The women of Rising Voices debuted their original performance piece, Deception of the Heart, last month during the First Annual Community Works Youth Theater Festival in San Francisco. The piecefocuses on experiences of domestic violence, survival, and healing.
Deception of the Heart is an original piece created by the women in the Rising Voices program, who channeled their own lived experiences to create a powerful collaborative story. The piece uses poetry, theatre and dance to address the many sides of domestic violence. Through their performance, the artists hope to inform others about the warning signs of unhealthy relationships, how easily one can become trapped in a cycle of violence, and the strength required to achieve healing. Afterward, the audience is asked to participate in a facilitated dialogue around their own experiences with domestic violence, and how to support friends or loved ones who may be in a violent relationship.
Rising Voices is Community Works’ arts program for young women, ages 18-25, at various stages of reentry post-incarceration. The program includes weekly support meetings, where participants hold restorative justice circles, learn mindfulness techniques, and find healing through art. Over the course of the program, the women in the group are led through writing and performance exercises and work together on a collaborative performance project, drawing from their own experiences. Rising Voices also works with women inside the SF County Jail, and the material generated in those workshops is incorporated into the performances and other projects. Upon release, these contributors are encouraged to join the support circles with their fellow artists on the outside.
For youth with incarcerated parents, graduation can be a bittersweet milestone. We created the scholarship program because we want the Project WHAT! youth to know that there are people in their community who care about them, who are proud of them, and who want them to succeed.
Project WHAT! is the only organization that provides scholarships for children of incarcerated parents, and we’re proud that we’ve been able to award funds to 25 graduates since we started the scholarship program six years ago.
We’ll have snacks for guests, and you’ll have the chance to win some awesome prizes! Bring your wallet and your friends, and enjoy some after-work drinks while you help us send off our graduating seniors and set them up for success as they head off to college.
It all began late last summer when restorative arts facilitator Dee Myers asked restorative justice circle facilitator Jo Bauen whether she would like to collaborate on a mosaic arts project for parolees, sponsored by the California Arts Commission. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for members of the Citizen Circle, a weekly restorative justice circle for people on parole, to try their hand at mosaic arts. It was an opportunity to use the arts to express the restorative themes of truth, forgiveness, conflict, and accountability, and it was an opportunity for the power of arts to uplift each participant and to strengthen the group as a whole. Finally, it was an opportunity for Jo to use her background in mosaic tile work in the context of restorative justice. Needless to say, the Citizen circle accepted Dee’s invitation!
Dee began by leading the group in a brainstorm potential topics for the art project. The Citizens Circle is open to all who care to join, and is made up of equal numbers of parolees and never-incarcerated individuals. Participant spoke of their desire to rebuild their identity, to deal with racial profiling, and to successfully transition from prison to free society. We discussed our values and guidelines, and established group safety. Dee helped build confidence with arts-based team building exercises. Based on participant input we organize a 10 week program that resulted in 14 stunning mosaic self-portraits.
Mosaic requires a lot of physical materials: broken tile, pebbles, mirrors, artifacts, backer board and adhesive. Preparing the tile takes a variety of tools: diamond saw, neighbors, score and snap, hammers, eye and skin protection. Week by week the project grew to fill large community space. Each week we had to line the floors with drop cloths, prep the mosaic materials for 15 participants, organize the setting materials, the tools, and the safety equipment. Each week the participants arrived, looked at our enormous set up, and for the most part everyone got to work. Some people jumped right in, others hesitated, chatted, and hung in the background. A few resisted but that was OK, we set up a space for people to chill. Mosaic is slow and there is a world of options for how one might proceed. But shoulder to shoulder, women and men, white and black, incarcerated or never incarcerated, timid artists and brave, proceed we did.
The project continued through the summer, and at last, one or two portraits were nearing completion. That inspired other artists to attempt completion. Soon it was time to grout the initial artworks. Grouting is messy, frustrating, difficult, destructive to your skin and eyes, and did I say messy? But then we grouted a couple pieces, and they started to shine. At last all pieces were finished. We mounted them in a sunny conference room and had track lights installed so the artwork is featured.
On April 16, 2019, CWW hosted an evening of food and music to honor the artwork. A large crowd stood circle-fashion to hear from the artists and to offer our hopes for all men and women reentering society from prison. People said, “I hope they all learn to forgive themselves.” “I hope they find connection and love.” And, “I hope they find a circle of trusting people who help them rebuild their lives like this one.”
Luna Garcia swipes through the photos on her phone until she finds it — the one of a young man with a slight mustache standing against a wall, his blue shirt neatly pressed, holding a chubby baby girl.
It’s the kind of picture someone might snap at a holiday dinner, a grainy image of a girl and her dad. But just out of the frame are armed guards and metal doors. It was visiting day at San Quentin State Prison.