Why Carnival Is Exactly What This Moment Needs

Restoration Village Arts is proud to partner with the prophetic witness of the Carnival de Resistance. Tevyn East, Carnival’s director, shares her thoughts on why Carnival is what this moment in our country and world calls for.

I have felt the urgency of our ecological crises for some time, which fueled my years of trekking across the country, preaching the gospel of an earth-centered, economic justice movement. And now, we encounter a mighty, menacing, and … I will not shy from saying… evil threat to our future on this planet! Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA- “a close ally of the fossil-fuel industry” (NYTimes), who is hostile to the environmental movement, and could undermine existing regulations that barely hold these industries accountable – is a treacherous move which demands resistance!

On all fronts. Unlike ever before. We need to focus on our interdependence with earth and water through our art, our actions, our money, our organizing work, and our way of being community!

This is exactly why you should support the Carnival de Resistance! Help us realize our fundraising goals so that we might demonstrate, educate and weave a world that mocks ‘the powers’ and empowers the people with a dream of returning to the earth and resisting that which threatens her.

Over twenty years ago Wendell Berry said, “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” We will all suffer, eventually, as ecosystems are annihilated and ‘resources’ controlled by global powers are greedily consumed.

“But be certain, those of us who have benefitted the most carry a great responsibility, especially to the cultures and people groups who are being discarded as casualties in these endless resource wars.”

Kensington, our projected location for a 2017 Carnival residency, is bearing the strain of environmental racism. As an economically abandoned neighborhood of Philadelphia, Kensington faces so many environmental challenges, not the least of which are food deserts and numerous EPA-designated toxic waste sites left behind by factories after deindustrialization. Kensington families live in the blast zone of so-called “oil bomb” trains which transport highly volatile crude oil and fracked natural gas through our backyards. What’s more, the city of Philadelphia is planning to build an energy hub that would repurpose old refineries to process fracked natural gas and construct more pipelines to transport the dangerous chemicals. The people of Philadelphia do not want this energy hub, and the Carnival de Resistance is ready to lend our energy to this struggle.

We need your help in bringing the Carnival to Kensington and Philadelphia! Our new partners in holy mischief, Restoration Village Arts, will enable your gift to be tax deductible and two gracious donors are ready to match your donations up to $20,000 throughout December. Please visit this link and give today! Any amount you can give aids our cause!

In a broad sense, the Carnival de Resistance addresses the need for hope and imaginative alternatives in the face of the overwhelming crises in our neighborhoods and watersheds. We ‘walk the talk’ with our eco-village demonstration project and our local programs, and we journey through transformation in our Carnival productions. We believe art and storytelling are essential tools for revealing the truth about the dire threats to our ecosystems and for sparking creative change toward a more resilient and sustainable future. Your support can help us make this happen in Philadelphia!

Have hope! Help us act! Let us subvert the systems and the stories that threaten our future.

Poetry as a Political Act

“Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth…If you’re in the difficult process of living as a poet, you’re constantly trying to make an attunement to yourself which no outside manipulation or propaganda can disturb. That makes you a sturdy, dependable voice—which others want to hear and respond to. So, poetry…produces a dialogue among people that guards all of us against manipulation by our so-called leaders.”
June Jordan

analysis-at-spit-ur-peace-hagerstown-by-speak-out-commuity-news-arms-down-taggedMy interest in—no, that’s too weak a phrasing.  My need to be involved justice issues, in anti-oppression activity, can be traced to those who were key influences in my life.  That’s only fitting, is it not?  So much of who we are is shaped by those that impacted us, both in family and extended family.   I was mentored by a pastor, Rev. Wendell Phillips, who—along with a congregation full of conscious leadership—demonstrated a commitment to civil rights and a concern for the “least of these” [Matt. 25:40] that impressed upon me at a young age that one’s faith journey was more than merely singing and sittin’ and prayin’.  The legacy of my own family allowed me to connect parents and aunts and uncles to locations around my home area of Maryland and DC wherein they had fought civil rights battles.  Even the lessons my grandmother taught her elementary students—and my cousins and me—were full of black pride.  Thus, the very elders that surrounded me provided a natural connection to the Movement.   

The above, however, did not prevent a wayward stint, during high school years, in right-wing thought—religiously and sociopolitically.  Thankfully, this period was short lived and my inner need for progressive action was reignited, fueled and forged by the crucial matters of the 80s.  I and many other college students and young adults in general developed our consciousness and delved into activism through participation in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, reacting against the domestic manipulations and international imperialism of the Reagan administration, and the like. Almost the entirety of my career has involved some manner of justice action, teaching or organizing.  This has manifested itself through—and been nurtured by—working in Lesotho, Southern Africa, during the Anti-Apartheid days, being a high school educator, doing anti-oppression ministry nationally and internationally, organizing against anti-immigrant hate, etc.   But where, you might ask, are the arts in all of this?

“The arts are critical in any justice movement, and certainly have been present in all of those I’ve been involved in.”

The music that rallied people, the literature and visual art that depicted what’s going on, the drama that interpreted and made matters real to people—all of these helped increase my understanding of what I was doing, and I have utilized these forms of expression in my own pedagogy.  However, it is only recently that I myself have been an artist using my poetic skills to spur folk to understanding and action.  The idea of even doing poetry started in the 2000s where once, when giving a keynote address to youth about the intersection of faith and justice, I actually decided to freestyle a bit of spoken word to start the session—something that was way out of my experience!  I loved it, and so did the listeners!  Not long after that I had the privilege of MC-ing a concert in Chicago’s House of Blues, a rally for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (http://www.ciw-online.org/).   This group of tomato farmworkers in south Florida have been organizing since the late 90s for improved wages and working conditions, challenging many in the exploitative farm labor industry and fostering agreements with a variety of food companies.  In making sure the flow of the concert was tight I almost freestyled a piece dealing with farm labor, in order to avoid too much dead space between acts.  It turns out I didn’t need to, but I looked back on it almost in shock!  Did I really almost go off the dome in front of thousands of people in the House of Blues?   This poetry seed was growing!  By the time I moved to Connecticut in late 2008, doing some civil rights organizing, I was primed for it more than I even knew.  The CT poets encouraged me, supported me, pushed me to get on the mic and to start writing pieces.  And I was hooked!

I’ve been on the spoken words scene for less than four years, but once I started doing poetry, it quickly became a need to be fed just as much as the doing of justice.  So the two were made for each other!  Many, if not most, of my performance pieces are justice-oriented works that, I hope, elucidate various matters that we as people striving to be conscious and to make this “on earth as it is in heaven” must be attentive to.   As the June Jordan quote implies, poets—and, I would say, artists generally—have a responsibility to speak truth to power, free of the conformity that continues oppression.  Poetry has become a key part of my activism and ministry, and is a natural continuance of the transformative efforts of human rights leaders and conscious artists before me.  May my work honor them as well as catalyze new energy for the Struggle!

By the way: the thoughts that almost got spat in the House of Blues that day?  They did eventually become a piece, performed first for a CIW rally in Florida, and often since.   Water those seeds of consciousness in you with the love and skill and energy you manifest through your art.  The world needs you to do such, and you’ll find yourself enriched by doing so!

analysis-headshot-with-turtlberry-press-tagSince the time of this writing, Analysis has continued to write and perform poetry across a variety of justice/human rights issues as well as subjects of family, love, and desire.  He is also a bookseller at an independent, radical bookstore/restaurant cooperative called Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse, in Baltimore, MD.  His poetry chap book, Somewhere Through the Haze, can be purchased there (https://redemmas.org/titles/24652-somewhere-through-the-haze).  Analysis can be reached at www.facebook.com/analysisthepoet or on Twitter @analysisthepoet. 

Oceti Sakowin, a poem for Standing Rock

standingOceti Sakowin

We woke up to the drone of planes
circling above and soft horse whinnies—
animal breath making heat.
Over the loud speaker,
a man told us that the black snake
oozes closer, feeding on:
our stone hopes thrown into the river,
our wondering at wasted presence,
the chalky walls we build.
Dawn breaks low in the sky
and we watch the smoke turn upward,
byproducts of some mysterious something
we do not entirely understand.

Photo Credit: Mike McCleary, Bismarck Tribune

Restoration Village Arts Supports the Water Protectors

Mni  Wiconi, Water is Life!

I am honored to be going to the Standing Rock Sacred Stone Camp as part of a coalition of religious leaders from around the country who will be part of a protective witness action on Thursday, November 3rd.  Thank you to all of you for your prayers and support and to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville that is also sending me with prayers.  I am flying out tomorrow and Grace, our faithful co-conspirator has already arrived at the camp by car.  This was a last minute and urgent request made by the elders at the camp and by the Episcopal Diocese serving in Standing Rock.  Over 350 clergy have answered and will come wearing robes and liturgical colors and carrying prayers, banners and songs.  I’m attaching the prayers and songs I’ve collected for our action as well as a link to a sermon I preached on Jeremiah, the exiles and the water protectors. Reading the Word in the World, it is quite obvious who the prophets are that speak.  More to come after we return.

Peace and Grace,
Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelwey

Standing Rock Liturgy

Jeremiah, the Exiles and the Water Protectors

Press Release, Oct 31, 2016

Peaceful, Prayerful, Lawful, Non-Violent Witness to be made by Hundreds of Clergy from Many Faith Traditions

Last week a call was issued for Clergy to come and stand witness with the Standing Rock Nation in its protest.  That protest is against the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing an area of land that is considered sacred and a concern for the Missouri River with yet another pipeline crossing it and adding to concerns that already exist in North Dakota about pipeline breaks.

As of Nov 1, there are four hundred clergy that have registered with us to indicate that they are coming to Stand With Standing Rock.  They are coming from many faith traditions and among them many denominations that are represented throughout North Dakota.  There is hardly a place in North America that isn’t somehow being represented by those that are coming for this Peaceful, Prayerful, Lawful, Non-Violent witness.

The Clergy and their faith communities will gather at Oceti Sakowin Camp at 9:00 am, Thursday, November 3rd.  For those churches that have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery we will do that publicly before the Indigenous People of Standing Rock and the Americas.  The Niobrara Circle will form, prayers and songs will be offered in several faith traditions and our solidarity will be expressed.  

Art as a Forum for Justice

Our friend, Belle Alvarez, is a professional dance instructor and performer in Philadelphia, as well as a member of the Carnival de Resistance 2016 crew. Below she shares her thoughts on embodiment, art, and justice.

11412163_10153899670930808_9013857629456385551_oIf justice is about making right relationships in the world, then art is the gateway that roots humanity in beauty, compassion, wonder, and empathy-the things that make us human. What does being “human” mean?

During my pastor’s sermon last Sunday at Circle of Hope, we had a discussion on what holiness looks like. In Leviticus, Yahweh (Old Testament name for God, roughly translates to ‘I am’) says “Be holy, because I am holy.” Holiness doesn’t start and end with personal piety. The bigger picture show that holiness start with belonging to God and relating to those who bear the Creator’s image equitably. That looks like not taking more than what you need, acting mercifully towards the poor, and resting from work on a weekly basis because the community knows the Creator will give generously towards the needs of each day. Our humanity is connected to our holiness. Belonging to God calls for a life of justice that reflects right relationships to one another. So art inspires holiness through doing the grassroots work of justice: relating to one’s neighbor.

Who you are starts with what you embody. The longer I dance, the more nuances I find in what the body knows and what the body can communicate. Experiential memory and how my body responds to a particular recollection is fodder for my research. I see culture shared and reflected through movement in the media, in social forms, and in performance. Artists create culture and culture is shared. An artist is essentially an architect of the metaphysical.

Creative modalities have a way of probing the human psyche and in turn swaying what we love, fear, and long for; as well as how one’s reality is perceived. 

“Artists are trained in giving life to what is not yet seen, a task close to the Creator’s heart, and seeing the best of a community come to fruition.”

14502828_10153876208565808_3057896778196954716_nWith creative modalities such as performance, visual art, and writing, artists have a platform for storytelling, conveying the essence of someone’s experience, and uniting communities around a common journey or theme. This sensory experience plays an important role in cultivating empathy where there may be division. As a leader and facilitator of movement working with children and adults throughout Philadelphia, I see community centered practice as an opportunity for healing the way people relate to themselves and each other and the practice of art as a real life experiment in growth, succeeding through challenges, and collaboration. Art is an opportunity to be exposed to a story from several points of view and to create a new story together.

What art does for justice movements is spread awareness and messages of solidarity and hope. Art gives form and resonance to a message and to the stories from the keepers of the community. Art is a vehicle in making vivid what is yet to be fully seen, in accentuating the holy core of humanity along with the responsibility to live equitably.

Stay connected with Belle!


More Art, Less Violence with Cienaños

As people are rising up in resistance to government corruption and totalitarianism across Honduras, the band Cienaños is writing music for the fight– music to lift the spirits and engender hope in the hearts of Honduran people. But Cienaños is much more than a musical group– it is a movement, a social platform, and a dream of a few artists who came together to make space for art to heal and inspire. Restoration Village Arts had the great privilege of supporting La Banda de Cienaños to be present at the Carnival de Resistance residency in Minneapolis this past September. Cienaños members were integrated in the Carnival crew’s house band, which performed during shows and at local events, and Cienaños hosted a solo performance at Bethany Lutheran Church. The spirit of Cienaños’ resistance work in Honduras inundated the work of the entire Carnival Crew as Cienaños taught about the sociopolitical situations in their home country. RVA’s Program Director Grace Aheron sat down with two founding members of the band– the brothers Gustavo and Leonardo Moreno– to hear more about how art and activism work together in the Cienaños project. The full interview (in Spanish) is included below.

“We don’t just see ourselves as musicians— we are storytellers.”

Leonardo Moreno

Arte con Conciencia
“The Cienaños House,” explained Leonardo, “Is a multicultural platform where artists can create through a process with social and cultural awareness.” Arte con conciencia (art with awareness) is a phrase often used by Cienaños to describe the type of work they do and support. La Casa de Cienaños houses music, an art gallery, a performance venue, and community building events all centered around providing a space for arts and culture in Honduras to be supported and flourish. “Hondurans do not have access to real information about the things that are happening in Honduras… so we created this platform with the intention of creating and funding art with awareness and free expression. The owners of the means of communication [in Honduras] are politicians,” said Leonardo, explaining that media control and censorship severely limits what is and is not allowed to be expressed publicly.  “We want artists to be able to be critical of the things that are actually happening in Honduras.”

14358813_10153928538413657_6133643363439268087_nFor example, La Casa de Cienaños is directly addressing disparities they see in access to exposure for women artists. Gustavo explains, “In the majority of cultures in the Americas, we live in a machismo/patriarchal system, where women are invisible. So, another fight that we have and another commitment we have in the Casa de Cienaños is to empower women. We have nights to empower women and show their art, but more than just empowering women, we want to empower emerging women artists. There are a lot of organizations and platforms of art where you can present your work, but they always ask for a curriculum or a list of experiences, but there are people who are just starting out… so we are empowering women and women who are just emerging as artists.”

On the right, Cienaños performs at Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, backed by a banner featuring the image of Bérta Cáseres, an indigenous Honduran activist who was assassinated by the government for her advocacy around environmental justice. 

A National Hymn
But this commitment to free speech and cultural criticism has landed Cienaños in a serious battle with the government. Leonardo explains the ordeal: “In August of 2015 they [government officials] closed the doors of our house with military force and they used their authority to shut down us down. They wouldn’t let us generate art or color or life or a space of hope for the Honduran people. Without giving us an explanation, all these military people showed up and closed our conversations. They took our car, our identifications, and they threatened us with death if we continued with this. There was a legal process for a long time… but finally after a long fight in the court system and with public ministers, we achieved justice and were able to return to the house.”

The band decided to memorialize this ordeal in their music video, “La Rolita.” Video footage of muralists painting over their artwork inside the house rolls across the screen, the artists describing their sadness and anger at the government censorship. “In this video, we show painters because the painters had murals in our house— murals of awareness— and the government asked to see them inside our house. They came inside our house and closed it, so we made this video where the artists talk about how it felt for them– they said it was the first time that they were told to erase their artwork. And they [the muralists] said that the house had a part of their soul,” explains Leonardo. 

While La Casa de Cienaños had been on the government’s radar for their messages of free speech and their criticism of those in authority, the impetus for the house shutdown came after the group’s unintentional involvement in public protests in June of 2015. In that month, thousands of Honduran people took to the streets of Tegucigalpa in protests of a $200 million government scandal involving the Institute of Social Security. Unbeknownst to them, a song written by Cienaños became one of the marching songs. Gustavo speaks of this experience:  “This song means a lot, particularly because it has a national rhythm (Honduran rhythm) and the point is that no one can pay for you. You don’t have a price because no one can buy your ideals. No one can buy the wind or the sun. They [the protestors] felt power in this, so the song became a hymn for when the people were marching, they were yelling this in the capital, Tegucigalpa. When we made the song, it became easier for the government to want to close the house. If they closed Cienanos, it was like they were closing the art and culture of Honduras. And the video, “La Rolita,” talks about all of this.” When the government officials asked who created the song, they were lead to the doors of La Casa de Cienaños.

“Definitely, the biggest problems we’re dealing with in Honduras are about security- we’re the most insecure country in the world. And corruption, we live in a culture of corruption– the biggest cases of corruption in all of Latin America,” Leonardo said. “So, because of all of this, we link the movements of justice to art like activists and we have the theme ‘artivismo.’ Art is a way in which information can get to the people easily and directly… to be a light and hope for people. So that people know they are supported.”

Stay Connected with Cienaños
The band and house are spreading their message all across Honduras, Central and South America, and the world. They are completely self-funded and do not charge for concerts, committing to their ideals of sharing art and music with everyone. Stay connected with Cienaños through their Facebook page to support their resistance work in Honduras.

“We’re really happy to be here because this work gives us hope and support and joy that there are people outside of Honduras that want to know us and our stories, and to support us as well.” 

Full interview in Spanish:

Art is the Movement with Carnival de Resistance

14425425_611179065734997_1940579171815755788_oOften, art is treated as incidental to gatherings, conferences, institutions, movements. Artists are invited to participate for their additions of texture and creative flair— but what happens when art is centered in the struggle for collective liberation?

Last month, Restoration Village Arts’ Program Director Grace Aheron submerged herself in an experience that endeavors to do just that— to treat artistic creation and expression as the movement itself. The Carnival de Resistance, a creative project supported in part by Restoration Village Arts, gathers artists and activists from across the globe for an annual month-long residency. In its fourth iteration this year, the 30-person crew inhabited the back lot of Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Harrison neighborhood of North Minneapolis.

Working at the intersections of faith, activism, and creative expression, the Carnival drew in a wide range of folks who wanted to play along— children from the neighborhood, young activists organizing for the movement for black lives, elders from the church community, radical puppeteers and muralists. The weeks were peppered with community engagements at various colleges, gardens, and after school programs, and on the weekends the Carnival crew convened its ceremonial theater. The drumming rose up those nights like a heartbeat.

14409470_612329862286584_7096326937660095085_oCarnival invites participants to step into a transformed way of seeing the world. In the Midway which precedes the shows, full grown adults romp around in faceprint and costumes, inviting folks to engage in anti-oppression games (like “Run the Moneychangers out of the Temple” and “Pin the Tail on the Scapegoat”). Adults and children alike are invited to play along— to pick a card out of a deck and participate in an activity that helps reconnect with their wild side (like howling like a wolf pack or lying on their bellies to experience the grass more closely), to engage in a magic show that helps folks believe in the impossibility of imagination, to walk through a village/art exhibition hybrid where beauty is made out of reclaimed and up-cycled treasures.

14445210_612739095578994_3862755636992226323_oThe shows feature the presences of familiar biblical characters— Miriam the sister of Moses, John the Baptist, Crow and Dove from Noah’s Arc, the Divine Feminine. Their prophetic voices and movements rise up in condemnation of present-day consumer culture, disconnect from the earth, the endless pursuit of commodification and progress. Carnival invites a new way of inhabiting justice issues. What does it look like to dance out your mourning over the poisoning of the waters? How can we sing about God’s feminine presence? What would the prophets of the ancient days have to say to us in 2016?

In John’s Gospel, it is written that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. The verb for “dwelt” (skenoo) literally means to pitch a tent— that is, God pitched her tent among us. If God were to pitch a tent amongst us these days, how wold she convey her messages? Perhaps not through didactic speeches or discursive sermonizing, but, we believe, in the delightfully wily and surprising ways God seems to work in the world— perhaps through movement, perhaps through song, perhaps through human bodies connecting to human bodies. Liturgical art is the external expression of internal truths. Like God, we take on flesh to bring new life into the world through creation. Carnival responds to those birth pains.

Restoration Village Arts is proud to partner with the Carnival de Resistance and its artists. We will be featuring the voices of carnival crew members (aka “Carnivalistas”) in subsequent blog posts.

All photos by Tim Nafziger. 

Freedom Fighting in the Studio

RVA Studio TImeBree Newsome arrived last night for a 10 day artist residency leading up to her presentation as part of Human/Ties and the session on Mourning and Memory, Legacies of Slavery and Freedom.  (The event will be livestreamed this Saturday, Sept 17, from 10-12:30pm.)

Bree is an activist and filmmaker from Charlotte, North Carolina. She earned her BFA in Film and Television from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and she has written and directed a number of short films, including Your Ballot, Your Voice, a humorous public announcement encouraging youth voter turnout and Wake, which won  a myriad of awards on the festival film circuit. She is best known for her act of civil disobedience on June 27, 2015, when she was arrested for removing the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state house. Her act and the publicity that followed put pressure on state officials, who removed the flag permanently on July 10, 2015.

We met Bree this past summer at the Summit For Change in DC where Tracy Howe Wispelwey was organizing an artist convening.  Bree planned on coming to receive an award for her activism and witness but knowing that she was an artist, Tracy asked if she would be interested in co-leading the convening and the seeds of friendship, community and collaboration were sown.

We at Restoration Village Arts believe that artists at the front lines of the struggle for liberation, and awakened to the spiritual reality that we are deeply interconnected and beloved by the Living God, create work that is both the fruit of, and catalyst for, ongoing transformation.  They embody the mystery of faith that life and beauty unfold in struggle and suffering because transformational love is real.  Resurrection can be witnessed.

bree_residency2When asked to be a part of this event in Charlottesville, Bree was invited to tour Monticello and learn some of the stories of the enslaved men, women and children who lived there.  She took those stories and wove them into a chorus representing four angels singing to the four directions and proclaiming that these voices will not be silenced.  She is spending this week finalizing the production and music with Tracy in the RVA studio as well as collaborating with local dancers and artists with the Community Performance Project who are choreographing a dance to be presented at Monticello.  We are thrilled to be hosting her and look forward to sharing more beauty and hope from our work together!


Collecting Healing

Collecting Healing
grace aheron





I address the crowds within me:
Rustling robes of people I know only from dreams,
Childhood friends with small hands,
My parents–
One who left his body behind.

When I take steps in this world,
They slosh within me.
Sometimes, a bit of my mother
Spills out
When I take a turn
Too quickly.
The heart of a beloved
Sails forth through a cage of ribs
When I raise my arms in praise.

Let’s say it all began with an 8 year old trying to find help.
Let’s say good intentions mean a lot until the phone rings in the middle of the night
and you’ll never sleep the same again.
Let’s say it ends with our grandmothers, hemming their skirts, beginning to run.

Sometimes I want to say: if you’re not here for the sublime, get the fuck out.

But we who dream for the oceans when we’re standing in a kiddie pool,
must continue to whisper through the walls:
You still here?
Yes, still here.

I can feel the world asking me:
Do you see this, woman?

And me back:
Do you see this woman?

The weeping comes from somewhere I may never be,
but today the moon feels strong,
and I am bare-toed in fresh grass,
and we who are here are many.

La Frontera

Grace Aheron, RVA Program Director, was featured in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s quarterly magazine, The Virginia Episcopalian, with her piece on her recent pilgrimage to the US/Mexico border, a place where hope and beauty grow in spite of the dark forces of sin.


Pilgrimage to La Frontera