeting takes place.
In the past few years, Interweave Asheville has performed at the University of North Carolina/Asheville; AB Tech; an elementary school; Disability Partners, our local Center for Independent Living; Burton St. Community Center; Asheville Ability Arts Fair; a downtown cafe/theater; on a double-billing with Asheville Playback Theatre, at Alternate Roots, a national/regional artists’ gathering, and at many other venues and community events.
The core group numbers seven people now, and they are as close as any family, with as many challenges and joys as family members have. The Interweave work continues to be a deeply meaningful creative and personal process for its members.
Most recently Interweave performed three original pieces at the 2014 Asheville Fringe Arts Festival. Two ‘Interweavers’ won an award titled “Artists Who Defied Boundaries with their Bodies”, for their movement duet which includes two dancers and a power wheelchair.
The video below is from a community event/performance.
Leave a comment if you want to know more about Interweave Asheville, and I will contact you.
Thanks for helping to build more inclusive communities through the arts.