Nourishing Artistic Roots

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A look into a project that feeds the creative soul of those suffering from chronic and complex conditions. 

Below a grey, San Francisco, summer sky on Wednesday, August 20, 2014, a group of staff from the Red Poppy Art House had the pleasure of sitting with Sasha Silveanu, the Director of Community Engagement at Anne Bluenthenthal and Dance (ABD). Drops from the sky trickled sporadically onto our heads, leaping from our hair and nourishing the wood around us. Silveanu sat upright like a ballerina and spoke to us about her work with Skywatchers.

Sywatchers is a site-specific entity that “meets the people where they’re at,” according to Silveanu, who has a background in Anthropology and Public Health. Skywatchers goes into places that build community relationships to nourish those relationships and people with art. The Community Housing Partnership, an entity that gives shelter and support to people suffering from addictions and homelessness in San Francisco, welcomes Skywatchers to have their weekly meetings in buildings like The Cambridge Hotel and The Senator Hotel.

Silveanu tells us that Skywatchers is all about radical inclusion, allowing people with all states of mind to enter and participate in their meeting circles; through such inclusion, Skywatchers hopes to bring a different form of being that is all about relationships instead of addictions and despair. “They engage in performance and storytelling techniques by director Anne Bluethenthal who ‘asks questions and illuminates peoples’ strengths,’ says Silveanu.”

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Skywatchers meets weekly and when themes arise during the weekly meetings, the meetings transform into a “rehearsal,” says Silveanu, and presentable projects emerge based on the different talents that are discovered or shared, such as poetry and percussion.   A project was once enacted in which sound engineers recorded interviews of community members and then professional dancers, from the Embodiment Project performed to the recordings. Additionally, there is a gallery space that holds the history of Skywatchers’ work, which has been presented in the The Luggae Store Gallery and the Tenderloin National Forest. “Residents were thrilled. They were mesmerized [about their work showcased in the gallery],” describes Silveanu, with a smile on her face, sharing that the gallery helped residents believe in the credibility of their work.

Speaking on behalf of the Skywatchers mission, Silveanu asks “How do we share our stories; How do we create spaces where people feel safe to tell their stories?”

There was an incident in which a woman stormed out of the group meeting and the facilitators of Skywatchers decided that it was more important to be present with those that had stayed in the room. It is always a difficult decision to make, and one that requires tuning into one’s intuition, explains Silveanu. Silveanu let us know that the choice proved to be a fruitful one, as the woman returned for the next Skywatchers meeting, bringing with her two family members.

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As Silveanu has come face to face with PhDs and once-touring jazz singers, she sees the weekly Skywatchers sessions as humanizing, helping her to realize that she could easily be in their place. What Skywatchers tries to do is encourage everyone to “look past the surface and work from a place of strength,” to get people to see each other as “who [they] are capable of becoming and who they once were,” not necessarily focusing on the difficulties of their current circumstances, insights Silveanu.

All photos were taken by Deidre Visser and more can be found via Anne Bluenthal’s Facebook page.

Skywatchers is made possible through the funding of SF Grants for the Arts,Hewlett Foundation, Walter and Elise Haas Fund Cultural Commons Program, Sam Mazza Foundations, SF Arts Commission and California Arts Council.

-Red Poppy Art House Writer, Aleksandra Bril