June 26, 2014

The Craft of Organizing

by Samuel Lanier

Samuel Lanier '15.5 is a Theatre Arts and Performance Studies concentrator working with Partners for Providence Parks through the iProv Internship Program.

Yesterday I went to the “Wild Place.” Imagine a forsaken split of road in Northern Providence inundated with trash, heat, noise, and exhaust. Here, next to the Peter Pan bus station off of Cemetery Road, is the most improbable sight for urban renewal and beatification. 

As I step into the “Wild Place” a wave of tranquility flows through me. Inside the forest next to the highway is a grove of trees hosting an artfully arranged set of sculptures. Placards displaying Wendell Berry quotes and wisdom from local writers bedizen the trunks. A jocular brook babbles and laughs nearby. No one would guess that this used to be a trash site for Providence locals. 

The "Wild Place" and its caretaker, Diana, are just two examples of the fascinating people and places I get to visit and understand while interning this summer at the Partnership For Providence Parks. My job is to organize and implement a summer performance series to take place in six parks around Providence. 

That’s six Parks and three shows for each park. 

The task is daunting, but the gifts and privileges it provides me are innumerable. I have to meet with community leaders from all parts of the city and help them choose the types of events they want to have happen in their parks. This affords me the opportunity to meet neighborhood members and let them tell me what they know and love about where they live.  

My first week on the job, I biked to Smith Hill and went to a community leader’s back yard. He was having a barbecue with some high school students and together we decided to invite a local Laotian Dance Troupe to the park and Project 401, the famous hip-hop team. Later, I met a man named Doug in North Elmwood who explained to me how he had worked to turn a run down area into a neighborhood park and community garden. 

These are the types of powerful actors I get to meet who are reinventing the landscape of Providence outside the aegis of large commercial business.

I also come in contact with a bounty of local artists. Our organization only hires local performers, and I have talked with a diverse set of creative minds and makers. So far I have Burundian Drummers, the Providence Philharmonic, the Willbury Theatre Group, Raffiki the storyteller, and host of other musical and performative acts booked this summer in the parks across Providence. 

During my work, so far, I have come to appreciate how planning artistic events is a way of community organizing. Emailing folks, talking on the phone, haggling over dates and costs is in fact the meat of arts making, not ulterior to it. There's a kind of aesthetic sensibility required to make so many events happen and have so many people weigh in during the process. It’s a craft in itself. I am learning that craft this summer and I know it will be a skill set I will take with me through my entire life. 

I just feel lucky that I get learn from this fantastic city, and from my incredible boss Wendy along the way. 

Thank you iProv for this opportunity.  I’ve never gotten an education like this before.

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