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Experiencing GRACE: The Workshop Program
As we attempt to share the qualities of a GRACE workshop we’d like to begin with this warning: this is not a methodology to be studied and applied dogmatically. Helping anyone to realize creative potential is a delicate process. Workshop facilitators rely on personal experiences, sensibilities and interests of workshop participants. The relationship is of one artist helping another artist, and the distinction of who is helping who more often than not quickly dissolves into a reciprocal relationship, each learning from the other.
The interaction between each facilitator and participant is unique and is severely impeded if allowed to fall into categorized assumptions. It requires the facilitator to be alert, open to all possibilities and impulses and attuned to the individual. A facilitator approaches each individual with no expectations, alert to new territory and ready to take direction from the participant.
Freedom to Choose
Each workshop is unique. Each has a personality of its own that is flavored by the many variables that form it – part
icipants, facilitators, staff, administration, physical setting, season, weather, phase of the moon, etc. As the variables constantly change, so too, the personality of the workshop changes. From week to week, year to year, there is an ebb and flow to any workshop. The facilitator must learn to meet each workshop with no expectations and to work with what presents itself that day.
The workshop is an open studio. Each participant dictates how he or she will work; the facilitator does not come with preconceived projects. The workshops are held on site. The facilitator travels to where people are – a nursing home, day center, meal-site, housing complex, or private home. Workshops function best if they are consistent and regular. Weekly workshops each and every week, same time, same place, work best. Each workshop lasts approximately two hours with an open studio style: participants are free to come to all or part of the session. Not everyone works for the full two hours, although some do. Not everyone starts at the beginning or finishes at the end of the session. Participants work at their own pace and inclination. They are in control of how they work and what they make. Opportunities for choice are inherent in the workshop format: choice of materials and how they will be used, when to begin and end, where to sit (alone or with others), what to create or whether to create at all.
All workshop sites are provided with art materials of a good “student grade” quality. Workshop materials generally include a variety of papers, drawing and painting materials, and clay. If an individual shows an inclination towards other media or ways of working, then GRACE supplies them.
Facilitators are crucial to the workshops, and the title “facilitator” has been carefully chosen. We deliberately avoid titles such as “leader” or “teacher.” We do not teach; methods and techniques are purposely not presented in a formal way. Participants learn from the materials by working with them. We set out art materials, distribute them, and help participants get started. Once they are working, we step back and leave them to their work, carefully guarding that sacred space of an artist totally engaging in making art. If a participant stops working or is experiencing difficulty we gently intercede to help get the hand working again. We follow leads from the participant; our guidance has the participant as its source.
This doesn’t mean the facilitator offers no help at all. If a person is attempting something in one medium and the facilitator feels he or she may have better success with another and especially if the participant appears frustrated, the facilitator might offer suggestions. Then again, the facilitator might let the struggle continue a bit, in hopes that the participant will devise a surprising solution. If showing someone a technique or two to help the creative process, then it is done. Any suggestion or intercession is open-ended, allowing for a variety of possibilities. The fundamental role of a facilitator is to guide the participant to independence as an artist. Too much intervention, too much suggestion, too much directing makes a participant depend on the facilitator for every move and for approval. When to help?When not to help? How to help? There are no set answers or formulas.
To Get the Hand Working
The most difficult and crucial role a facilitator takes onis helping people get started, that means helping them get beyond “I can’t.” Many of the people that we work with initially exclude themselves from the possibility of taking up art making or calling themselves artists. There are as many variations of “I can’t” as there are individuals. They key to this passage is to get the hand working, bypassing the mind that insists “I can’t.” Whatever it takes to do this is allow
ed. Again, the facilitator relies on sensibility and intuition, channeling those into the interaction with the person he or she is trying to help.
It is important that the participant know and trust the facilitator, and that the workshop be a supportive, safe place. If a person is reluctant to begin but showscuriosity and interest, it is best to just let him or her observe others working. The facilitator’s role at this point is to be a good listener, getting to know the person and building familiarity and trust. By observing others at work, a new workshop participant comes to see many different possibilities for art making.
Being with others who are already working helps newcomers give themselves permission to try. Eventually the new participant takes up the challenge. This is the most delicate time for both facilitator and participant. A person will often engage in the creative process rather than retreat. The facilitator must be aware of the participant’s struggle. The initial “I can’t” is usually followed by “it didn’t come out right, I don’t like it.” Honest discussion, support and encouragement are vital to getting the participant through this vulnerable time. If the participant does make it through this passage, the facilitator’s touch is lighter, gently pushing the participant to develop ideas and a way of working. This, too, takes time, but when the participants come into their own as artists, the facilitator becomes a friend and colleague, there to assist in setting up and getting to work, then attentively guarding their space so they can work uninterrupted.
Tapping the Source
It is a facilitator’s delight to watch people in the focused meditative state of art making, oblivious to everything around them, and to their own aches, pains and worries. Once in a great while, all the participants in a workshop work this way. The work room becomes totally silent but vibrantly charged. A powerful ritual is being enacted, and a source is being tapped. As always, the key to helping people tap this source, whether they are fully cognizant or confused with dementia, is to get the hand working.
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