Art and Social Change: The InterPlay Way by Tara Connoly

by Cynthia Winton-Henry

What does art matter when people on other continents–and in my hometown–are starving? I stumbled my way around, fumbled my way through, fidgeted and sputtered about this question for some time.


Now I’ve come to believe this is a false question. California will do that to you, I guess.

I had the very fortunate opportunity recently to participate in the NextGen Art and Social Change Residency with InterPlay, a collection of creative people all around the world who dance, tell stories and sing to reach a new level of understanding and communion with ourselves and others.

I gathered with a group of next generation (“now generation” as Rosetta Thurman prefers) artists and activists to dance, wander, tell stories and share at InterPlayce in Oakland. By dance, I do mean generally throw myself around breathlessly in a more flustered way, if you can believe it, than the boundless dancing to Thriller blaring on Youtube done in the privacy of my home.

Of many, many beautiful moments of sharing, connection and insight during the residency, one of my favorite things about this time was that the relation between art and social chance was never directly addressed. It was merely experienced.

Yes, the notes scrawled in my notebook address the relation between art and social change. In passing, we discussed Johanna Macy’s three manners of social change: holding action, shifting consciousness and creating new structures. Art does not prevent starvation, but art is an incredibly powerful consciousness-shifting process by which people can access deeper wells of compassion and authority to address social change concerns. I believe that art is a process, an interaction, rather than a static thing.

InterPlay Co-founder Phil Porter so beautifully defines art as an exchange of grace (read more in my post here). In dancing, in telling our stories, in singing our songs, we are making an offering. Though not an offering of food or physical nourishment, it is an offering of grace and sharing to others.

Within the InterPlay community, we invoke ease, joy, laughter; we share pain and love, we hold separation and collision, we dance through it with others who are dancing through it.

Take your mind out every now and then and dance on it. – Mark Twain

In sharing our story, we participate in the exchange of grace — and therefore we also cultivate it within ourselves. Claiming, crafting and sharing our story is a profoundly transformative process.

This is radical in a world in which grace and the whispers of the soul are considered inconsequential, where we are asked to sacrifice every waking moment to getting ahead. We need to overwork so that our job is secure, then we need the raise so we can get the car so we can get the spouse so we can get the house so we can get the stocks so we can build the 401K.

How enlivening to take a deep breath, to play and be silly, to show up and dance our story with others.

Two months after this enlivening experience at the Art and Social Change Residency, I have a Melanie Chopko print hanging in my living room, my left big toenail remains painted partially green, flecked with emerald sparkles, I hold incredibly dear the days I spent with these gifted and generous friends from all over the world, who danced with me as I danced through this question of art and social change, as I danced and played and fumbled with questions and sought my voice.

I apologize, this is an InterPlay insider-thing

As Alison Luterman, an InterPlayer and Poet I was fortunate enough to meet in Oakland, wrote in her poem, “Little True Poem,” in See How We Almost Fly,

we inherit our stories,

but choose how to tell them.

In choosing to tell our stories and how to tell them, we might well be changing our own lives, the lives of others, and therefore, changing the world.

I’m happy to say that InterPlay Co-founder Phil Porter is in Raleigh this week for Million Connections Week-Raleigh! Check out the exciting list of opportunities for you to experience InterPlay for yourself and stay tuned for round two at the conclusion of Million Connections Week.

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