Hello dear New Urban Arts fans, friends and family! This is Sarah Greenfield, one of the mentors for this year’s Summer Art Inquiry on the theme “placemaking.” Our program ended last Thursday with a final critique of students’ individual projects—if you want to see them (and you really do), keep your eyes peeled for the invite to our show in October!
Many of their independent projects were inspired by a field trip we took the first week, a visit to a collective living art studio in Providence constructed entirely out of found and recycled materials called “Witch Club.” I’d never seen anything like it, and I’m pretty sure neither had any of the Inquiry students.
As the students looked around, eyes getting wider and smiles getting bigger every second, we realized what a gift we’d been given—access to a secret and magical place. We created some gift art in advance as a thank you to WC for inviting us into their home, and one of the first things I saw as I walked in the door was one of our students handing a bouquet of painted paper flowers to a WC member.
The WC members led us past rooms constructed from discarded wood and fabric, boxes full of art supplies, musical instruments, makeshift furniture, and projects-in-progress, to the center of their community space. There, they offered us tea and homemade fritters, and after we’d all introduced ourselves, WC explained the history and intentions of the space and answered questions.
The conversation we had then—about the power of creating your own home; about people (particularly people socialized female in this culture) reclaiming the act of building, and teaching themselves the skills of carpentry and other traditionally male-centered forms of construction; about the benefits and drawbacks of living in ways that are considered outside the norm; about how hard it is to share space and how beautiful it can be to welcome people in; about making art every day; about not giving up on the dreams you had for your life when you were too young to “know better”—was a conversation I will never forget.
The diversity of age, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender, and general life experience in all the members of that conversation created a rare cultural exchange. This kind of learning, where knowledge is constructed through community conversation, rather than passed from teacher to student, is at the core of New Urban Arts’ philosophy. To see it blossom in another space, with members of the NUA family as well as new friends, was a powerful experience.
Our visit ended with an impromptu jam session and dancing. Other students were drawn to a huge “free bin” of clothes and random items, and had a great time creating new outfits. When it came time to leave, both the Art Inquiry and the Witch Club were sad to say goodbye. We invited them to come visit us at the studio (which several of them did at our final critique), and to come to our show in October. They gave us their new P.O. box address, and we promised to write.
Our journey to Witch Club became more than just a field trip—it created new relationships, and heavily influenced some students’ final projects. Several female students were inspired to tackle carpentry and large-scale construction, and for another student, the visit to the space caused a reflection on the idea of home and welcoming that he developed into a silkscreen project. I’d like to thank Emmy Bright for suggesting the trip, my co-mentor Victoria for arranging it, Kedrin Frias and Elizabeth Keith for accompanying us, and most of all the members of Witch Club for their hospitality and ongoing support of New Urban Arts.