that's survival to me: questions about our right to creative expression

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We were honored to serve as Community Faculty for Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs' Writing for Social Change course in 2013. Together, with faculty Bill Reichard, Emily Seru and their eight students, we formulated a line of inquiry about the necessity of creative expression in contemporary society. What do you need to survive? Where is art on that list? Is creative expression a human right? Who is responsible for upholding this and other human rights? Each student took these four questions to a different community in the Twin Cities to gather a range of responses. Students interpreted these interviews through a range of formats and we gathered their work in this collaborative publication. An edition of 200 was printed on December 5th, 2013 at Sun/Air Press in Minneapolis, MN.


  • ThaTs survival To Me:QuesTions abouT our righT

    To creaTive expressionWhat do you need to survive?

    Where is art on that list?Is creative expression a human right?

    Who is responsible for upholding this and other human rights?

    a projecT bysTudenTs froM wriTing for social change 2013

    works progress sTudio

    higher educaTion consorTiuM for urban affairs

  • ForwardShanai Matteson & Colin Kloecker

    Community Faculty: Writing for Social Change, 2013Co-directors: Works Progress Studio

    When Bill Reichard invited Works Progress to collaborate with students from HECUAs Writing for Social Change class on a semester-long project, we immediately thought about creating a publication. Even in our digital age, few things compare to seeing your own words in print, or sharing such a well-considered object with others. As weve experienced through past projects, creating an entire publication together on a shared topic or theme can be a great way to practice collaboration, inquiry and reflection - all parts of the creative process that we encourage others to tap in their everyday lives as well as in their work.

    With that in mind, we began the semester with only a loose framework. Together with students we would create a publication that invited the individual writers in the class to share their experiences and ideas, while also providing an opportunity for collaborative exploration of a single topic.

    After brainstorming together, it came time to narrow our focus. We were thrilled that so many wonderful ideas were shared early in the process. Clearly this group of students is passionate about art and social justice and could see many different forms the project could take. In the end, we settled on a framework that would be both a provocation and a survey, a chance to pose questions, and to creatively answer them.

    Drawing on their own curiosity, students in the class developed a series of questions. Not surprisingly, given income inequities that

    continue to grow in our nation and around the world, these questions cut to the core of arts potential to sustain and transform:

    What do you need to survive? Where is art on that list? Is creative expression a human right? Who is responsible for upholding this and other human rights?

    Each student used these questions as a departure point for a new piece of writing, demonstrating just how multifaceted a conversation can be across different communities, and how writers can convey an exchange of ideas in multiple forms.

    In this tiny booklet youll find simple truths and profound poetic statements, a diverse range of people sharing the importance of art and creative expression to survival, and thoughts on upholding this right. Included in are stories of bead artists, henna tattoo artists, creative writing students, non-profit theater directors, schoolchildren, senior citizens, self-identified stoners, playwrights, musicians and visual artists. Through the creativity of the contributing students, their experiences manifest on the page in a variety of forms: personal essays, comic-book style conversation, theatrical production, prose poem, documentary poem, and journalistic prose.

    This is not intended to be an exhaustive survey or representative sampling. It is the start of a conversation that students in the class hope will continue through your participation. How would you answer those questions? Who would you ask?

  • ThaTs survival To Me:QuesTions abouT our righT To

    CreaTive expression

    11 The French Inhale and Smoke RingsEllen Cocchiarella

    ForwardShanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker

    AfterwardWilliam Reichard

    1 Doing Flips with ExcellenceCassandra LabriolaTwo Worlds, One AnswerHelen Duritsa3

    5 Modern Chorus: A Discussion About Artistic RightsPaige Patet9 The American Worker and CreativityRonnie Schwenn

    13 Equivalent to my VoiceDevona Brown19 Coexist: Creative Expression and ChristianityJanice Bitters21 Capitalism and Art Dont Always AgreeRita Kovtun

  • 1ThaTs survival To Me: QuesTions abouT our righT To CreaTive expression

    Doing Flips wiTh exCellenCeCassandra Labriola

    University of MinnesotaEnglish

    For this project, I had the opportunity to speak with children attending an after-school program and their teachers about creativity and what it means to them. The section titles below are the questions we came up with as a class, slightly altered to make the concepts accessible to younger people.

    I. WhaT do you need To survIve?

    Pictures line the walls of the stuffy classroomsheets of white paper smeared with finger paints and starred with glitter. Some bear messages in childish scrawl, Believe in yourself, or Respect each other. Piles of puzzles and games spill out of a closet, while a chest, bearing a pink sheet of paper with the words Art Supplies printed across its center is thrown open, plastic boxes of crayons and markers tucked inside.

    Groups of children cluster around tables, using their free time before splitting up for academics as they please. A few paint with watercolors on a table covered in newspapers, others build structures from shiny, plastic blockscreating a narrative about a space zoo as they connect blues, yellows, reds, and greens into abstract shapes.

    ***This evening, I had the opportunity to speak to both students and teachers participating in the Luxton Learners Afterschool Program. Asking the questions created in our HECUA class, I didnt know what to expect and received a larger variety of answers and perspectives than I ever dreamed I would.

    Speaking to both children and adults, I noticed the similarities and differences in their answers. While both agreed that food, water, and sleepthe essentials of caring for our physical bodiesare necessary for survival, the adults tended to include creative expression in their lists while children kept to more concrete things and ideas.

    I think this differencethe lack of importance placed on spiritual and mental health by childrenis a product of their naivet. They have not yet had to concern themselves with how they are going to get their food, their water, their place to sleep.

    II. Where does creaTIve expressIon FIT InTo ThIs lIsT?Is beIng creaTIve ImporTanT To you?

    We have to start our discussion with different ways that people can be creative. The kids dont understand the word yet. Artistic, imaginative, original: these are the words I use to describe creative expression to them.

    Compared to what I already heard from the adults, the children have a much more fluid definition of what creative expression is, latching on to the word originality. Now, creative expression is whatever they dream it to be. Painting, drawing, playing basketball, doing flips, zombie tag on the

  • 2heCua WriTing for soCial Change 2013 & Works progress sTudio

    playground, eating: these words fly around the room, bouncing off walls and jumbling together as their excitement mounts. One begins singing their answers, until everyone collapses into fits of laughter.

    ***Having access to interview people from multiple generations, I was able to hear a wide range of perspectives on the importance of creativity. The values of different generations appeared in how they answered the questions.

    Adults, in general, tended to place more importance on creative expression and the access to practice different art forms, often listing creative release as something essential to survivalsaying that its practice is spiritual and that it keeps them sane. They spoke about creative expression as a way to process informationto come to terms with the sometimes, unpleasant surprises of lifeand also as a mode of reflection. However, compared to the kids, the older people seemed to be more stuck in a traditional definition of creativity. While I found that adults considered creative expression to be more important to them, I also found that they had a much narrower definition of what creativity is.

    The kids had a more encompassing and fluid notion of creative expression, however they generally didnt think that creativity was something that was important to them. Most answered no or said that they didnt know if it was important or not. I found this surprising, considering how innately creative they were in the ways that they spoke and interacted with each other and their teachers.

    III. Is creaTIve expressIon a human rIghT?Who Is responsIble For IT? should you be alloWed To be creaTIve?

    Human rights are hard to explain to children. They dont yet possess the same notions of separateness and equity that adults do. For them, equality is the issuethings should be the same. For example, I am always amazed at how they can tell, to the ounce, who has gotten the larger treat, and how unfair it is for someone to have more than them.

    I ask them whether or not people should be allowed to be creative. They pause, really considering the question.

    ***The responses I got to this question were both humorous and disheartening. The kids seemed to decide that people should be allowed or not allowed to be creative based on their talent at making visual art. Forgotten were all the alternative ways to express oneself creatively that theyd told me earlier. If youre good at it, then you should go ahead, but if you arent good at it, you shouldnt.

    I think the kids are taking their cues from us. As a society, we tend to raise artists up above the normal person, creating a mythological aura around them. We praise kids for drawing a good picture, then teach them evaluate their work in terms of how it compares to their peers. Instead, we should foster the creativity that is innate in every person and encourage creative expression in more than just visual or performing arts. We should return to ho