There’s a new movement happening behind David Shelton’s wild Solstice gate at the Community Arts Workshop (CAW) on Garden Street, and it has already changed the lives of some of our city’s most beleaguered residents. Beginning in 2018, and with funding assistance from the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative has sponsored three outstanding arts programs designed to help people use art to address profound challenges in their lives.
In the Going Home project, UCSB professor Michael Morgan and a team of artists worked with young people who either are homeless now or were homeless recently. The goal was to create artworks leading to a performance that would both describe what they believe home means and potentially lead to the solution of at least some of their problems in finding one. The performance, which took place at the CAW on April 7, revealed a vibrant sense of self-discovery and connected at least one of the participants to a potential living situation.
Also in April, as part of an observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a team of printmakers led by recent Santa Barbara arrival Claudia Borfiga ran a series of screen-printing workshops for survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones that was cosponsored by the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. The third residency project, Cuentos del Pueblo, is a theater and storytelling project led by Joseph Velasco, Carlos Cuellar, and Sio Tepper and is going on now, with performances to be presented later in the year. The whole thing has been facilitated by Casey Caldwell, the Westmont alum and community theater maker responsible for managing CAW.
The Independent recently spoke with Michael Morgan, Claudia Borfiga, and Bay Hallowell about their experiences.
Interview with Michael Morgan
You have worked with young men from Los Prietos Boys Camp in previous years as part of The Odyssey Project. How would you compare the experiences? Compared to the incarcerated youth I would say that the issue of “going home” is more in the face of these homeless youth. The incarcerated youth are mostly facing other issues around the sense of criminalization. Both groups have often suffered abuse of various sorts. It’s hard to come up with one way to understand all of it. Some of the incarcerated youth, for example, have supportive families to go back to when they are released.
How many people were involved? What did it take for them to make it to the end? The final group was three guys and one woman, all of them in their late teens or early twenties. It took a combination of self-preservation and perseverance. All of them were already artists and perceived themselves as artists, but not necessarily as performers. Rather than use the Odyssey as a teaching framework as I have done with The Odyssey Project, we chose to build it around their visions. I had a great team: Michael Bernard to teach improvisation, plus a poet and two photographers. The participants were all, one way or another, interested in poetry, which helped. Only one of the four was homeless at the time of the production, but all had been so within the last year. One of the objectives of the whole project was to use the art activities to connect the youth with other people who might be able to help them in other ways, like finding someplace for them to live.
What other kinds of things are happening in these people’s lives beyond not having a place to live? Three of the four are enrolled or have been enrolled as students at SBCC. One of the most important results of the project is to destabilize our own and other people’s projections about homeless youth. For example, we don’t think of homeless youth as college students, but a lot of them are. Milo is studying philosophy at SBCC. Jeff, another one of the participants who stuck it out to the end, is a photographer, and he’s also at SBCC. He was a challenge to work with because he rejected some of the early exercises I had planned, saying “I don’t want to talk about myself.” But little by little, his story did come out obliquely, until he finally made one of the most powerful statements at the show. He had agreed to participate by showing his photos as slides and talking over them. The last image he showed was of him, in silhouette, and upside down, and when it came up he looked at the audience and said, “This is me; my life is upside down.” It was one of the most moving moments in the whole night.
Could you say more about the individuals, and about what you got out of this experience? Angelica was also a student at SBCC, and she was the last to join. She was only with us three weeks, but she caught on incredibly quickly. She was able to see the opportunity for her art right away. She’s been through a lot personally, including years of foster care and a situation with two loving gay dads whose relationship then broke up, leaving her on her own again. She used her work to talk about her dads’ break up, about the way she misses her mom, and about the general disruption of the foster-care environment.
The fourth participant, Justin, was still homeless at the time of the show. He blew in from Utah, and he was the one who was not at SBCC. He had left home some time before arriving in Santa Barbara, and although he never said that he was from a Mormon family, he alluded to religious repression as a factor in his leaving home. His writing was primarily about spiritual wounds, and there was a profound centeredness to what he was doing. I have a feeling he will become an amazing teacher someday. He’s highly computer literate and made a short video about what it’s like to live on the streets. It was eye-opening. Before I saw Justin’s video, I did not fully appreciate how resourceful you have to be to survive out there.
The work as a whole is extremely relevant today because these young people are asking important questions in a fundamental way — questions like “what is a home?” and “where is home?” And the amazing thing is that the four who stuck with it actually found an answer that felt true for all of them, and that is that “home is something that you create.”
Who helped you make this happen? The whole thing would not have been possible without the cooperation of Noah’s Anchorage. Homelessness like these kids have gone through is not a lifestyle that anyone can sustain. That’s why it was so encouraging when someone emailed me after the show to say, “I’d like to help that young man.”
Interview with Bay Hallowell and Claudia Borfiga
This project is called Print Power. How did you come up with that name?
Claudia Borfiga (CB): Well, at first we didn’t have a name, so the other people working here were referring to us as the “rape print group” and other things that were sort of accurate but that we didn’t really feel were appropriate.
Who were your partners?
Bay Hallowell (BH): We worked with the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center and with CARE [Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education] UCSB, which is a similar advocacy group operating out of the UCSB Women’s Center. They trained us in how to speak with the participants and in how to listen to them and make them feel cared for and understood.
What did you do to prepare the space?
CB: We set it up to feel like an art studio, and I prepared a palette of 10 colors that I thought would work. We also had a “soft corner” where people could sit and look at literature designed to help them process their experience.
BH: And we brought tea and snacks.
CB: Yes, obviously there had to be tea!
Claudia, what was your background in community printing?
CB: I worked with a group that went into areas of London, like Brixton, where there had been gentrification, and we set up mobile screen-printing studios and taught people to design and print things that expressed how they felt about that. Then I moved to Santa Barbara 10 months ago and joined the Santa Barbara Printmakers group.
Could you show me a couple of pieces that you feel strongly about?
CB and BH: We would love to. Here’s one that evolved quite a bit over the course of the workshop. [They indicate a print in blue with a female figure next to a river. Her head is replaced by a full moon, and phases of the moon describe an arc to her left bending towards the river.] This one started out as a vivid rape scene, with two bodies on a bed. But gradually the woman who made it moved in her perception of what was important toward this representation, which is more about the way she has become whole since the incident.
And another one that you think is important?
BH: The desk.
CB: Yes, the desk. [They lead me to a print that says “NO MEANS NO” and that depicts a standard office desk in bold, geometrical lines.] When the woman who did this finished the piece she told us, “I was assaulted at work.”
BH: That’s all she had to say. Suddenly that desk meant so much. It was both the weapon and the scene of the crime. Incredible.
How many women participated in this project?
CB: There were 54 total enrollments, but that includes at least 10 who came more than one time. What’s wonderful is that five of the participants liked the space so much that they have gone on to become volunteers at CAW.
In a forthcoming interview, the Independent will speak with the leaders of the Cuentos del Pueblo project. To learn more about Community Arts Workshop, visit sbcaw.org.