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Posts Tagged Books in Action

Carry on a Coffee Sleeve Conversation

 

Ting Ting Cheng recently had an in-depth discussion with artist Dan Choma at a local coffee shop about his pen-and-ink drawing "I Prefer Rudeness Over Casual Racism" (www.danchoma.com)

Ting Ting Cheng and artist Dan Choma talked about his pen-and-ink drawing “I Prefer Rudeness Over Casual Racism” at a local coffee shop.
(Visit www.danchoma.com to view more art and music)

In October 2015, Coffee House Press (CHP), an internationally renowned independent book publisher and arts nonprofit based in Minneapolis, was awarded a St. Paul Knights Arts Challenge grant to launch its Coffee Sleeve Conversation project. By producing and distributing coffee cup sleeves featuring the words of St. Paul writers of color, CHP hopes to foster community conversations on race and the arts. While these sleeves will be distributed to several St. Paul coffee shops, Park Square Theatre is also proud to be selected to participate in the Coffee Sleeve Conversation project.

CHP has an established history of community involvement through Books in Action programming, which produced the Coffee Sleeve Conversation project. Books in Action projects came about because CHP “has long recognized that there are many possibilities for reader/writer exchange beyond (and even without) the page. . . . Our vision for the future is one where a publisher is more than a company that packages books. We strive to be a catalyst and connector–between authors and readers, ideas and resources, creativity and community, inspiration and action.” Other innovative Books in Action projects have included Ring Ring Poetry, a poetry installation featuring local poets “broadcasting” poems linked to specific Twin Cities sites; CHP in the Stacks, a library residency program placing writers, artists and readers in public and private collections/libraries to creatively engage with community members; and much more. Be sure to visit coffeehousepress.org to learn more about their publications and programs.

For the Coffee Sleeve Conversation project, poet and activist Tish Jones solicited and selected work from writers of color in St. Paul. The process included an open call for submissions, and the words of 20 writers were printed on approximately 10,000 sleeves. Park Square employee and local writer Ting Ting Cheng is very excited that an excerpt of her poem was chosen as a conversation starter. It reads “May Kuan Yin, / goddess of mercy, / protect / all who / enter here.”

On each CHP sleeve is a poem excerpt by a local writer of color. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

On each Coffee House Press sleeve is a poem excerpt by a local writer of color.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

In CHP’s words, “By focusing on local writers of color, the series will point to the depth and excellence of writing from people of color that is already available in the community, and catalyze and enlarge the conversation in diversity, media, activism, and art both locally and nationally.”

Equity, access, public engagement: these are values that CHP live by; these are values that Park Square Theatre shares. Be sure to look out for the coffee sleeves at our Proscenium and Boss stages for the rest of this season.

“Most of what people are hesitant to speak out about is an ugly truth. Art helps make it more appealing.” — Tish Jones in an interview with Intermedia Arts

 

A Hope for Peace

The set of Migra, created by 7/8th graders at my daughter's school  (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

The set of Migra, created by 7/8th graders at my daughter’s school
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Yesterday afternoon, I was a proud parent at Mixed Blood Theater, watching the play Migra, written by the 7/8th grade students of my daughter’s school. In the program, the Notes from Artistic Director (the English Language Arts instructor) explained:

This play marks the end of a semester of exploration for the students. We began the semester asking the question, “Who walked this land before me?….We followed that question with, “If my people weren’t Native American, when, how, and why did they arrive here?” Rather than a genealogical study, the exploration looked to literature, art, film, and nonfiction from the countries of students’ ancestral origins and reflected informally in journals and conversations as well as formally in essays. Students considered the past and the present and contemplated the impact of immigration and ancestry on their present day realities. Some students had not thought much about their ancestors, others had vast knowledge, and some had no choice but to constantly be considering their ancestry. While presidential race debates discussed current issues including immigration viewpoints, and our own city experienced the tragic loss of Philando Castille, these topics made their way into the students’ writing, and ultimately into Migra….The views expressed in the play are not intended to represent the ideals of the school as a whole, or for that matter be directive, but they are, like all good theatre, an attempt to encourage the viewer: to question, to discuss, and to feel joy, disgust, fear, and passion. We hope that you take away the beauty of the adolescent mind–and the power of talking about all things sour and sweet, just as these brave individuals show us is possible.

Then in the evening, I attended the second of a three-series talk on the African-American experience by Macalester Professor Duchess Harris, co-author of two books for 6th to 12th graders, Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA (Hidden Heroes) and Black Lives Matter (Special Reports).  These have been in-depth talks followed by audience Q&A, finally shedding light on hidden American history and its overlooked impact on America’s past and present. Notable about these events, which are open and free to the public at Roseville Public Library (final talk is on Thursday, February 2, at 7 pm), is that the room is packed with people hungry for a broadened perspective and an honest start of a dialogue about their and our narratives as Americans.

Hidden Human Computers: Duchess Harris on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/195655453

Recently Park Square Theatre drew a crowd to the commemoration of The Ghostlight Project. This is an effort by theatres throughout the country to, according to Randy Reyes, Mu Performing Arts Director as well as a national steering committee member of the project, declare our theatres as “brave spaces where all are welcome to be who they are and engage in debate and dissent–and leave inspired to take action….Together, we will create light for those who need it most and pledge ourselves to work that honors all and celebrates the unconquerable human spirit.”

Attendees at The Ghostlight Project commemoration event posted their pledges (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Attendees at The Ghostlight Project commemoration event posted their pledges
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Soon Park Square Theatre will also participate in the Coffee Sleeves Conversation Project with Coffee House Press, an internationally renowned independent publishing company and arts nonprofit in Minneapolis. Through its Books in Action programming, they have designed a unique way to create community discussions on race and the arts at local coffee shops and our theatre.

And as a parent, I am also proud of the fact that Park Square Theatre has a robust Education Program that opens the door to meaningful dialogue amongst our young people, many of whom are first-time theatre attendees. For instance, our on-line study guide for Flower Drum Song, currently on our Proscenium Stage until February 19, offers activities and resources for classrooms to consider “Stereotypes: Real, Perceived, or Debunked?,” “Charting the Immigrant Experience” and much more. For A Raisin in the Sun, which will return by popular demand next season, they did not shirk from topics of redlining and white privilege. Park Square’s study guides are, as our website describes, mindfully “created for teachers by teachers to introduce students to the world of the play” and, by extension, share and broaden their view of the world around them.

Educators met during the summer to create the study guide for Flower Drum Song (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Educators volunteered their time during the summer to create the study guide for Flower Drum Song
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Today we see arts funding once again coming under attack. But I wonder, as I go to a variety of venues and events featuring writers, actors, dancers, visual arts, students, etc.–often trying to be as financially and publicly accessible as possible for its creators and audiences, do people overall actually support this push? Do they truly not believe in the value of the arts in society? Or, this time, are they grateful for the arts but being fed, once again, the message that adequate arts funding is superfluous to the well-being of our communities? Is it a message that comes from the expansive Heart, or from some place much smaller?

a hope for peace by artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio (Photo by Bob Schmitt)

a hope for peace by artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio, who’d created a logo for Theatre Mu, before it became Mu Performing Arts
(Photo by Bob Schmitt)

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