Thursday, March 15, 2012

AWP Panel Presentation: Valerie Martinez of Littleglobe

Continuing with the sharing of our presentations and materials from our AWP 2012 panel presentation, Will Write for Food: Writers Working Outside Academia
, (blog label 'AWP Panel Will Write for Food') today’s post is from Valerie Martinez.

Valerie Martínez is a poet, translator, teacher, playwright, librettist, and collaborative artist.  Her award-winning books include Absence, Luminescent, World to World, A Flock of Scarlet Doves, Each and Her, And They Called It Horizon  and This is How It Began. Her most recent book, Each and Her (winner of the 2012 Arizona Book Award), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Open Book Award, the Ron Ridenhour Prize, the William Carlos Williams Award among others.  Her work has been widely published in journals, magazines, anthologies and media outlets including The Best American Poetry, the Washington Post, and the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Everywhere series. Valerie has more than twenty years of experience as a university professor.  For over seventeen years, she has also worked with children, young adults, adults, teachers, and seniors in a wide range of community outreach and educational programs.  She left academia in 2009 and is currently the Executive Director of Littleglobe, Inc., a non-profit collaborative of artists who create significant works of art & performance with underserved communities. Valerie has a B.A. from Vassar College and an MFA from the University of Arizona.  She was the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico for 2008-2010. 

Memorylines from Littleglobe

Out of Academia
by Valerie Martinez

            In 2009, after twenty-two years of teaching at the college level, after finally staying somewhere long enough to apply for and receive tenure and promotion, after being approved for my first sabbatical , the College of Santa Fe, where I had taught since 2003, closed its doors.  Staff and faculty lost their jobs.  Students lost their college. 

            This was traumatic for everyone involved.  It was particularly devastating for faculty members who had established their homes and families in Santa Fe—the academic job market was, well, like it is now.  Some faculty members ended up teaching in local or regional high schools, scraping together just enough to support their families.  Students had to find a new place to finish their degrees; many dropped out of college for awhile.  For me it was a blessing in disguise.  I had just taken a semester of unpaid leave, to complete a large families project as Poet Laureate for the City of Santa Fe, and over the previous fifteen years I had done more and more creative work in the community.  Two years earlier, I began working with a non-profit artists collaborative, Littleglobe, which makes significant works of art and performance with diverse and largely underserved communities.  I didn’t know it, but I was leaving academia very slowly and very gradually for some time.  The year 2009 just pushed me the last step forward, and I will never go back.

Littleglobe video
            Our work at Littleglobe is rooted in the following core principles:

·     -  We believe in the transformative power of heartfelt, human connection.
·     - We believe in creating safe, inclusive spaces where sharing, witnessing and compassion are paramount.
·     -  We believe in the inherent wisdom, knowledge and capacity of communities that emerges from creative engagement.
·     -  We believe that collaborative art-making deepens human connection, grows relationships, and creates lasting community change.
·      - We believe that artistic rigor honors community work and that artists and communities, working together, are able to create significant works of art.

            At Littleglobe, the center of our creative practice is witnessing.  In order for people and places to reveal themselves, in order to be shaped by the land and its people, we must be receptive, open and humble.  Complex communities (like those in the Southwest U.S. where I live) hold immense knowledge and considerable resources, necessitated and nurtured by hundreds of years of interaction and exchange—sometimes violent, sometimes compassionate, always complicated.  It is only in witnessing and cultivating witnessing that we begin to make space for community knowledge that is the wellspring of social change—that is, we make space for communities to speak their voices.

            For over ten years, Littleglobe artists have been working collaboratively with elders, families, youth, adults and elders in the creation of significant works of art, performance and collaboration.  For the last four years, this work has been primarily with southwest communities (though we have worked elsewhere in the nation and overseas).  Over a period of many months, Littleglobe artists work with members of communities who would not usually share the same space.  These “community ensembles” are gifted with deep connections to culture, land and history while struggling with illness, estrangement, institutionalization, historical trauma, discrimination and/or other challenges.  Again and again, we have seen these ensembles emerge from creative engagement with a new sense of both individual and community capacity. 

            Littleglobe’s approach to community work resists the service or “helping” model of artists “teaching” in communities.  Instead, we find that collaboration is much more honest and generative.  We know that there is great wisdom and creative practice inherent in communities (history offers endless examples) no matter how much they are struggling, and that reconnecting to these forms of knowledge as well as nurturing new capacities is the key to “community development.”

          What Littleglobe artists bring to the collaboration are what we call “relational creative practices” that encourage the emergence of personal and communal stories and perspectives.  During our large community projects, we work with a community for many months—once- or twice-weekly sessions where we eat together and engage in a wide range of creative exercises—movement, writing, music, visual art and more.  With time, these creative “expressions”  generate works of art and performance that reflect issues at the heart of community.  At the same time, the ensemble—individuals and the whole--experience a powerful sense of ownership, identity and self-determination. 

            After the first phase of the project (which includes the collaborative production of a work of art and/or performance), Littleglobe and its partners continue to work with members of the community to facilitate continuing work in the community.  After the art/installation/ performance the community feels a powerful sense of connection and agency, ready and able to move forward with projects that the community imagines, builds and makes together. 

            In addition to my work on these large projects (which has me facilitating all sorts of poetry and writing exercises, co-writing librettos for operas,  scripts for performances, and collaborating with dancers, visual artists, composers and others), my work with Littleglobe  has in other ways expanded my life as a writer immensely.  Collaborating with other artists (especially as intensely as it happens with sustained community work—we spend a lot of time on the road together, on-site together) means a lot of time hatching up other creative projects.   It also means the same kind of connection, friendship and bonding that we see in the communities we work with.  Art, creativity,  collaboration forges lasting bonds between us—it’s a community I much more rarely experienced in academia.

Since I left academia, I scramble much harder to approach the salary that I made as a university professor.  It’s important to say this.  I juggle the directorship of a non-profit with 4 or 5 creative projects.  I spend more time away from home and on the road. It’s more difficult to find time for myself.  This is the truth of it.  Even so, since I left academia, I’ve published two books of poetry, two books about community engagement work, numerous essays, and done as many book readings, workshops and panels as I did while an academic.  I’ve also written lyrics for musical scores, performed the stories of returning women war vets, created a film and performance festival with three rural communities, collaborated with city residents on an opera that takes place on a city bus, and worked with over 300 skilled and inspiring members of communities.  They have taught me, guided me, nurtured my creative evolution and deepened my role as a member of society.  It’s the life I’ve always wanted to lead as a writer and artist.

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