The Fruits of Falling Apart

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The Fruits of Falling Apart

I’ll be honest, I’ve been having a hard time health-wise lately. Some may say it’s bad luck, some may say it’s unfair, all I know is my body and my plans are not on the same page.

I recently moved back to Washington, DC after two years in Fairfield, IA to volunteer with the Sanctuaries, participate in the pilot of their Collectiveand work on my business as a singer-songwriter/artist. I had high hopes for productivity and improving health!

Now, as I find myself visiting or calling my doctor every few days, feeling completely sapped of energy, I realize that my life-long self reliance will not serve me now. I need help.

So I go to the rock.

I don’t understand what has caused these health issues, but I do know that the one true source of all the answers I require is ever present.

I arrived at our weekly Collective meeting last Monday feeling tired, broken, resigned. I often carry the facade of someone who has everything together and lined up neatly in a row. In the sacred space of our little studio in Ivy City, I allowed the plates I had been spinning to fall. As I sobbed, the Collective gathered around me, placed their hands on my shoulders and each member spilled their blessing over me in their own unique way.

The effect of this has stayed with me and I’m tearing up with gratitude as I write this.

I don’t understand why prayer works or how, but I do know that it does. And I hadn’t understood the lasting fruit that being truly authentic bore until that moment in collective silence.

So, if you feel so moved, I’d love for you pray for me as I continue on this road to recovery. I know in my heart your blessings will be multiplied.


Jenny Sammons is a member of The Collective at The Sanctuaries, a diverse arts community with soul in Washington, DC. Listen to her music here.

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Qur'an and the Arts

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Qur'an and the Arts

I don’t often have the opportunity to recite Quran in front of other people. These sacred things I say to myself 17 times a day — I rarely say them out loud.

So there I was, in a cozy, dim room with a group of people who feel more and more like family as the weeks go on, about to share something terribly personal. And of course, as fate would have it, I happened to be the person scheduled to lead a centering activity on the day that grammy-nominated musician Maimouna Youssef happened to swing by. That’s just how the world works.

I took a deep breath. Everyone closed their eyes.

And then I shared the most hallowed words I know, in a language that few in the room understood. Still, they listened…and drank it all in. It meant everything for me to be able to give that to the group that day.

In so many ways, being a part of the Collective has been a lot like reciting Quran.

I feel clumsy and unsure about sharing. But every time I do, I’m overwhelmed by the tremendous love and support that I get in return. I’ve been gently pushed to create and held accountable by a community of artists who see me as my whole self. Not compartmentalized by my faith. Or my craft. Or my story. They see all of it together. Exactly how I want to be seen.

Because of them, I’ve written more music in the past 4 weeks than I have in the past 4 years.

All praises due to The Most High, all the time.


Lauren Schreiber is a member of The Collective at The Sanctuaries, a diverse arts community with soul in Washington, DC. Listen to her music here.

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Poem: "Sacred"

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Poem: "Sacred"

is my life, not sacred?

not worth clean water?

not worth fresh air, or your respect?

i was created, like you, in the image of the Divine

breath blown in my nostrils

Holy breath,

fresh air, blown in my nostrils, filling my limp body with life

is my life not sacred?

every morning, I rise

rising to new mercies, but quickly

i am reminded of the struggle, of existing, in this body,

with this nose, and this hair, and your perception of my soul

i can’t breathe

your knee is in my chest

my hands are up, still you shoot

we’ve been living in this neighborhood for decades,

and you are wiping it all away

Is my life not sacred?

can you not see it?

veils covering your eyes,

green, clouding your vision, cutting you off from my humanity

but, we are human beings, sacred beings, sacred lives, like you.

 

Shae Washington is a member of The Collective at The Sanctuaries, a diverse arts community with soul in Washington, DC.

She is passionate about creating and presenting work that will awaken needed change in our society. A lover of coffee, Jesus, and her soon to be wife, Shae is committed to building bridges and pursing social justice. Shae is an experienced facilitator, guiding groups with care through issues of race and racism, gender and sexuality, and conflict resolution. She spent 5 years as the Assistant Artistic Director and co-facilitator for City at Peace — a youth development program where diverse youth grow as artists and change makers, through using the performing arts to examine and respond to the systems of power and oppression in our society that marginalize some while advancing others. Shae tweets @cre8inspirelove.

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How I learned to trust the moment

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How I learned to trust the moment

As I contemplated how to center myself, I had to search deep within my being to find a fusion between my body and my mind. To be honest, I have never been good at concentrating. In grade school, I would get lost in the colors, sounds, and people in the room way before I tried to tune in to what I needed to learn that day. Also, it is no secret that I tend to procrastinate, and for years I have tried my best to understand why I wait until the last moment to fill the gap of time.

Over the last couple of months at The Collective, we open our rehearsals by taking turns offering a centering practice. This allows us to continue to learn from one another and find peace as we enter our collective circle.

It hasn’t been until now, being welcomed into this sacred community, that I have finally found the answer.

The capacity for the soul to evoke emotion is unmeasurable. For me, this discovery has led me to music. Through music, in that very moment I get up on stage, I enter a place where my insecurities cease to exist. And yet, it is different every time — its eloquence and raw sincerity build up to the start of something new. This remains the most important lesson.

In order to be one with the moment, planning must cease. Although I am known to over-think my next steps, there is an instant shift to what I feel when I walk up and take my position on stage. For the first time that day, I will feel powerful. As I start to sing, it won’t even matter if the words are wrong or if I miss a beat, because that very performance was made to evoke something in the people who are present — and I have the gift of guiding them on a journey of getting lost in it. Call me a romantic, but if that’s what I have to be to feel free, then so be it.

To be completely centered, one must be freed to get lost in the moment. I truly believe that if I am bound to the need for perfection, the art of this emotional journey will not take shape. There has to be a place where you can cling to faith as a catalyst that unwinds you from your conscious mind.

And where you learn to trust that the moment is doing exactly what it is meant to do.

As I am welcomed into The Collective, I enter a space where I can arrive lost, but will soon be found — found in the resonance that I have longed to create with and alongside others.

The Collective is an intentional community that intertwines visual art with a yearning for words and voices that long to be expressed with color. We are the centering of creation, as we choose to evoke such emotions as joy, love, struggle, and art.

This is it, and it is beautiful.

Kiersten Rossetto Nassar is a member of The Collective at The Sanctuaries, a diverse arts community with soul in Washington, DC. You can listen to her voice on The Mixtape.

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Meet: Jon

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Meet: Jon

Last week in The Collective, we got down to the exciting task of making art in collaboration with others. Our meeting time until now has been spent getting to know each other, and sharing our unique outlooks and personal histories.

Through the act of telling our stories, each of us has taken the group on a guided tour of our personal world. These tours took us to some difficult places, and to some joyous ones. The process of sharing was not always easy. But that time spent breaking down barriers and building trust within the group has really payed off. Now the process of collaboration is truly informed and nourished with an empathetic knowledge of each other.

As a bassist, I’ve always viewed my role in the musical process as a supportive one.

My goal in the music game is to create a pattern that invites the other musicians’ creativity. I get a thrill when I create a framework that helps other people feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Making music in a room where there truly are no strangers is an amazing feeling. Having that type of collaboration, after taking the time to truly get to know each other, is an inexpressible experience. I know that The Collective has only scratched the surface of it’s creative potential.

And I am truly excited to see what we can create as a unit.


Jon Schwartz is a member of The Collective at The Sanctuaries, a diverse arts community with soul in Washington, DC.

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What is sacred?

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What is sacred?

This past week in The Collective, we were asked to reflect on what is sacred to us. I had a difficult time limiting myself to one thing. I even asked a couple of close friends what they thought was sacred to me. One friend said: “your children and Islam.” Another friend said: “honesty.” They are not wrong.

So many thoughts came to mind. In the end, what I chose to discuss is not any more sacred than the aforementioned things. But it is the thing that helps me properly respect and love all of the other things I hold sacred.

So what is it?

Nature. It is in nature that I most deeply feel the sacredness in everything. It is there that my heart is open and my soul at ease. It is there that I find my clarity, my balance, and, in turn, my peace.

I believe that we are seekers of Truth — spiritual beings in search of a higher power. For me, that is God. I believe that God speaks to us in everything, and, if God’s message is in everything, then sacredness is in everything. That may be why I hear and feel God most clearly through nature, particularly near a body of water.

It has been awe-inspiring to say the least to be amongst such a group of talented and soulful individuals. After I shared what was sacred to me, we went around the room and others added their voices: Food, Music, Collaboration, The Creative Force, The Human Soul, The Interconnectedness of Reality, and finally…This space…This sacred space in which our hearts and our souls physically unite.

I felt that union of souls while sharing a spiritual practice with the group.

I invited the other artists to join me in one of my Muslim practices, called dhikr, or “remembrance.” My heart was filled with peace as I heard the beautiful voices of my friends chant Alhamdulillah (“All the praises and thanks be to God”) 33 times in unison..one expression of gratitude.

And as I left the group that evening, I found myself saying “Alhamdulillah!”


Nadia El-Khatib is a member of The Collective at The Sanctuaries, a diverse arts community with soul in Washington, DC.

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Meet: Maya

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Meet: Maya

As we enter our fourth week, I find it hard to believe that a month ago I didn’t even know the eleven other “SoulMates” that are a part of The Collective. I feel like we’re all old friends that have come together for a reunion. There is something comfortable and familiar about each person, but there’s also a great deal to discover.

The story of how I found The Collective is somewhat of a happy accident. For reasons that were not consciously apparent to me, I found my feet taking me on a journey to the Silver Spring branch of the public library. I rode the elevator to the 3rd floor and found a poster that said, “Soulful Arts for Social Change… apply here.” I took a photo of it, and when I got home I discovered that the deadline to apply was that very evening!

I believe my soul was guiding me with a sense of purpose.

It led me to a space that would foster the sacredness of being who I truly am and the freedom to express my true self through art and community. I’m extremely grateful for the intuitive nudge and for what I’ve already found in The Collective.

We’re currently in the phase of the program where we’re witnessing each other’s stories and learning how to share our own. Last week, I had the opportunity to lead the group in a centering practice of my choosing. Singing is something that I’ve come to use as a spiritual practice, something that connects me to Divinity, and so I chose to share this with the group.

I think it’s safe to say that many people don’t consider themselves singers, and therefore don’t sing in public — certainly not with others. I asked everyone to take a deep breath with me and, on the exhale, allow sound to come out of their mouths. This is called “toning.”

The beauty and the opportunity for a spiritual practice lies in the unpredictability of the outcome.

There are bound to be moments of dissonance, unplanned moments of harmony and sweetness, and everything in between. All of it is perfect. It’s a practice of accepting what is and being in the moment. So, we entered into this somewhat intimidating experiment with the intention of being present and centered. Inviting the chaos on purpose.

As our breath and sound swirled around the room, I felt tension and apprehension dissipate and our hearts open ever so subtly. When the moment was over, we naturally faded into silence and opened our eyes. There was a newness, a sparkle in our presence. And for a little while, I believe we could feel that we were One. This is why I sing, and why I love creating with others. I’m looking forward to the next time we can all sing together.

As we continue to share our stories and grow closer, I know that feeling of oneness will only deepen.


To learn more about why I believe everyone should sing, check out my article, “The Healing Power of Your Voice.” I’d also love for you to say, “Hey” on Facebook and listen to what I’ve been up to on Bandcamp.

Maya Rogers is a member of The Collective at The Sanctuaries, a diverse arts community with soul in Washington, DC.

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Eye Contact: Being seen as an artist.

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Eye Contact: Being seen as an artist.

My week now revolves around Monday nights. At 7:30pm, everything in my life is paused. For a few hours, I get to be surrounded by fellow artists in a space of reflection and inspiration. Needless to say, I’m very privileged to have the opportunity to experience The Collective.

But now that we’re entering week four, I grudgingly admit to myself that I still feel somewhat disconnected. Not for lack of welcoming faces and an open attitude, mind you. The fact is: I’m shy. Whenever I relay this trait to anyone, I’m immediately asked “why?” And of course my first response is an exaggerated eye roll, and I say “obviously if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t be shy, right?” But in thinking about it, it’s not really that bad of a question.

Why am I shy? Why do I find myself withdrawing when The Collective is giving me permission to open up?

Before we get started every session, the group engages in some ice-breaker-like activities: moving in a circle to a beat, and then stopping and connecting with someone you haven’t conversed with yet. We then get a couple minutes to discuss our question of the week or the assignment we had to complete beforehand. And in these one-on-ones, without fail, I find myself averting my eyes. I look at the ceiling, at the bookshelf to the side, at my partner’s chin even…but if I make it to raising my gaze directly into the other person’s eyes, I can only hold it for a few seconds.

Looking into that person’s eyes, something in me becomes unnerved. It’s like my flight or fight response is triggered and I give into flight each time…why is that? This isn’t a confrontation. There is no danger. This is an exercise meant to create connection between the group. This is necessary. But I feel myself fighting it.

I’ve come to realize that my aversion to making direct eye contact is because I’m afraid to be seen.

Eye contact might seem like a mundane social interaction for the general person. But for me, eye contact is a form of vulnerability. Eye contact is complete acknowledgement of someone else’s existence in a single moment. It is not only “I see you,” but also “You can see me.” And when that door is opened, you are giving someone the opportunity to see all of you. All of your pride and beauty as well as flaws and insecurities. You’re revealing the things you want them to see as well as everything you are trying to hide.

Outside of familiar surroundings and loved ones, I find that most of us traverse the world in our own respective bubbles. We don’t peer into someone’s car when they pull up beside us at a stop light. We don’t stop and greet every person we pass as we walk up and down the aisles in the grocery store. In public, we interact when forced. When someone is blocking our path and we have to excuse yourself. When we greet our waiter to assure good service. When we’re waiting for the bud with a stranger and it would just be downright awkward if we didn’t smile and nod our head.

We do just enough to get by and not seem rude. But it’s rare that we actually stop, look someone in the eye, and have a full conversation if we haven’t been around that person consistently. It’s usually considered a disturbance, a knocking on the glass of their fish bowl.

As someone who’s spent the majority of her time giving slight glances and obligatory polite smiles, this intimate setting is very new for me. Challenging even.

After rehearsal, I find myself letting out a deep sigh of emotional exhaustion when I reach my car. Tired from the past two hours of sharing and openness. But along with the fatigue, I also feel inspiration and strength. Happy to be feeling the energy of so many creatives at once. Proud of myself for contributing to and taking from our circle. Realizing that with every meeting, I’m taking a step out of my comfort zone.

As artists, everything that we make is a representation of ourselves. Every song, word, photograph, and painting that we release into the world is an act of looking others in the eyes. It is me…letting you…see me.

Although I’ve denied it for a long time, I am an artist. And to realize my full potential in that role, I have to step out of my comfort zone.

I have to make eye contact.

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3 Steps to Achieving Your Creative Goals

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3 Steps to Achieving Your Creative Goals

You need to make a commitment, and once you make it, then life will give you some answers.
— Les Brown

Last year was a pretty good year for me when I think about it. A lot happened that I'm thankful for, despite my constant impulse to try and "do better" this year. One of the things that stands out is my participation on the Performance Team. In short, we started out as a group of amateur and semi-professional musicians from various backgrounds, and before the end of the year we had released a professionally recorded album.

So how in the world did that happen?

Especially when you consider that it typically takes a lot longer for groups (15 people in our case) to get something like this done. I've asked myself this question quite a few times. While talent and technique definitely played a part, I would say the "magic" came from the following 3 steps:

1. Commit, don't just consider.

I know it sounds cliché, but there's no other way around it. Making a real commitment always guides the rest of the process. And it requires some serious introspection: Is this really what I want to do? How bad do I want it? What am I willing to sacrifice?

The times I failed to achieve my creative goals were the times I never really made the commitment in the first place. I have to check myself often. It helps to take a look in the mirror and get in touch with my true intentions before moving forward.

2. Show up, no matter what. 

Look, there's no big secret here. Just show up. It's really, really important. Especially when we're talking about being on a team. Whether it's practice, rehearsal, training, performances, etc. -- be there. It's part of the process and, I believe, the process is the point.

Showing up automatically raises the confidence level of the entire team. It lets others know that you value this enough to make it a priority. It's your way of saying: this matters, and it's worth my time. When someone is absent, the whole team feels it. So drop the excuses, and do your best to show up. Trust me.

3. Aim for what matters most. 

There are lots of people who have talent. It's not that hard to find them through social media these days. What sets some people apart, though, is their focus on a higher cause. They want their art to make a difference. They aim for what matters most.

When it comes to declaring what matters most, well that's always subjective. But you know it when you see it. I have to remind myself often, because some days will make you forget about what matters most.


Osa Obaseki is the Co-Director of The Collective and a hip-hop lyricist with experience in community organizing, youth mentorship, and music production.

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Promises

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Promises

At our first gathering, we brainstormed what promises we would make to each other in order to create a safe and sacred space for growth and collaboration. We came up with the following:

1. Be honest in a sincere way.

2. Be fully present to listen and hear.

3. Trust ourselves and commit to the process.

4. Accept and celebrate ourselves and others.

5. Respect and encourage our vulnerability.

 

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Meet our Advisors

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Meet our Advisors

We're always better together.

That's why we've enlisted the expertise and support of a small team of Advisors. They bring decades of experience in the arts, academic scholarship, faith-based organizing, and social entrepreneurship. We're honored to get to work with and learn from them.


Mozella Ademiluyi

Mozella Perry Ademiluyi leads forward-thinking individuals and teams to fresh creative perspectives, united purpose, and inspired leadership, which empower their path to extraordinary results. She is a poet, public speaker, and the CEO and Founder of Mountain Peak Strategies and Love Is A Mountain


Laura Gibson, PhD

Laura Gibson is a Research Director at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests focus on how to make effective public health interventions with the capacity to improve the health of large numbers of people. She has primarily been involved in the development and evaluation of anti-tobacco mass media campaigns. She is a talented singer who received her PhD from Harvard University. 


Omar Sultan Haque, MD, PhD

Dr. Omar Sultan Haque is a psychologist, physician, and philosopher, who teaches in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University and in the Program in Psychiatry and the Law at Harvard Medical School. He is a co-Director of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics, American Unit. His research investigates empirical as well as normative questions at the intersections of psychology, medicine, religion, and philosophy.


Dan MacCombie

Dan MacCombie is a successful entrepreneur with ground-level experience in conservation, fair trade, consumer products, branding, and entrepreneurial finance. He co-founded the beverage company Runa, which works with community cooperatives in Ecuador to support market-driven restoration and new production models for unique plants with thousands of years of history of use in the Amazon. He holds an ScB from Brown University.


Rev. Kerry Maloney

Rev. Kerry Maloney serves as the chaplain and director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Harvard Divinity School. She has organized initiatives addressing the intersection of intellectual and spiritual formation, as well as developed university-wide projects on urban social change, service learning, women and religion, and prayer. She is an ordained clergyperson in the United Church of Christ and a licensed social worker.


Geraldine Wang

Geraldine Wang is a a senior fellow at Partners for Sacred Places and a consultant with the Wyncote Foundation. She joined the Foundation after 16 years at the William Penn Foundation, where she directed the Environment & Communities program, and initiated several initiatives, including the Next Great City campaign to advance sustainability, and a night markets program to revitalize commercial corridors. She has also served as an ArtPlace reviewer.


Maimouna Youssef

Maimouna Youssef aka "Mumu Fresh" is a Grammy-nominated singer, emcee, songwriter and producer. She released her first Solo EP, 'Black Magic Woman,' in March of 2011, and her first full length solo album, 'The Blooming,' in September of the same year. Maimouna's latest project, “The Reintroduction of Mumu Fresh,” showcases her strong commitment to providing a balanced perspective on current social, racial, political, gender and class issues.


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Introducing the Team!

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Introducing the Team!

We couldn't be more excited!

Out of almost 50 applications, we narrowed it down to 20 finalists, and then to the 10 artists who will be participating in our Pilot this Spring. You'll get to know a lot more about them in the coming weeks. But for now, we'll stick to introducing them by name: 

  • Ben Lasso
  • Jennifer Sammons
  • Jon Schwartz
  • Keron Ifill
  • Kiersten Rossetto Nassar
  • Lauren Schreiber
  • Maya Rogers
  • Nadia El-Khatib
  • Raven Best
  • Shae Washington

Let's do this!

 

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Your words are deep

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Your words are deep

We received so many strong applications.

Narrowing the field down to 20 finalists is going to be incredibly difficult. Let alone when we have to pick the final 10. Each applicant has an important story to tell.

So what are we looking for?

Three things, really:

  1. A commitment to your craft -- we're not looking for perfection, but how serious are you about developing your artistic voice? 
  2. A strong sense of self -- we certainly don't expect you to have everything figured out (who does?), but do you have a clear sense of what makes your voice unique?
  3. A reason to be here -- there are other opportunities out there to meet great people and make great art (our community being one of them!), so why is the collective the right fit?

By reading these applications, we're learning a lot about the spirit of people in this city, and it's so damn exciting to see how much art and soul is in our midst.

For example...

Here are a couple of our favorite excerpts from your personal statements:

"I believe a big part of our individual and societal challenges are not problems of social mechanics ultimately, but a lack of soul - meaning depth, beauty and realness within ourselves and the world around us."

"My determination is to work as an artist, who is also a Black queer non-binary trans woman. When I create and perform my work, I bring myself, my identities, and my communities with me, in the same space of both pages and stages."

"Poetry has long been my best bridge to myself, the one way I could cut through the noise and reach something that felt alive and true. What finally let me cross that bridge, though, what let me sit with myself on the other side, was the bubbling up of a new spirituality. One that took me completely by surprise and taught me that a relationship to the divine could mean something other than guilt and shame."

 

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We received almost 50 applications!

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We received almost 50 applications!

What an outpouring of interest. Incredible! 

We're humbled and energized by all of the strong applications we received to our Pilot this Spring. We had rappers and crafters, poets and videographers, printmakers and classical pianists, to name but a few.

In the coming days, we'll post some of our favorites. Like this track from LeWONe...


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Applications are now open!

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Applications are now open!


Apply to our Pilot!

This Spring, we'll be launching our pilot with ten creative artists of diverse backgrounds working in diverse media. The program will run for 12 weeks from February through May.

Applications are due by January 15, 2016.


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