Friday Favorites Blogroll: Works Progress
Ever have that experience of working on a project, or with a group where the thought occurs to you: “If this had not happened ‘naturally,’ someone would have had to invent it.” That’s how it is with Works Progress, the Twin Cities-based arts and community development group: if they didn’t exist already, someone would have to invent them.
What’s to “invent,” you may ask? A decentered, nonheirarchical approach to community engagement that provides energy, ideas, a “safe place” to try new things that bring people together, all embodied in two people and a shifting cast of characters working to make the region a more livable place for all of us.
OK, that needs unpacking. Works Progress, the husband and wife team of Colin Kloecker and Shanai Matteson, does not have the “official authority” of an Arts Board or a formal Community Development office. Their classic pattern is to devise means by which people talk together, learn from each other, and solve problems. Think of projects such as “Give and Take,” and “Neighbor Makers” as the “un-TED-Talk.” No story of MY profound insight, MY transformative journey, MY startup that worked miracles, only “we” and “us” and living together and making “here” better. The expertise is in the group, and bringing that expertise out is catalytic work.
For Works Progress, the work of artists is far more dynamic than making pretty things (although the formation of new community identity can certainly be a beautiful thing!). What artists do is get people to see and think differently, creating space–both physical and psychological and social–to try new things and connect. What if we looked at the Mississippi River through the lenses of stories and games, as well as science? Played music as well as played with knots? River City Revue, which did precisely that, is but one of several river-oriented projects and programs in the Works Progress portfolio.
We’ve worked with Colin and Shanai for a few years now, so it was natural for us to invite them, as well as their colleagues from the City-Art Collaboratory, to our recent River at Our Doorstep event. There’s more to say about River at Our Doorstep, and that will be forthcoming. But let’s close this post with a link to Shanai’s reflection on the event, which she posted recently on medium.com. As a whole, the post captures pretty much exactly what we were looking to achieve.
Her close, though, is pure dynamite. She challenges us, and the communities of people we work with, to consider what it would mean to embrace complexity and paradox, to resist our “natural” urge to streamline and simplify, and (my addition here) to imagine how we might move forward by pursuing so-called “grand challenges” by attending closely to the particulars in front of us.
It would be hard to capture River Life’s mission more directly.