At the TIPS Event at Norton Village. (top left to right) Hakiere Parker, Natalie Lambert, Noah Mitchell, Joyce Parker and (bottom) Sade Moden 7/28/16 [Photo: Dan Napolitano]
At the recent Unite Rochester event at SOTA, I met several members of Art Force 5, as well the group’s mentor, Dan Napolitano, Director of Student activities at Alfred University. Earlier this year the group won a 5,000 grant in the Unite Rochester Challenge.I had read Dan’s reports on the group — Part-Muslim, Part-Gay; Art Force 5 finds a way. and The easiest difficult conversation — and readily accepted his offer to join Art Force 5 last week as they crisscrossed Rochester. The eight member Force are Alfred University students, six of whom graduated from the RCSD. I watched — and added my own tile — as the Force built one of nine mobile community mosaics, each mosaic requiring 361 residents to paint one simple 2” tile as a contribution to the bigger picture illustrating a community issue.
And — as importantly — individual members partnered with police officers, walking around neighborhoods connecting with residents.
First, we had a breakfast meeting at the South Wedge Diner with film director Kate Kressmann-Kehoe who plans to include the group in a documentary on community policing.From there we moved to 213 Orange Street where the team shared their vision with Habitat of Humanity and Women Build volunteers.
As much of the AF5’s work promotes existing resources and agencies, communication is critical. Each member spends three days per week interning at agencies such as Center for Youth, Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, Jordan Health, the Grants Office, and the city’s Finance Office and Youth and Recreation Services. The remaining two weekdays are outreach days.At the Project TIPS Event at Norton Village, we added more tiles as the AF5 members and officers canvassed the neighborhood collecting surveys about police relations.
The walk arounds — listening and spreading the message about creative conflict resolution — is where it gets real for the Force. As Dan says, there are no scripts or talking points.
Finally, it was time to Party in the Park downtown. The Force did most of the heavy art lifting while I tried my hand at bocce ball.
By sunset, the Force was tired but also feeling rewarded by the positive responses. Hakiere Parker, a Wilson Magnet IB grad, had run into some old high school friends, sharing what they were doing with themselves and for their community.
Over the course of the day, I learned that Art Force 5 is an extension of work done by Dan and others at Alfred’s Drawn to Diversity Program, including the course taught by Dan, Social Justice Meets Art Therapy.
In recent years, in Indianapolis the program created a mosaic tribute to Madame CJ Walker. In response to racial slurs on the Oklahoma University campus, the program made a mosaic at a national diversity conference. And built a civil rights mosaic at Notre Dame University.
As Dan explained, the program is based on social science research showing creative activity can serve as a productive outlet for sometimes destructive emotions. The program is similar to the Non-Violent Clubs supported by the Gandhi Institute that incorporate music and art.
As Dan say, fundamentally, the program is more about process than the final product. It’s not so much the finished mosaic that matters, but the dialogue generated as a collective creation. For each tile painted and glued to the mosaic, people interacted with probably a dozen others hanging out at the mural tables. In the course of the day, the Force met hundreds of Rochestarians.
Dan also says of Art Force 5: We are not the remedy — we are the reflection. Art Force alone can not unite Rochester. The Force cannot build integrated affordable housing or form a county wide school system. But artistic activity can promote social change.
In yesterday’s New York Times, How Artists Change The World, David Brooks looks at how Frederick Douglass used photographic portraits of himself to “take contemporary stereotypes of African-Americans — that they are unlettered, comic and dependent — and turn them upside down.” Douglass had what Brooks’ calls the artists’ ability to “recode the mental maps people project into the world.”
In the case of Art Force, perhaps it helps unite Rochester imaginatively. Not simplistically seeing unification where it is not, but imagining — retraining, coding mental maps — where it can be.
As I watched the Alfred students march into the neighborhood wearing their Art Force 5 shirts, I also sensed the spirit of the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s and early 40s.
As we saw in the “Art for the People” exhibit at the MAG, artists and artisans brought art directly to the people, for examples, in Charlotte High’s murals and the architectural wonders of the steps around the waterfalls at Stonybrook State Park. (The 2015 Wilson Student Mural Project is art force in action.)
The test of that spirit will be how sustainable is Art Force 5. The group plans to visit schools in the Fall and reconvene next summer. Hopefully, people in those cool black shirts will be doling out tiles for years to come.