Lauren Moran

How to create community with art, and other lessons from Field of View

An artist residency program for people with developmental disabilities rethinks the value of creative labor

Most stories are more complicated than they seem. To really understand why we–individually and collectively–have ended up at this particular moment in time under the often baffling conditions that inform day-to-day life, the simple story just won’t suffice.

This particular story, which looks at how five Portland-based artists ended up at a very special artist residency called Field of View, is far from simple. To understand how this program came to be begs for a brief glimpse into the ongoing public policy debate over how the State of Oregon should support individuals who experience developmental disabilities, for example. And all the nuances, twists, turns and triumphs in this story illuminate the Field of View resident artists’ resilience and creative capacity–as well as the possibility that art-making could play a vital role in the movement toward a more holistic, integrated city, state, and society.

My journey into this story began on a Sunday evening late this past August. Carissa Burkett, the artist who initiated Field of View, a program of the nonprofit Public Annex, invited me over to her home for dinner, where I met five of the program’s resident artists, along with Lauren Moran, Burkett’s co-organizer. Thanks to funding from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Field of View was able to place these artists, all of whom experience developmental disabilities*, in three-month-long artist residencies around the community in Portland, at sites including King School, Performance Works Northwest, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

We sat on Burkett’s back patio that warm night and chatted for a couple of hours about the artists’ experience in their residencies. At the gathering, I met Dawn Westover, a visual artists who makes drawings; Sonya Hamilton, a painter and ceramicist; David Lechner, a visual and dance artist; and Olga Shchepina, a painter and sculptor. I also reconnected with Larry Supnet, a prolific visual artist whom I had met earlier in the year.

What made this gathering of artists especially interesting, in my eyes, was their familiarity with one another–the way they cracked jokes and smiled knowingly. I could tell there was a lot more to their stories as colleagues. “How do you all know each other?” I asked…

Dawn Westover’s Instagram @dawn_westover_art

*****

As it turns out, the story of these artists coming together goes way back–so far back that it required a detour into the history of the Oregon state legislature’s attempts to improve its services for Oregonians with developmental disabilities. Burkett filled me in on some of the details.

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Creek College: Planting Seeds on the Columbia Slough

“How do we get people to return to a place over time to develop a relationship to the place and community?"

By HANNAH KRAFCIK

“It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take away whatever meanings we may from it.” — From One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton

It had been a long day. Fortunately, the weather was on our side this Saturday, supporting our time in nature: Gray skies were interspersed with the warmth of the sun that shone through at intervals. Most of our group had spent the day learning and working along the Columbia Slough, and it was time for a break. According to our itinerary, our next venture would take shape as a silent canoe ride along the Columbia River.

Paddling silently on Whitaker Ponds/Photo by Kristina Dutton

About 30 adults and a couple children met at the dock, where Jennifer Starkey (Education Director of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council) gave instructions on how to canoe safely down the river in silence. We boarded our vessels with utmost quietness and congregated together on the water for a brief reading with our leaders, Anke Schuttler and Shoshana Gugenheim. In addition to an excerpt from One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton, they offered a poem by Fasika Ayalew called Silence of Silence:

Mystic beauty
Endless pleasure
Filled with eternity
Cascade like a fall
Pour its waters
Into a valley of calmness
\when listening to the silence of silence

Once the reading came to a close, we all looked at one another across the water and affirmed the start of our journey. Many thoughts passed through my head. I had not canoed in about a decade, and I had never canoed in silence. I felt like I was paddling in sync with those in front of me, but occasionally my paddle knocked that of the person behind me. Was I the weak link in this canoe? Were we paddling too fast? Were we missing out on quiet observation of the nature around us? Eventually my mind drifted to consider what we had done all day, and what brought us to this point.

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