by Jennifer DePaolo
“The world is as beautiful as it ever was. It is changing, but then it always has been. This is a good time to change, and remain beautiful with it.” Alice Walker
20 years ago I had a vision while an art major in college. I didn’t know what a non-profit organization was, or how much of my day to day would entail grant writing and contract management. But I knew I wanted to work with young adults to help heal the world through art. My confidence in the power of art to heal was unshakable in my youth. Art, in all its forms, had already proven to be the magic elixir of my life. 20 years later, this elixir still works for me and for that I am grateful. But my faith in art to heal the world falters as I age, and as the world continues to unfold.
As an artist and community organizer I think often about how art mirrors our cultural and societal movements. I think about the events that shaped my youth- and fueled my long time passion to engage with art and social action. I remember my mother trying to explain AIDS to me as a small child. The Gulf War and video footage of police brutally beating Rodney King marked the start of my teen years. The Columbine Shooting rocked my worldview as a young college student and 911 reshaped it again when I was a nanny in Summit, NJ for a family who worked near World Trade Center. And then the Patriot Act, Guantanamo detainment, and this country’s failure to care for (because we cannot simultaneously care for and exploit) our most vulnerable citizens… you see where I am going.
Today, our teens carry the weight of more than 200 school shootings since Columbine. They live the daily reality of climate change in a state experiencing regular droughts, whose conifers decline visibly year to year. They see regular evidence of police brutality against African American men and women. In 2014 they bore witness to the police brutally killing James Boyd, a man experiencing homelessness and mental illness that was camped out in the mountains. They are witnessing another great migration, living in a city blessed as we are by the talents and resilience of people who are refugee immigrants from around the world.
As a new mother, I increasingly worry about the events that will shape my daughter’s life and well-being. 1 million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction due to climate change according to the 2019 U.N. Report. We suffer increasing disparities between access to life, liberty and justice for rich and poor people around the world. And I am not fool enough to believe Art will change our course.
In a poem titled Gravity, Wendell Berry asks, “What is there to do?” He answers his question, “Imagine what exists, in thought light and day light, lifted up in the mind.” I have to imagine that what exists is Curtis Mayfield’s vision for the Train to Jordan. “You don’t need no ticket, you just get on board… There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner who would hurt all mankind just to save his own.”
People Get Ready. Our response to the tragedies of this time will vary according to each of our skill sets, experiences, and passions. Let it be so. For as long as I can remember, my path has been among the artists. Dance, performance, poetry, song and visual art shape my earliest memories, my chosen vocation and my personal healing process. Art is where I begin to imagine a journey to recovery.
I’m so grateful to find my journey mirrored in the mission of Harwood Art Center. Our Apprenticeship for Art & Social Justice draws inspiration from Albuquerque’s artists and the convergence of art and action that shapes our creative community. This city and our Apprentices give me hope. Our apprentices represent a wide range of experiences, cultures and viewpoints and they are united in their convictions of our inalienable human rights. They think about social justice broadly, including environmental, economic, educational and racial justice. They think about culture, identity, gender and sexuality with expansive minds and inclusive hearts. They strengthen our shared work, challenging the staff of Harwood Art Center to double down on our community outreach and volunteering to take leadership in those efforts. They solicit and respond to the dynamic needs and hopes of our community constituents. They utilize solar energy and local flora. They are paid a living wage to create these artworks and gain vital life and workplace skills. These efforts will not right our national wrongs or set our democracy back on course. Our shared work promotes a kind of healing that is intimate, impacting a specific community. It is a starting place.
Please learn more about the 15 teen apprentices who have designed, fabricated and installed Unidos, our inaugural sculpture for Mesa Verde Park.