The Beautiful Table
The sessions, called Drawing From the Centre, were framed as an affirmation of the quiet voice in the centre of us all, a rare opportunity to listen to that voice, and an invitation to express what had been heard.
A NOTE ABOUT VULNERABILITY
The powerful socially levelling effect that comes with all participants being equally unfamiliar, and to some extent uncomfortable with, visual creative expression was an intended and desired outcome. Job titles, roles, positions, labels fall away as familiar capacities and competencies lose relevance.
While mutual vulnerability facilitates this levelling effect, the vulnerability must be sensitively managed. Participants feeling outright unsafe will shut down reflection and expression, the opposite of what is desired. The balance between vulnerability and safety was particularly delicate in the context of the café. Participants who were educated, employed professionals, and thus choose to step into vulnerability, were participating alongside street involved folks whose day to day lives are marked by chronic and constant vulnerability.
Our hope was that people be given the opportunity to interact as people,
rather than through pre-constructed identities and expectations.
Each of the following components was aimed at giving permission for and honouring participants vulnerable expression, while guiding them safely toward an empowering experience of that expression.
Participants first moved to an area of the room in which was presented a work of art by a local artist. They were asked, “What colours and shapes do you see? How does it make you feel? How do you respond?” Participants were invited to write down words and phrases on sticky notes as they came to mind and to place the notes on the wall near the painting. Emphasis was placed on there being no right or wrong answer. We weren’t interested whether you liked it or not, or if you thought it was good or bad. We were interested in how you responded to the work. As a group we reviewed the the notes, reading them aloud. The facilitator chose a few notes, asking for a brief explanation of what was written.
We then moved to a separate area of the room where the facilitator gave a brief demonstration of the materials used. Emphasis was placed on the tactile nature of drawing with chalk pastels. A few ground rules were established
Ground Rules: the paradoxical power of constraints
Participants then moved to one of several tables arranged with materials. They were invited to fill in a worksheet, which reiterated that week’s theme and asked a couple of general questions about the theme. Writing tended to get the participants thinking about the theme in familiar way which then eased the transition into the usually less familiar and more vulnerable practice of drawing. Affirmations as to the vulnerable nature of the activity as well as permission to enter into the activity were frequently reiterated. Acknowledging everyone is in the same boat helped ease anxiety.
Participants had 30-40 minutes to draw. This ample amount of time allowed for sticking with a drawing. Apart from a half time and 5 minutes left reminder, this time passed in silence.
As participants finished their drawings, organizers asked for final confirmation that the drawing was indeed finished and then invited the artists to sign their work. Once signed, the work was documented, framed and returned to the artist at their table. Signing their work helps participants to internally own their expression. Framing the work is another facet of honouring people’s creative expression. Once framed the work is elevated and special. It is more easily received as art.
Lastly each table of four participants gathered around their framed and signed artwork. Commenting, discussing and sharing was a simple matter of following the process modelled at the beginning of the session. A participant-facilitator guided each table of four through the group reflection.
Group Reflection: the magic sauce
A NOTE ABOUT GROUP REFLECTION
While commenting on each other’s work, participants were reminded to not comment on what they liked or didn’t like, or what they thought was good or bad.
Participants were reminded to record their personal response, reiterating the notion of no right or wrong answers, the natural expectation of diverse responses, and of a diversity of perspectives being of value and interest. This reminder served the dual purpose of guiding participants toward giving comments of non-judgement, while at the same time reassuring that they would be receiving comments of non-judgement.
Participant-facilitators were instructed to first read through all the comments related to one work. Simply looking at and hearing the words read aloud provides space for reflection.
For the artists whose work is being discussed, the diversity of perspectives serves to provide clarity and often surprising insight into one’s own thought process.
The final step of standing, taking ownership of one’s signed and framed creative expression can be quietly transformational.
The faith-based food sector is largely the outworking of legacy command and control organizational systems. These systems, Modernist and mechanistic in their outlook, tend to emphasize quantitative metrics—e.g. cost effectiveness, efficiency—which can have, despite best intentions, a dehumanizing effect on the people it hopes to serve.
Arms length charitable food systems concerned with qualitative metrics tend to uphold entrenched us/them social patterns: i.e, those doing the helping are better than, above, superior to those being helped; those being helped are less than, below, inferior to those doing the helping. The social patterns and belief systems upholding these delineations are subtle and for the most part unoticed.
In order to disrupt these subtle and tacit patterns, cafe stakeholders sensed new capacities were required by the community as a whole. Further, there was an emerging sense that these new capacities could be nurtured by an engagement with beauty and meaning, in alignment with the Cathedral’s established commitment to visual and performing arts.