The Art of Community 

Guest post by Dea Fischer

Tall trees
Warm fire
Strong wind
Rushing water
I feel it in my body
I feel it in my soul

I am deeply grateful to Habitat Earth for inviting me to talk to you about something that is dear and close to my heart:  the value of community engagement in art.  I am peculiarly placed to talk to you on this topic - in recent years, I have become known for larger works of public or community art.  Some have been permanent installations, other have been ephemeral, intended for specific projects, or intended for the learning that comes from the process rather than from the product.  There is a special energy that is created when you gather unconnected people together and begin to create.  I can't describe it to you in words, you must understand it through participation.  Be present.  Feel it.  A spiral of energy rises that elevates all, reaches deep into soul and draws out surprises of connection and brilliance. 

I tend to be a deep and spiritual thinker, and I am motivated by a fundamental need to meditate on spiritual themes related to our relationship with nature and the natural world, and our internal and external environment.  Intense discussion on matters of the spirit do not form part of daily life for most of us, and yet the thoughts and ruminations remain.  Exploring them through my work is an act of meditation.  I am particularly intrigued by our relationship with nature.  We live in nature on an almost overwhelming scale in the Canadian Rockies, and it is easy for the eye to be constantly drawn upward to the vaulting horizon line.  I use my smaller scale works to draw the eye to notice the incredible forms of the macro end of the scale, the boot-level ecosystems that are so often stepped over and overlooked while wandering, awe-struck by the greater vista.

Anyone who spends any time with me will quickly either be won over or utterly exhausted by my boundless enthusiasm for communicating this love of nature and creativity.  Barely secondary in my motivations is my love for lighting the spark of creativity, and opening people to the value of interacting on a meaningful level with both our natural and human environment.  The end is far more important than the means - knitting our community together through a love and appreciation of each others' diverse gifts and the environment we are privileged to live in.  Engaging the members of my community in acts of random creation is the most deeply rewarding and fulfilling activity I have ever been involved in, and the personal satisfaction I derive from it only spurs me to repeat the experience.   I am continually inspired by the work of such artists as Andy Goldsworth, whose work celebrates the forms provided by the greatest artist of all - Nature.  We are but facilitators to that greater grandeur.

So I can hear you wondering why I do this.  Why I think it's important.  Why I'm talking to you about this at all.  Well, let me tell you.  We are under seige.  From every quarter, through the air we breathe and the food we eat and the society we live in.  We are voiceless against the power of big business and consumerism. The balance and wholeness of our spirits is under seige and it becomes a daily struggle to simply maintain.  For many of us, it becomes all we can do just to exist, to balance on the edge of the precipice, utilzing all our energy to keep from pitching over into the abyss.  Our world these days is not set up to nurture, to hold us and encourage us and keep us connected and healthy and strong in body, mind and spirit.  To counter these influences, it is up to each of us to build nurturing and enriching activities into our lives.  Almost by accident, I found a source of precious connection through my practice that fulfills this need profoundly.  In this way, art has become my spiritual practice, the gift I carry in my basket to hand out to random strangers.  The more I give it away, spread it around and draw others in, the more fulfilling and profound it becomes.  When I was leaving my role in the legal profession nearly a decade ago, and embarking blind on my quest for a more whole and creative-based life, I never could have imagined that bonding my community together through expressions of creativity would become my life's work.  And yet it has.

When we gather together to contemplate such themes as the meaning and value of community, or what 'home' means and looks like to us, we form bonds.  Bonds of commonality, moments of perfect humanity in which we look each other in the eye and for that time, for that moment, see each other's humanity and remember whey we are here.  I have so many times witnessed the extraordinary bonding that happens between perfect strangers in the community art events I have facilitated, felt the energy run like lightning along my limbs, raise the hair on my neck.  To witness this coming together is truly intoxicating.  These nurturing times are but a moment in time that, taken together, can fortify our sense of wholeness and connectedness and bond us more deeply to this Earth, that can break through complacency and defeat to uplift us.  Through community engagement, be it artistic expression or growing things or building things, we are creating something.  The key is that we are doing it together.  Through our combined energy, through our sight of each other's humanity, through sharing and connecting, through building up, we counter the slow death, the destruction.  One spirit at a time.

If you have not engaged in a community art project yet, I wholeheartedly encourage you to try it.  I know you will be surprised.  I bet you will like it.  If the creation of art is not for you, it doesn't matter.  Such events bring out the artist in everyone.  Or find a community garden to participate in, where you can exercise your creativity by growing things for the benefit of your community.  Or join a work crew for an organization such as Habitat for Humanity and build something.  It really doesn't matter what, find the activity that is meaningful for you.  The importance is the engagement, the act of creation and the participation in community.  It's a heady mix.  Once you feel that powerful energy buoying you up, I guarantee you will never look back. Enjoy!  I hope to see you in one of my projects one of these day.

Dea Fischer, Artisan

With a reputation for crafting beautiful artist's books, Dea Fischer has a decade's background in bookbinding and collage techniques.  A demanding professional career left little time and room for art, so it was a time for a big change!  Nine years later, Dea is the conservator for a public library and teaches sold out courses in bookbinding, altered books and collage.  Dea has a slow-burning love affair with books, collage and low-tech photography.  In her off hours, she engages her community in acts of random creation.  Check out

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Creating Community

Imagine a World Fulfilling our Unique Life Contribution

Guest Post by Michelle Quesada

For the past 15 years I have been taking an interest in the welfare of healthy communities, and before that my parents raised me to give back.  I have learned that with the principle of creativity, we can reclaim our souls, our families, and our communities from the corroding disease of apathy and address our own ambivalence towards change once and for all.  Creativity is not the end of all principle.  We will continue to need to lead lives of character, but creativity is an incredibly powerful catalyst in the fight of change and improvement.  Creativity is also the key to discovering our personal vision and voice.  In order to build communities in 'wellness' we will need to consider the following points:

  • Taking care of oneself and our family is the FIRST priority.
  • Understanding the difference between the scarcity vs the abundance mindset will unblock creative community processes.
  • We are a world divided by politics.  We must break free from the 'either / or' mindset that is spoon fed to us sometimes on a minute by minute basis.
  • Realizing the amazing, powerful creativity potential dormant within our communities.
  • Life in community can be positive and productive.  We will receive the energy that we are sending forth.
  • Do we have an obligation to the greater community?  Discovering and labeling the reasons why we should all care.
  • Once set in motion it is easier to stay in motion.  Get to work.  Do good continuously.
  • Being a part of community means that we have a responsibility to nurture and care for us.  Self-care.
Getting out and throwing ourselves into improving our communities will feel like a small accomplishment if our own families are suffering and unhealthy.  As a social worker I have seen over and over again the difference a social support system can make within a person's life.  Without a support group an individual is at risk of needing already taxed governmental systems to fill in the gaps.  This would not be a big deal if the number of people needing such a safety net was not on the rise.  Family dynamics can be beyond difficult and for some even dangerous.  For these people, seeking safety is of utmost importance - that is what the system should be there for.  For the rest of us, we can delve deep within to ask 'Is there something more that we can be doing to strengthen ourselves and our own families?'

I feel blessed to have been taught from a young age that there is enough.  Scarcity thinking creates fear.  We worry that impending doom is right around the corner.  We are taught that there is only so much money to go around.  We should not live in fear of 'running out'.  I see every day the resilience of families facing tough times.  Resources are everywhere.  This does not mean to be wasteful or foolish in our stewardship.  It is quite the opposite.  Abundance means that we find gratitude in simplicity.  Abundance is available to each one of us, but we need to be open to that energy.  This is ever so true within our communities.  This is not some kind of socialism principle where each person is obligated to put all they have into a government pot to receive back their share.  It is quite opposite.  It is a principle as free flowing as the wind.  It must be allowed to move with free will and intention.

Speaking of politics, now more than ever we need to become aware of the little thing called an agenda.  When it comes to our platforms, our leaders, and our media they ALL have them (agendas).  We are living within this illusion of divided-ness.  This is a lie.  We are all connected.  We are all part of the same life, the same planet, the same universe and we are on the SAME team?  When we quit buying what they are selling individually and collectively we are going to do amazing things together.

Have you ever stopped to consider what percentage of the population within our communities is living a life tapping into a high level of character and creativity?  What does such a person look like?  Perhaps we could agree on folks from the past such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr.  These may feel like unreachable marks to hit for role models, but are they not individuals who lived lives of integrity couples with high levels of creativity?  Okay, so maybe not each one of us has the IQ to be another Einstein, but rest assured, by tapping into those powerful principles we can be, we can LIVE lives so much more than we are at the present.  Considering the possible difference we could make if we only were able to increase the creativity in say 25% of our communities is exponential.

Okay, so this is when I hear the grumbling starting.  A common complaint I hear is 'Nobody will listen to me.'  They are basically torn with inner turmoil asking, who am I to make change happen or to work with these difficult people there?  It is at this point that we need to stop and remember our experiences are a reflection of our personal beliefs and personal energy.  You are incredibly important in the process of progress and change within your community.  Search within to understand deep seated beliefs about your personal worth and relationships with others, and heal.  While healing, do whatever you can.  Let go of judgement for yourself and for others around you.  Be open to new experiences.  Be open to the now.

After we address that we are in fact invaluable in our communities and so, so needed sometimes, many times the apathy sets in.  We experience ambivalence to change.  We may ask what good is it really going to do anyway?  I am busy.  My family is busy.  I have a whole lifetime.  We possess a litany of rationalizations.  Only deep down within our hearts do we know the answer to the question of responsibility and stewardship. My guess is that we all could be doing more than we are.  Perhaps we do not know where to start.  Perhaps we are living to capacity already.  The questions is, is the health of our communities our personal responsibility?  If the answer within our soul is yes, we can be asking ourselves 'What is my next step?'

Once we figure out our 'next step', we must get in motion.  With the study of cell in human biology we learn that a catalyst will come along to start a process.  When that process begins to happen it takes less energy to continue.  This is the same in life.  We sometimes need a catalyst to come along to move us to action.  This may come to us in the form of an idea (creativity).  Once we act on that idea and begin work we must endure by feeding the cycle of receiving more and more creativity.  Our catalyst spurs us to action just as enzymes will within a cell function.  Creativity can and should be continuously nurtured to remain pliable and active.  It is like any other skill that can be strengthened through practice and habitual use.  If you want to supercharge your creativity, use it in conjunction with a higher vision / purpose like community welfare.  The energy for using our time, talents and lives for the better good are powerful and sustaining.

We have come full circle.  We are back to self-care.  While doing all of these great things for the collective, it is not about losing our personal identity in the process.  When we let go of taking care and nurturing ourselves, we surely will be the losers.  The danger will be allowing the gaping needs to overtake and overwhelm you.  It is about keeping perspective.  Imagining yourself as part of a relay team is a good visualizing to stay or become healthy.  You do your part.  You take a rest.  Your part will come again.  Do it again and rest again.  Make it a point to find healthy outlets that you love, that strengthen and relax you as a person.  For some this may be crafting, art, gardening, running, walking, singing, journaling, etc.  You find what feeds your soul and participate in it frequently.

In conclusion, our communities need the individual talents and strengths of each of its members.  We are responsible.  We will not find wellness within those structures through government agendas, but through our own pure motives for wholeness and unity.  We have amazing and powerful untapped talent and creativity all around us and great things will happen when we begin to utilize the human potential lying dormant.  Furthermore, it is time for all of us to look within and see what we could be doing differently and then go out and actually do it.  All the while, we must continue in our personal quest of creativity.  In that we will find joy and wellness.  We will reach closer to living a life in a world where more of us are fulfilling our unique life contribution.
Michelle Quesada
Bio - Michelle Quesada

For the last 15 years I have volunteered in different capacities which have all given me experience in building healthy families, leadership development and community health.  I have worked mainly with women and mothers, children, clubs and in emergency preparedness.  It was 10 years ago when I determined to return to school to find a practical vocation.  As I was finishing up the prerequisites for the nursing program I learned about medical social work which resonated with me.  Within a month I had applied for a social work program at a private university.  One of my favorite classes while in my program covered macro-level practice.  This is where I learned about how to maneuver systems.  During this course we learned about a particular model for change that I fell in love with called Asset Based Community Development by Mike Green.  It focuses on the strengths within that community (mainly people as valuable resources).  I went back and forth trying to decide whether to go into individual practice or community practice.  My best opportunity turned out to be working with individuals with disabilities within a mental health agency which is also a strength-based practice.  I have gotten lots of practice assisting people to identify their personal strengths in the midst of adversity and challenges.  I have learned that creativity and my own self-care have not only insured my survival, but have aided me in assisting others to thrive.  I continue to grow as a person, but now I feel moved to share what I have learned in my experience.  I would like to have a part of working not only with individuals, but also on a community level.  I do not believe this will be in social work along because I expect that art and creativity will certainly be in the mix.

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