what happened and what we're learning from the Sept 2021 Change Makers' Rehearsal Dinner Sep 24, 2021

The Change Makers’ Rehearsal Dinner is a participatory social cultural intervention. Using art and culture as tools, the gathered change makers reimagine and rehearse what’s possible for our city and beyond. On September 18th, spread wide across the open air studio space at Wray Ward, approximately twenty artists, culture bearers, and civic leaders engaged in a time of creative praxis: action and reflection.

The theme of the event was “Math Problem- what variable do we solve for in order for our communities to thrive?” During the event, participants were offered a variety of ways to wrestle, imagine, and experiment with integrating creative practice and social change. The featured creatives included a variety of voices: several west side residents, a math professor, farming enthusiast, Charlotte native, economic strategist, musician, healer, dancer, visual artist, food truck entrepreneur, as well as the true subject matter experts- the participants themselves.

The evening began with music in the air and food prepared by Debbie and Sanchez Allen of Kool Runninz Food Truck. Adrienne Williams opened the gathering with words of greeting and an introduction to our first experience- four short presentations on the evening’s theme. The presentations offered a foundational framework: the dominant narrative (status quo), the hidden truths that are often covered up by the dominant narrative, a story of resistance to the dominant narrative, and ideas directed toward transformation of the dominant narrative. In between each presentation, participants wrote down what was salient. The input from the participants was used later to cultivate more conversation.

The next experience of the evening was for the participants to process the presented information in creative ways. Participants could choose to process through visual art, movement, or music. For 20 minutes, artists facilitators led the participants through a process of creative reflection and expression. During these moments, music was created, a visual art piece was created, and folks embodied the theme with sways, arms stretched wide, and deep breaths.

While the creative energy was high, Helms spent time with the input cards, synthesizing themes and threads, sorting the thoughts. After a short break, everyone came together to name appreciations, discoveries, and wonders. Out of the collective input and conversation, topics for the last experience were discerned. The last experience was an impromptu conference. Three topics were offered and the subject matter experts-- the participants themselves- broke up into groups to discuss these topics. Guidelines for engagement were offered: stay curious, be engaged, if you find yourself unengaged, move to a different topic. Moving from topic to topic- cross pollination- is encouraged.

For the remainder of the evening, folks discussed the topics: Who gets to make the decisions? And why?; expression of the collective sigh; How do we grow and nurture life, livability?; Is Charlotte racist? At the end of the last experience, QC Family Tree offered a take home flier with several resources and points of connection as well as seeds to grow Mustard Greens. Participants were asked to give feedback in the form of “Stamps of Impactful”. The Stamps of Impactful are a measuring tool that QC Family Tree uses to collect input from participants on what characteristics of impact the event exhibited. Participants gave the most stamps to the categories of: disruption, openness, and cultural integrity. [Disruption:The project challenges what is by exposing what has been hidden, posing new ways of being, and modeling new forms of action. Openness: The creative work deepens impact by remaining open, fluid, transparent, subject to influence, and able to hold contradiction. Cultural Integrity: The project demonstrates integrity and ethical use of material with specific cultural origins and context.]

As with all cultural organizing projects, not everything goes perfectly and that is ok. It is important, though, to name the things that need improvement. That said, when QC Family Tree offers another event like this, there are a few things we will do differently. Slow down, we don’t have much time. We will work more diligently to soothe a sense of urgency around time. There were times during the event that it felt like we need to rush in order to continue to capture the participants’ attention. Sometimes the rushing caused us to move too quickly. Rather than push along, we will take more time to pause, stretch, celebrate, and offer more time for more voices to be shared in the space. Who comes, is. QC Family Tree extended personal and online invitations to more than sixty people for this event. We had high hopes of gathering forty folks spanning across several demographics, including politicians, city employees, neighbors, and civic leaders. Though we were slightly disappointed that we did not meet our attendee goal, the people who did gather were exactly what was needed for us to make meaning and transformation together. Impactful connections were made.

After the event, there are several other learning edges that QC Family Tree is leaning into. We are looking forward to what comes next. There are a few growing spaces we can already see blooming. We are spending time on the following themes: cultivating imagination, collective healing, the power of “we”, what we pay attention to grows, and truth telling. We are asking ourselves: “What is QCFT’s role in cultivating a more vivid imagination within the Charlotte community? What are the Healing Justice opportunities- for wellness, expression, and release- that QCFT must seek out, practice, and cultivate? In what ways can QCFT continue to get at the root of the issues? How does QCFT actively deepen its engagement in truth telling? What comes next for QCFT in the areas of education, gathering a collective, exploration, and connection? In what & in who should QCFT invest time, resources, and energy?”

The wonderful thing about good ideas is that they do not die. They inform and transform into new possibilities. The idea of the Change Makers’ Rehearsal Dinner is that we were rehearsing the change we want to see in the world. It is exciting to see how that change is taking shape as we continue on towards next steps and the days ahead.