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Art must do something: Authoring Action! builds a dialogue for greater community understanding

by Keith Barber

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Nathan Ross Freeman (second from left), artistic director of Authoring Action!, reviews the work of students in the creative writing program during a work session on the campus of Salem College on Nov. 3. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

Seated at the far end of a long rectangular table on the first floor of the refectory on the campus of Salem College, Nathan Ross Freeman listened with intense interest as 13 students shared their personal definitions of “manifesto.” Bruce Zhang, a freshman at Mt. Tabor High School, said a manifesto is saying, “I exist.”

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“How does that apply to Winston-Salem?” Freeman asked. Zhang replied that a manifesto can express what Winston-Salem is and what its legacy will be.

“I think a manifesto is something that would come to you when you’re in a time of need,” said Nicole Norton, an 8th grader at Mineral Springs Middle School.

David Zhu said a manifesto is a declaration that “I am here.” A manifesto can also be a solution to a problem. Freeman, the artistic director of Authoring Action!, gave credit to another student in the creative writing program who found an alternate interpretation of solution.

“We talked about solution in terms of there being a conflict that needs a solution or a challenge that needs resolution, but Maurice [Shivers] brought up that a solution as a matter of chemistry is a mixture of different ingredients, so solution doesn’t always necessarily have to be ascribed to a problem or challenge — something that needs to be fixed,” Freeman said. “We can also ascribe solution whereby manifesto is a solution where we observe the many diverse ingredients. It could be a very wonderful and positive observation that if we look at all the diverse elements in our community and grind them up in a particular way, what a powerful place we have.”

The exchange between Freeman and the students involved in the Authoring Action! program on Nov. 3 offered a brief glimpse into the creative process that will ultimately evolve into a work of public art in downtown Winston-Salem.

Lynn Rhoades, the co-founder and executive director of Authoring Action!, wrote the grant that allowed for local artist Jan Detter to work with the students in the program. Brooke Smith, a member of Authoring Action’s board of directors, is credited with coming up with the idea of a “word wall” as a way for students, a local artist and the community to collaborate on a public art installation.

“It’s a project that has several components to it — Jan will work with the youth to do the visual component, and then there’s the installation of the tiles,” Rhoades said. “We’ll also be working in collaboration with StoryLine.”

Launched 18 months ago by the ECHO Network, StoryLine was created to help build connections and relationships in the Winston-Salem community through the art of storytelling. Students will get the opportunity to share their personal stories, which will be broadcast in three to four-minute segments on several local radio stations.

When Detter and the Authoring Action students finish their work it will hang at Breakfast Of Course on Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem.

Rhoades said the word wall will be a mosaic of found objects with letters stenciled on top of the art. The letters will come together to form words, and the words will create a community manifesto authored by the students.

“It’s not only a public art piece, but it’s a public art piece done by youth in collaboration with local artists so it celebrates not only our young people and their vision for the community but it also celebrates all the wonderful artists that we have right here,” Rhoades said.

The writing process for the Authoring Action! ensemble members began last summer. Over the course of five weeks, Freeman guided students through the process of creating a manifesto.

“The first day, we focused on stream of consciousness,” Freeman explained. “The second day was introspective: Who am I as a person inside the community? On the third day, we asked, ‘Who am I as a part of the community?’ On the fourth day, we asked, ‘What do I want for the community?’” Then students composed a third piece where they wrote to assignment wherein the last part of their pieces had to deal with resolution or a piece that would observe and tie everything together to promote human development or produce change, Freeman said.

Once the students have completed their assignment, Rhoades and her selection committee will decide what goes up on the word wall.

“Hopefully, this will create a dialogue for greater community understanding,” Rhoades said.

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