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Community Art Collaborative: In This Together

| Plymouth, MA

How do you put a year and a half worth of effort into words? Today, you can look at the completed art. We thought it was time to share our journey. It’s the first time I (Jennifer MacIver Edwards) have written in the first person rather than strictly in the voice of our non-profit, The Community Art Collaborative. For quite some time before the pandemic,
I felt frustrated, angry, and discouraged about where we had been as a country. Our ability to have civil discourse seemed to be increasingly diminished or agree on just about anything, and then, the pandemic came. Like so many others, I was exhausted, scared, and concerned for my family and the world. If I felt helpless before, that was just the beginning.

In May of 2020, I shared a Facebook post expressing my concern, shock, and, if we’re being honest, anger about our inability as a country to acknowledge (at that time) the loss of 100,000 lives. My childhood friend and now co-founder, Meclina Gomes, suggested that in a time of profound loss, art had helped her through. And I thought, yes, this is a great idea, and she is a professional artist so, who better partner with to build something. Meclina will tell you, I was angry and tired and worn out when we started.
The Community Art Collaborative helped me; she helped me let go of that anger and put my efforts into building something that gives back to the community, gives voice to others, and allows people to share and heal on some tough topics we don’t always get the opportunity to speak to. Art can be a place where regardless of your standing in the community you can express a feeling and sentiment. It can be a great leveler.

So, we set out together to figure out what this art installation might look like. We weren’t thinking immediately that we were on the road to building a non-profit. And in the course of doing so, we two women, mothers, professionals, a woman of color, and a white woman watched in horror as the deaths continued; #metoo carried on, the social rhetoric and killing of people of color seemed to reach a crescendo (even though it has been going on for too long to consider). Whether we understood it or not, every person would face some level of trauma due to what we were living through. We had always been friends, but through this process, we learned how to advocate for one another, celebrate each other, address challenging topics, and most importantly, really see one another. We have honed our ability to hold space for each other and those in our communities.

We connected with our local Center for the Arts, who connected us to our Town and Cultural District leaders. We created a friendship, partnership, and safe place to incubate what this art might look like. We’d gotten through June and spent the summer keeping to ourselves from a community standpoint, Meclina had moved home to Massachusetts.

By this time, it was October of 2020, and we slowly realized that we weren’t going to be able to bring people together, and the pandemic wasn’t quite done with us yet; we were about to take another loop de loop on the rollercoaster we were all collectively riding. So, how would we possibly build large-format community art?

Enter the honeycomb, cardstock, Instagram, our amazing collaborators Robin Carver (Town Planner) and Malissa Kenney (VP Plymouth Bay Cultural) district, and the power of Zoom, collaboration, a want to tell stories to find a way to lift people. They encouraged us to formalize our plan and The Community Art Collaborative was born. We did a lot in a short period of time, and we didn’t and still don’t always take the conventional approach, just ask our Board members-they give great council and provide a steady hand. Introduction upon introduction, helped us garner support and also hone our story. It’s not easy to explain an abstract idea to people who are just trying to keep it together in the middle of remote schooling, an economy that’s on edge, and parents and community members under stress. BUT, our partners at The Plymouth Public Schools (particularly our art teachers) and Visual & Performing Arts, New Again, New England Villages, Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, The Plymouth Public Library, The MAP Academy and so many more individual community members stepped up, trusted that we would make it happen.

In April, we got the cardstock honeycombs into our artist’s hands while we completed our first installation at the hospital in May, demonstrating just what our artists, the hospital employees, the community, and The Community Art Collaborative were capable of.

From late March through November 2021, we delivered a few more installations-Perseverance, In This Together at the Harbormaster House, and Illuminating Stories at Pilgrim Hall; the first of many collaborations with the Plymouth Public Schools and the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe. Meanwhile, we collected more than 1200 honeycombs, and through the generous grant donation of The South Shore Community Partners in Action, The Plymouth Lions Club, The Plymouth Education Foundation, we have built a 6-panel installation, developed 15 original poems, archived, color corrected and curated more than 1200 honeycombs, laser-cut aluminum, built steel supports and put a whole lot of love and attention into the development of this installation telling the story of one community’s expression of joy, pain, hope, perseverance, emotional challenge, and social commentary, during this historical time.

More than a few times, I thought to myself this is crazy, people don’t need this there are so many challenges out there that we must work through. Then, I would get another batch of honeycombs shared with me; I would sit in tears as I read the artist statements and looked at the art created. Meclina and I would text one another, and she’d remind me that art can heal and the community needs this. We’d hear from friends and children, when is this going to be done-where will I see my art.

No work of art is complete without an artist statement. So, we would like to offer this thought. Consider the bees and the hive as an analogy for individuals community members, and then, of course, the hive represents the wider community. Individual stories create the collective story and the opportunity for our communities to engage with the art and have a conversation, share joy, and acknowledge the challenges and opportunities we as individuals and as communities have faced; acknowledgment of the outcomes-whether they are good or bad, allows us to process-to laugh, cry, celebrate, reflect.

The way we’ve curated the art is deliberate. We are all individuals, each with a story to share; each piece is stunning in its own right; the riot of color, creativity, and innovation that happens when the works of art are combined represents the power of communities coming together to create, act, support, discuss the art and its meaning to enter into conversation and see both the diversity and similarities of thinking; it is this promise that creates solid communities and opportunity to move forward understanding that we have all shared experience. It doesn’t mean we give up our individuality. It means we have the chance to look up, look left, look right, include, and celebrate, as we move forward together.

In summary, the lesson I learned and hope to share is as follows, I was angry, I sat with the anger for too long, with my head down. And when I finally looked up and decided to do something, to stop thinking about my anger and, to place the needs of my community and the example I set for my children ahead of my own, things shifted.

And so, as we celebrate a year and a half worth of effort and beautifully illustrate one community’s experience, Meclina and I, along with our Board and the beautiful group of collaborators and supporters who made this possible, turn our eye optimistically towards the next chapter of the Community Art Collaborative – and all the art and conversations we’ve yet to create in our communities that lay ahead of us. We hope you will join us! Follow us on Instagram to be part of the conversation: @community_art_collaborative

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