Playing with Civic Engagement

Submitted by Derek Alton on November 12, 2012 - 12:52pm
An experiment in vulnerability

This past Saturday I was fortunate to attend a workshop on community and civic engagement that was put on by a couple artists as part of a Musagetes series.  If you have never heard of Musagetes before make sure to check them out.  They are a group that uses art to build community.

I wandered over to a local church, enjoying the nice weather and trying not to focus on my apprehension as I had no idea what I had signed up for.  I have a very artistic family but this gene seems to have skipped me and passed on to my siblings instead.  When it comes to arts I am a fish out of water, I look and feel uncomfortable.  I was curious to see how this event would stretch and challenge me.

Just outside of the church, I ran into my friend Anne.  “Phew,” I thought, "I will at least know one other person, that’s a relief."  I entered the church to discover a small group of about twelve people, and to my delight I recognized a few others who I knew from other events we had done together.

We started by introducing ourselves with our names and a movement.  A movement?  What kind of movement would I attach to my name?  It seemed like such an alien concept to me.  Luckily I was one of the last to go.  It was really interesting to see the types of actions people attached to their names.  When it finally came to me, I thought “oh crap, I have no idea what movement to use.”  Thinking quickly I ended up using a movement that simulated a breathing exercise that I use to calm myself down, like in situations like this.

Yes, I survived the first activity!

The next activity, we did was to simply walk around the room.  I must admit, it was nice to move to release the nervous energy I had, though I was confused at how this had anything to do with civic engagement.  Every minute or so we were given different instructions that impacted how we moved around the room.  We started by observing the room, then by observing the people in the room, then their faces and eventually focusing solely on their eyes as we walked around.  The act of looking into people’s eyes is a powerful and at the same time really uncomfortable feeling.  It is through our eyes that we have the deepest connections with those around us.

As the afternoon progressed, we continued to play with each other getting into deeper discussions as we went along.  The content of the discussion was not new to me, but I did find we went about the discussion in a far more playful and active way.

By forcing us to step outside our comfort zone and be vulnerable with each other in a playful way, I think these activities were able to foster a deep feeling of connection in a short period of time.

There is something that can be learned from this experience.  Maybe we as a community need to be vulnerable with each other more often; maybe we need to play more instead of fighting so often.  What would it look like if the city, developers and a neighbourhood went through a series of activities like these before getting into a discussion about land use?

Oh the possibilities…