Category Archives: facilitation

Everything is art

quote-the-arts-it-has-been-said-cannot-change-the-world-but-they-may-change-human-beings-who-maxine-greene-93-20-31I spent two years in art school, doing little else but make art.  When I graduated they invited me to apply for a place in a new diploma program where I could focus on nothing but print-making, with access to a studio and supplies and assistance for larger projects.  I made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pieces.  I rented a small studio in a building full of artists and in the common space where we made tea and took breaks we had great conversations about things like the techniques used by Japanese masters in watercolor woodblock prints, and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s use of pop drug culture and the idea of framing ontology in classical painting.  I got a job as an art history research assistant with responsibilities for editing visuals in a classy academic journal and they sent me to New York and Toronto to do things with architecture and check out galleries.  It was a heady transition for a kid from the farmlands and I never thought I’d do anything else.

Aaron Monet Waterlilies May 2018

May 2018, celebrating my 61st birthday with Monet’s Waterlilies at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

However, not long after that I received the tiniest inheritance, a few hundred dollars – it seemed like so much money at the time – and when I was reflecting and meditating on what to do with it, it came to me that I needed to have my feet on the ground and my hands in the earth.  So I moved out of the city and rented a tiny house with a tiny garden and got a largeish dog.  I applied for and got accepted into a university education program to teach art in schools, but it got shut down the week I began so I transferred into English and Classics.  I studied all day, all week, and at night I cleaned offices and on the weekends I silk-screened logs onto bathing caps.  And, one day, when I was having lunch with an art school friend, and she said, “It’s such a shame you’re not making art.”  That hadn’t occurred to me.  Was I even missing it?  Not that I’d noticed.

I went home and was weeding the garden and looked around at the flowers, herbs and vegetables and at my hands covered in earth and everything moving in the slight breeze and thought, “I think this, too, is art.”  And then the neighbour lady, who was a drug addict, came over to ask if she could have some flowers to take to her sister, who was also a drug addict, and had been beaten up and raped in the downtown east side and was now in the hospital recovering.  “I just love your flowers, I look at them all the time.”  I picked poppies that I grew because Monet did, and roses from a bush that Vita Sackville-West wrote about and sunflowers that van Gogh had loved…  you get the idea.  It was a garden built on art.  When I laid the bouquet into her arms, the rose thorns scratched her and I said, “Oh, I’m sorry!” and she laughed and said, “No harm done!  My sister will love these flowers.  I bet no one has ever brought her flowers before.”  And I looked at her arms, pocked with needle marks, now scratched and bleeding a little, and I thought, this too, is art.

graphic recording moving into my self 2018-06-30As I come to the end of one career after thirty years in social services and supports to people with disabilities, and vibrate in a whole new and exciting way in a new career teaching college students, I think, “this, too, is art.”  Everything is art.  I have somehow, after so many years, started using art in research and facilitation so that now I spend hours making art, with all kinds of partners and all kinds of colleagues, bringing everything I’ve learned into one package.  Some graphic recorders differentiate between their “art-making” and their graphic recording.  I don’t.  The recording of free ranging conversations with large groups of people and the clarification of the directions people want to go in to create a future that I am able to help them picture, is art.

I am preparing to teach a class in policy development and Indigenous experiences through a lens of truth and reconciliation.  That, too, is art.  I will begin with the metaphor of fire: policy is fire.  It can warm us and make us safe, and if we let it get out of control it can force us to flee in unwanted directions.  We can cook with it, we can get burned by it.  We can learn how to use it.  The most useful manifestos in my life have been those that were written by artists.  I think I will begin our class with some drawing…

Best wishes to a New Year, 2019, full of all kinds of art that you care about.

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How to have better meetings – Sam Bradd’s 2018 round-up…

We are lucky to have Sam Bradd among us here on the coast.  He sets the bar for those who work in alternative, serious ways, and is a tireless, compassionate, generative friend and colleague to a whole community.   After years of wanting to, I finally got a chance to work with him, as I facilitated a small group in planning and he handled the graphics…  it was one of the best dances I’ve been part of.  I’ll post the graphics one day.  He’s one of the people I could work with all the time.  Sam has collected a host of great graphic recorders and facilitators and you can see his work and meet them on his site, Drawing Change.  

For the last couple of years, Sam has put together really fun and interesting collections of ideas from his network of facilitators and graphic process workers (including me).  This year’s prompt was “In 2019, we wish more meetings would…”   Click the image below to see some great ideas.  Can you guess which one is mine from the graphic?  Do you have other ideas about how to have better meetings?  What might a better meeting look like for you?

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Download My Chapter from Drawn Together in Visual Practice

aaronpathbooklaunch2I had a great time yesterday at the Vancouver book launch of the new anthology, Drawn Together Through Visual Practice, edited by Brandy Agerbeck, Kelvy Bird, Sam Bradd and Jennifer Shepherd.   You can download my chapter below.   I’m really pleased with it – these were great anthologists and editors to work with and I’d jump at a chance to be part of something like this again with the same folks (whereas most of these publishing experiences don’t end with me wanting to repeat the experience!).

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Stina Brown also wrote a great chapter and was MC for the event (check our her blog and an upcoming training in visual practices that she’s doing); you can find out more about the really amazing Sam Bradd on his blog “Drawing Change“;  Aftab Erfan wrote a chapter on her practices in Deep Democracy facilitation work and gave a great introduction to some of those ideas.    Our short presentations were amazingly recorded by two of Vancouver’s finest visual practitioners, Avril Orloff and Corrina Keeling.

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The information was great, the vibe was cool at the Galerie Gachet, and the book is lovely but really it was just like a terrific party of people moving forward towards a more wonderful world.   I was exhausted after a really busy week and it was just what I needed 🙂

pathpresentationgraphicMy chapter, “Sensemaking through Arts-Infused, Person-Centered Planning Processes,” is about PATH.  I used this graphic in my talk, which focused on an idea we worked with David and Faye Wetherow to learn with groups of B.C. families – that person centered planning events are an opportunity for invitation to all kinds of folks who will add all kinds of ideas.   The unicorn in the graphic represents the idea that, always, if we focus on this idea of invitation someone will show up with a magical idea that you’d never have thought of before and, “magic happens.”

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Below are links to my chapter, and to the handout (a little foldable PATH-ezine that you can print and turn into a tiny booklet) that I used.  You can learn more about the book and how to get a copy on the site (subscribe for updates!) and there is also a Facebook page.  In Canada, check it out on amazon.ca (just released: a Kindle version).

Chapter: drawn_together_johannes

PATH ezine (feel free to print and distribute):

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Please feel free to forward this!   Contact me imagineacircle@gmail.com for permission to republish or if you’d like to talk co-creation for your events, projects or research.

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