Archive | May, 2012

Clementine (part 2)

14 May

I felt drawn to include both my sisters in the creative process surrounding a new version of Clementine. I was interested in their creative response to information I’d gathered about female narrative in our family.

We worked intensively over the course of two weekends to create a new movement section, text, and a variation on my original solo. The first weekend I worked with both of my sisters Molly (age 19) and K.C (age 14) to generate new material in the form of movement and text. During the second intensive I worked with Molly, and integrated her into an existing movement section.

Both my sisters have some experience with dance from when they were little and both have experience with creative writing in school settings. We began by creating text. The three of us produced “I come from” texts, in an exercise that replicated text making I had engaged in earlier in the process. We also created a text about the significance of road trips in getting to know long distance family members, by splicing together an original writing by K.C. with other writings from me and Molly.

From these texts we worked on abstracting words into movements. I was surprised by the movements my sisters created. They were decidedly non-literal representations and spoke to big picture themes, emotions and memories the individual words brought up for them. After a new set of movements was created by each individual, we would take turns teaching one another to embody the material we had made. This process felt very organic. There was no argument or judgment between the three of us (like there often is).

I watched as my youngest sister lit up over being included in this process with her older sisters. At the end of our rehearsal time, K.C. asked if we could make art more often. (Later I found a thank you note scribbled out on a sheet of my notebook paper-thanking me for the day) My response was an emphatic yes!

The movement generated by all three of us, was the source material for an opening duet danced by Molly and I. The text we created was also integrated directly into the performance. I originally wanted both of my sister involved in the performance but schedules did not permit this to happen.

Check out this (very tiny) sampling of our dance making:

In the second weekend I worked one on one with Molly to integrate her into existing material. This session was less about collaborative generating of material and more about working to become performance ready. Together we worked through a variety of warm-ups to attune ourselves to space, body and timing. This work had a different feel than the work of the previous weekend, but felt beneficial none the less.

Working with my sister I noticed I talked less and moved more to impart choreographic knowledge, than when I work with other dancers. It was as if our movement creation and text work had set a framework for understanding the rest of the dance.

Following the two intensive rehearsals, Molly and I had a couple of shorter rehearsals before performing Clementine at a small informal concert at UMD. Once again my family had the chance to watch this work about us.

Perhaps most interesting to me was the marked difference between K.C.’s response and interest in the work compared to the rest of my family’s. Even though she did not perform, her direct involvement in the work was evident in the way she made comments about certain sections with authority. She was not afraid to say which parts she liked or didn’t like and she could contribute experiences she had had making the work to discussions about how it had turned out.

This experience  solidified in my mind the power of engaging family in art about themselves. As I continue with this project, expanding and honing it, I hope to involve more of my family members in it creation in more ways.


The family that paints together… makes music, and dances, and creates a gallery in their home together: Meet the Meiterman-Rodriguez family.

14 May

As I reflected on the art making process with my family,  I realized that “Clementine” would not be the first time I was making art with my sisters. I had forgotten about the theatrical productions me and my sisters had choreographed, directed and acted in as part of licensed camps my mother ran out of our basement during the summers. Also forgotten, the elaborate Christmas spectacles we wrote, choreographed and performed throughout elementary and middle school for our parents and their friends. I wondered if others had similar art making experiences within their own families.

As I asked around the response was mixed. Many of my friends had experienced art making through play with siblings, which did not usually involve parental participation. Many of the people I talked with could remember creating plays with their brother, or making a dance for the talent show with their sister, but memories of family-wide art making was rare, even among my “artsy” friends.

One friend of mine, Gabriella, and her family, the Meiterman-Rodgriuezs, could speak to art making as an integral, and fairly continuous, part of their family life.

I interviewed Gabriella and her father, hoping to gain insight into the nature of their family’s art making and to find out how a culture of family engagement with creating art had developed in their home.

In the Meiterman-Rodriguez family, art and the creation of art is something that is respected. This is how Bernie Meiterman-Rodriguez explains the attitude he has developed and has tried to cultivate in his daughters.

Until a recent career change, into television production, Bernie was a practicing lawyer for over twenty years. Although he describes his artistic practice as little more than a hobby, it is clear that he takes art and personal art making seriously.

Bernie explained that it was during his high school years that his ideas about art and art making began to take shape. He was influenced by a former art history and fine arts teacher. This teacher urged Bernie to “paint without apology”. It was a moment of realization, that he could create and that what he made was important. In addition to his interest in visual art, Bernie began playing music in his early years. Today he has a recording studio in his basement where he plays and composes his own music.

Talking with Bernie one gets the sense that he has fashioned his living space to be dedicated to art making, so that home, family and art are intimately intertwined. He has built both a music recording and art studio space in his home in New Jersey. Both are fully equipped so that family members have access to any materials they might need for creating art, at any time. Another point of pride is a family gallery that features artworks made by his two daughters, his wife and himself.

It is clear that Bernie reveres these works. He described one way he instilled the value of personal art making in his daughters. As his children were growing up he would provide them with quality materials for their art making. A finished piece of art was then professionally framed, and hung in a place of honor in the house. Bernie felt it was very important to treat his children’s artwork like one would treat a painting purchased from a professional artist.

For Gabby growing up in an art-filled environment has made her very comfortable with doing creative work. She has no qualms about picking up a pencil or brush and creating. She also views art making as a time she uses to bond with her mother, father and sister. It is no surprise that all this artistic encouragement reared a young adult who is now pursuing higher education in the arts.

Recently an opportunity for collaboration between father and daughter arose, when Gabby needed a sound score for a dance for film she had composed. Bernie remarked about how honored he was to collaborate and compose for Gabriella. The way he described presenting an idea and then adjusting it based on his daughter’s feedback demonstrated a kind of flexibility between parent and child hierarchy. Both parties were viewed as having something important to offer to the process, rather than one having ultimate authority.

Although this was one the first times Gabby actively collaborated with her Dad on a project, she noted that the art that her family makes is constantly inspiring how she creates dance. She feels that the home environment her family’s art making has fostered has been, and will continue to be stimulating and energizing for her dance and choreographic process.

In light of the clear focus on the arts that exists in the Meiterman-Rodriguez household, Bernie emphasized that he doesn’t intend to “force” the arts on his children. He reported that he was ecstatic that Gabby was pursuing the study of dance at the university level, but just as celebrated was her sister’s choice to pursue communication and publication when she attends college in the fall.

This family serves as an amazing model of how art can be integrated into family life. The Meitermen-Rodriguez clan has developed a culture where each family member is respected as an artist in their own right, without pressure to pursue art professionally or for any reason besides self-fulfillment and expression.

Clementine (part 1)

13 May

The Clementine Project began my junior year at the University of Maryland as a dance piece based on a recording of my Nanny telling the story of how she met my Bumpy. This was a special story; it was not her usual epic tale of life on a rugged mid west farm. Nor was it a cute recollection of children long grown up. This was a story about Clementine Antoinette Robinson. She was a woman with doubts, hopes and fears. She dared to love again, when she had been beaten and abandoned with her two children as a twenty-something year old woman in the 1930s.

As I developed a dance around this story one phrase kept cropping up, “I didn’t know”. In addition to becoming a central statement I repeated in the performance, “I didn’t know” reflected my lack of knowledge about the realities of my great grandmother’s life.

The first version of Clementine was performed at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in April 2011. You can watch a full-length video of the performance at In this version of the dance I was primarily concerned with relating myself to my great grandmother, her stories and life.

Dance making is a way I investigate things personal to me. It’s a way of learning about something, and moreover figuring out where I fit into this new knowledge or discovery. I believe personal art is highly useful to structures that support the individuals that have made it. I believe that these supportive structures, families or communities, for example, can enjoy the art, connect to it easily, and learn about the individual that made the art and about how the art connects to their community.

My first iteration of “Clementine” lent itself to personal investigation of self, my great grandmother, and the relationship between us, in terms of time, space and family. Admittedly I hoped that the performance would engage family members that came to see it. My family (especially my extended family) is not particularly interested in the arts.  Some of the work I make and perform is non-linear or non-narrative and I sense that it alienates my family, who none-the-less bravely trudge into modern dance performances, not always quite equipped for what they are about to experience.

As a young artist pursuing choreography I have some small desire that my family be interested in what I do. I hoped that, at least thematically, Clementine would appeal to them and even engage them in my work.

However I was disappointed by the lack of verbal discussion around the finished product. I could tell my family had been moved by the performance. I got many comments along the lines of “it was beautiful” and  “I liked it” from my parents, grandparents, and sisters. My sisters reported that both of my parents had cried during the performance. Despite visible, emotional response, there was little communication about what the piece had meant to my family.

For a while I dropped Clementine; when I returned to the project in the Winter of 2012 my focus began to broaden. I was interested in collecting stories from and about other women in my family.

I began this process with informal interviews with my mother, Teresa Wolfe and my grandmothers, Gloria Robinson, and Brenda Wolfe.

(To read in depth reflections on the interview process check out The Clementine Project Blog

In the case of this project, art became the impetus for verbal communication. Honestly if I had not been invested in investigating family narratives for the sake of the project, I know many of the conversations I had with women in my family would not have happened, or have been as in depth as they were, because I was actively seeking to construct family narratives.

In its second incarnation I wanted Clementine to create an opportunity for more in depth engagement with my family. I was inspired to include women in my family as active participants in the creation and performance of the piece, I viewed as being about them, this time around.

Art for the family, by the family

13 May

Let me begin by saying that there is not a lot written about art in terms of family. There are some examples of art created about families and family structure.  There is also a small amount of research about art created by families undergoing arts therapies. Both are useful for individuals trying to navigate their own family, and families trying to navigate their place in time, space and society. The value inherent in both of these types of family-related art is something that continues to be slowly, researched and recorded. However there is almost no literature about informal (as in not guided by a licensed therapist) art making that occurs within families today.

Art about family

The value of examining art, from societies past and present, that deals thematically with family, is supported by the work of cultural critics, anthropologists and family art therapists alike. In their book, Family Art Therapy: Foundations of Theory and Practice, Christine Kerr and Janice Hoshino write that “examining historical family images is relevant …because archival images elucidate those human values and associations applicable to the evolving theme of family within Western culture. “ When a family unit or individual within the family has the opportunity to experience art that has been made about families over the course of human history, they receive a glimpse at the chronology of the family through “time, differentiation, social unrest, and states of familial closeness and distancing.”1 Exposure to work about family as it has existed in various cultures, times and places provides a framework for families of today to compare and contrast with “their own family’s emotional process.”

Two contemporary artists that have engaged in making work about families, that stick out in my mind are:

Stephan Koplowitz, “Thicker than water”

I’ve never seen Koplowitz intergenerational, dance theatre piece, but the reviews I’ve read make it sound like a piece that is exemplary in capturing contemporary family life. “Mr. Koplowitz has created a layered, splintered portrait that is hard to look away from.”2 Rather than create shock value, or capitalize on family ‘drama’, the piece focuses on the mundane and ordinary interactions of a family of four, through text and movement.

More about the work:

More about Koplowitz:

Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drive

This memory plays was one of the first works of performance art I encountered that dealt abstractly with familial themes. The memory play explores sexual abuse within family, in a nuanced and layered way. It was recently revived at 2econd Stage Theatre in New York City.

More about How I Learned to Drive:,com_plays/task,viewPlay/id,157

Art (therapy) for families

In addition to criticism of works of art about families, a small amount of literature exists about the use of art making within the setting of family arts therapy. (Note when I use the phrase art making, I refer to ephemeral process-oriented art experiences, like dance, in addition to art that results in an art product, like visual art)

Dance has been used as a means for helping individuals in families with a history of domestic violence. In one case study family dance practice, facilitated by a movement therapist, helped a mother and her two daughters significantly improve their ability to communicate individual needs, and explore and amend familial roles.

“By using their own bodies in the movement process to affectively attune to each other’s body cues, the family worked towards restoring and expanding each member’s capacity for self-regulation while gaining an embodied sense of non-verbal empathy for one another.” 3

In studies that looked at art therapy centered around visual art, it became evident that engaging the entire family in art making “facilitates needed energy for families that appear deadlocked in anger and hopelessness. Families seeking treatment are often entrenched in failure and impotence…art making promotes not only needed energy for the family but may allow the family to experience a sense of accomplishment as they engage in art making… can be liberating and highly perspective.”

It is clear that in so far as it has been studied family art making unlocks experiential understanding of individual families for individual family members. Both ephemeral and permanent art processes and products are opportunities for family-wide self-expression. Both of these outcomes are appealing for families dealing with small problems, who aren’t in crisis mode, as well as for families that benefit from professional therapeutic services. So why is it that there is so little literature that connects family art making with problem solving family issues and building stronger family connections (outside of “audience” and therapy spaces)?

Further inquiry into these modes of engaging the family in art making can only help families become better communicators and more connected to each other, their family history and future goals. More research, as well as more information about the process of family art making needs to be available so that families can access and apply this information to their own families.


Works cited:

1 Christine Kerr and Janice Hoshino, Family Art Therapy: Foundations of Theory and Practice (New York: Routledge, 2008), 2.

2 Jennifer Dunning, “Dance in Review,” New York Times, October 4, 1993,

3 Christina Devereaux, “Untying the Knots: Dance/Movement Therapy with a Family Exposed to Domestic Violence,” American Journal of Dance Therapy 30, no. 2 (2008): 67.

4 Christine Kerr and Janice Hoshino, Family Art Therapy: Foundations of Theory and Practice (New York: Routledge, 2008), xv.

Recognizing opportunities for art making in “non-artsy” families

13 May

“My family is not artsy.” This was the response of a close friend of mine when I questioned his belief that while art making might be helpful for some families, it wouldn’t be helpful for his family. When I pressed my friend for reasons why, his instinctual response was that his family is not “artsy”. I interpreted this response to mean that he believed his family was not experienced enough with the creative process or art making to comfortably or effectively engage in it.

I do not think my friend is alone in this belief. In my experience “artsy” families, are families that engage in art making the most, and often these families exhibit parents, grandparents or other family members with notable experience engaging in art making. The resident family artist (or artists), regardless of whether they make art at the professional or amateur level, can be a facilitator for engaging the entire family in the creative process as it pertains to any number of creative activities (crafts, visual arts, music making, dancing, story telling, writing etc).

For families with members with limited experience in the arts, the creative process may be less evident and/or less explored. In any case, I still believe the arts and creative process can be located at work to some extent in most, if not all families. By shifting perceptions about what family activities, projects, and practices involve the creative process, art making could be better understood and expanded/improved upon within families.

Candy Chang’s street art speaks to an important lesson; community art( and perhaps family art) need not be defined in textbook terms. Many of her projects, utilize street art techniques, for the purpose of creating and improving pathways for communication to take place within a community. In her project “I Wish This Was” Chang made fill-in-the-blank stickers that said “I Wish This Was _____” and posted them on vacant storefronts in New Orleans. Community members who passed by the empty lots wrote in suggestions for utilizing the space. The project created a physical space for constructive community input. Not only was input encouraged, but it was also made visible to other community members.

Another project “Before I Die” originated when Chang “painted the side of an abandoned house in [her] neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence, “Before I die I want to ______.” The wall acts as an evolving visual and poetic work of art. By creating the art in a public space, Chang once again encouraged community engagement. Change was not interested in only her own personal response and reflection on the theme “Before I die”, instead Change writes, “It’s about remembering what’s important to you and learning about the hopes and aspirations of your neighbors.”

Chang’s aforementioned projects exemplify how artful approaches to communication and investigation; encourage participation and creation within a community. Projects like these might serve as models for art making within families.

If communicative and the investigative processes are recognized as platforms for a community to engage in the creative process and vice versa, then integrating the creative process into the family structure becomes less daunting. For example, instead of relying solely on verbal discussion, in a setting like a family meeting or off-handed conversation, to communicate family goals, the creative process can be used to engage in collaborative and deeper communication on these subjects.

I tried to explain this concept to my friend (in much fewer words), when he asked “Why not just talk about things?” My response was to reference findings from Dance movement therapists, involved in family therapy. In therapy settings verbal communication and intervention often enforce ineffective patterns and roles in the communication process. The introduction of creative movement as a means of non-verbal communication is effective at breaking these patterns, “re-choreographing”,  so to speak, family dynamics. (Untying the Knots)

Family therapy that revolves around visual art boasts similar advantages. “The visual record helps non or less verbal family members participate. It allows the family members to reach the deeper levels of being that are only possible through experiential understanding. Restructuring communication patterns makes it possible to balance the family system in a healthy fashion.” (vii)

When pressed for what this might actually look like in a family I offered the following imaginings:

– A wall is designated as a space where family members can collaborate and post visual art they have made, writings, found images and texts.  The wall becomes a space for an evolving work of art that suites the families needs.

–  A family starts the practice of taking a follow the leader walk. On this walk each member of the family is given an opportunity to lead the rest of the family through movement. The movement explores the space of the walk as well as the preferences and tendencies of the family member leading.

– A family purchases second hand instruments, or makes their own instruments out of materials around the home and schedules sessions for learning about and experimenting with music making.

Our culture’s emphasis on specialization, relegates “artsy” activities to professional artists, and discourages people that do not consider themselves to be primarily artists from engaging in art making. I believe that by changing the discourse around who should make art and what qualifies as art, more families could access art making as an important avenue for communication and investigation within families.

Learn more about Candy Chang’s community art:

works cited:

1 Christina Devereaux, “Untying the Knots: Dance/Movement Therapy with a Family Exposed to Domestic Violence,” American Journal of Dance Therapy 30, no. 2 (2008).

2 Christine Kerr and Janice Hoshino, Family Art Therapy: Foundations of Theory and Practice (New York: Routledge, 2008), vii.

Alana Herro, “Fellows Friday Q&A with Candy Chang,” TED Blog. TED Conferences LLC.