Sunday, March 23, 2014

Community Art = valuable lesson!!!

What happens when you leave a giant 4‘x6’ blank canvas in downtown Portland, in front of a busy convention center, with tubs of paints, brushes, and the words, “Paint Me” written all around in sidewalk chalk?  

An valuable lesson for a compulsive instigator, that’s what happens :).

This little art project is an example of something I like to call a ‘social shenanigan’.  Which is (by my own definition): 

Social shenanigan:  (sō′shəl) (shə-năn′ĭ-gən)

A high-spirited, quasi-organized, multi-faceted interaction with the public: To provoke creativity, thoughts or actions, to spread cheer, knowledge and happiness, and to lift individual spirits, all while studying and learning from the arbitrary results of physical, emotional or intellectual engagement. 

Basically, to learn via fun :). 

I first realized the massive possibilities of these social shenanigans by accident, when I started selling my hats. It was an amazingly awesome day in Chico, CA, with nothing pressing to do, that I decided to make some For Sale signs on cardboard boxes with my always handy sharpie set. I sat on the side of the road with them, no expectations.

(Side story: I bought 200 awesome wool animal hats in Nepal in 2012, a way too make a few extra bucks... I still have 80 left for sale! Check them out here ;).

What resulted was this fantastic opportunity to see how people interact, react, or engage; to get an inside taste of what it feels like to be judged; to see indirectly into the fears of strangers. It was an excellent experience in learning and psychology and empathy that has led me to constantly be seeking out, and now creating, these hands-on learning opportunities.

Learning is not just my hobby, it is a daily necessity. Of course books and classes and workshops and such are great, but it’s the unplanned and the unexpected lessons that happen thru adventures (and the misadventures!) that really connect with me….

Okay, now back to the canvas!!!! :)

Last week, my friends Bree-Anna and Jo were here visiting, helping to make a Bloom Woods promo video. Social interactions were of course a must (as they are a big part of the business plan). We planned to take and wear our "Truth and Dare" outfits to Portland, with not much but a "lets see what happens" attitude. Then one of the girls suggested the giant blank canvas (you might recognize it from this video). It's been hanging in my room for over three months now, waiting patiently for me to paint it.

Thus, the awesome idea was born! Hellllooo community art project!!  :)

We found that the Oregon Convention Center in Portland was hosting a myriad of events on Saturday the 15th, and that 10’s of thousands were expected. Perfect.

We took our supplies and open-minded attitudes, and set up right in front (with security permission).  We donned our Truth and Dare interactive costumes to spice it up even more.  

It started out rocky. First off, there was a shit ton of kids.  This is not a bad thing, we of course went with the flow, but my favorite subject to study is adults, and how they tend to lose, or deeply bury, their inner kid, essentially stifling joy along with it.  

The kids were great, they were all in. They wanted to paint, they wanted to play Dare, they wanted to play Truth. They went and told their friends and they all wanted to play too.  Awesome. 

It turned out one of the conventions was a church camp for teenagers, which is why there were so many. Many of them liked to express their faith on the canvas, which resulted in some awkwardness for us let’s just say I’m glad the canvas became abstract and has many layers :)

The next hour or so, we kept on our outfits and asked all those passing by if they wanted to paint.  “Just a swipe of the brush” we’d say, “a small mark to add to the art”!

“I can’t, I have to go register”
“I have to get to my meeting”
“I don’t have time”
“Maybe when I pass back by”

Then we took our costumes off and kept asked. Dozens and dozens passed by, only a few engaged.

Then, Bree-Anna had a brilliant idea. “Let’s just leave it,” she says, “and see what happens.” 
We used our sidewalk chalk to make arrows and wrote “Paint me” on all sides of the canvas.  Then we ‘hid’ :0).

Before I tell you what happened, I’ll preface by saying I LOVEEE to start things. It’s a giant part of me, to try and get people involved, engaged, contemplating, questioning, curious, active… being as alive as possible!  From early on, it was natural for me to start (and try to include people in) games, competitions, challenges, projects, ideas. I've always been the instigator.

SO, what happened when we left??

Within the first ten minutes almost everyone who noticed it, painted! At least a mark or a small stroke, one guy even used his toe :). The next half hour had around 75% of the passerbyer’s stopped!! It was quite incredible really, revealing that our presence was actually a detriment to our intended outcome!!!!! A serious eye-opening revelation for me, that: 

Instigation can be as simple as handing someone a match. Let them spark the flame themselves. 

Or in this case, a brush!  WHOA!!! YESSSS!!! This is so awesome!! I KNEW this in a conversational sense (in life coaching we learn you can never give someone an answer, only guide them to find it themselves).  I knew this in a philosophical sense (that people can only change if they want to, are ready to, feel safe to). I knew this in all sorts of senses (my business plan is all about exposure, opening-eyes, introduction).  What I didn’t know is that it translated into seemingly harmless, FUN STUFF as well.  What's the harm in doing something a little joyous, a little different, to add a little special something in an otherwise normal day? 

From what we witnessed, most people do want to add that fun element, but wariness is the first default. They don’t want to be pressured or persuaded, at all. Despite our every intention for it to be a loving, safe, positive thing, people were skeptical. Maybe they worried they might be judged? They might not be creative enough? They might not do it ‘right’?

It's a bummer we can't wear our intentions like a outfit. I wish I could actually, which is probably why I am compulsively self-revealing :). I know that I will never intentionally hurt anyone. I know I will never make fun, never roll my eyes, never tease or taunt... but strangers don’t know that about me. Despite my efforts to radiate the benevolent intentions out of my body,  it doesn’t seem to work ;). 

So until the BloomWoods can have a location and a reputation (emanating safety, comfort, love, and support in attitude as well as in space and atmosphere)  I've got to play by the majority rules, which this shenanigan showed me clearly, is to back off. 

I was shocked really to see how allowing people the opportunity to approach freely, see for themselves, decide without any pressure- was enough leeway to get them to engage.  3x more engaged!

Discussing it afterwards, Bree-Anna had a wonderful analysis:

That because I know ‘the reward,’ (i.e. what it feels like to be so blissed out),  I want to pull everyone along with me. She was soooo spot on!  I am so so so very happy and I do want everyone else to have that too!  Finding the balance between standing back and guiding someone out of their comfort zone will forever be my teeter-totter. 

In fact, that's one of my larger, perpetual struggles:  finding the balance of my 49% extrovert side and my 51% introvert side. No one ever believes me, but I love to be alone. I love to be quiet. I love to be calm, but some unique switch in me becomes a bouncing chatter box the moment another body is around. When I lived at the ashram, we did a stint of ‘silent breakfasts’ where there was no speaking allowed until say 10am.... it was AWESOMEEEE! So, I think this little art experiment was telling me it’s okay to back off. It’s good to back off. 

Thank goodness :) 

Instigating is def part of my being, and I’m still trying to find the right means through which to act upon this need.  This blog has been a phenomenal outlet for me. Thank you, for coming along and sharing in my journey of endless self-discovery.

Stay tuned for more Social Shenaniganssss to come, for SURE!  (and feel free to pass along any ideas!)

The final product, awesome. It matches my shirt :)

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