Editorial: The Art of New Work

“It is important to understand that we are creating this liberated space so we can release our individual creativity toward a collective goal.”

                                                                           —– Baba Wayne Curtis


What does it take to create a new city?  What makes up a city? What kind of work will we do? How do we develop ways to expand our humanity as we develop new ways of living?

Whether you think of a city as government bodies, or as the people who live in it, rarely do we think about a city’s role in developing our social, spiritual lives along with our political consciousness and economic well being.  Increasingly we are coming to understand that artistic endeavors and cultural husbandry are part of the work necessary to create a more human future. Necessary work is more than producing goods and services. It includes attention to beauty and to cultural life that is vital to heal our society and our souls.

This Winter/Spring 2018 issue of Riverwise focuses on projects that could be considered ‘New Work’— efforts being made by people to usher us into a new epoch of economic production at the community level.

Projects like the windmills at CANArts Handworks, whose basic materials originate from found objects, discarded technology and the mind of Carlos Nielbock. His bold vision of ‘upcycling’ as a way to revitalize local economies through our commitment to skilled trades, especially metalwork, is exposing new possibilities of human development and energy self sufficiency.

Or Detroit’s Incite Focus (next issue), where young minds are learning the tools now commonly attributed to the upcoming ‘third digital revolution’. There is a worldwide network of Fabrication Labs emerging, replete with 3D printers and laser cutters. Blair Evans is at the forefront of that movement. Many tech-pundits hope FabLabs will provide a modern path for local communities to produce what we need in our own cooperative workshops.

For most of our history, resources essential to life have been in the control of big business, making profits for the few at the expense of the many.  But there are alternatives. There are, in fact, roadmaps demonstrating community-led production and management of resources commonly left to big business. A powerful partnership between Ryter Cooperative Industries and the Soulardarity collective has Highland Park residents leading the energy democracy movement in this region. Their commitment to solar energy and the ownership of energy policy is creating new opportunities for people to have greater control over their lives and the resources that exist all around us.

As we address the emerging possibilities for community production, we find that the real power is in the potential for cooperative efforts over utilities and infrastructure normally considered too big and too complicated for community control. Traditional municipal operations have taught us that energy resources must be produced and distributed by large, private utilities. Household energy consumers rarely envision turning that relationship on its head and making energy generation a part of a community-based economy. How would it look if the people produced and distributed electricity on a more accessible ‘grid’, while leading the region toward green energy projects at the same time?

The residents of Highland Park are giving us a preview of just that. They’re finding out that production and access to energy is what we determine it to be.

So, as we envision and apply new ideas to birth a new society, where does art and creativity fit in with all these projects that are opening up new pathways to community-owned production? Where do work and art intersect?

Carlos Nielbock reminds us that for much of human history, work and art were inseparable. The iron and copper smelting and forging works of 14th century kingdoms of the Sudan and the Guinea coast of west Africa combined use and beauty. There was no separation between work and art.  What we look at as purely artistic activities today often served as tools for storytelling, protection, food cultivation, or food storage. Work was not compartmentalized by the ‘job’ as they are in modern society.

How do the fantastical sculptures and cosmic portraits of mail carrier Milton Bennett  fit into the larger social fabric? He is forced to separate and then reconcile two distinct approaches to life. But as you’ll see in this issue (page 22?), he does just that.

Why is it important to celebrate the creative output of artists who have raised the consciousness of devotees worldwide? Del Pryor provided us with an opportunity (page 7) to address this question while congregants gathered in her ‘pop-up’ temple with a common purpose: to praise the artistry and positive forces emanating from the saxophone of John Coltrane.

Art also can contain our history. This spring in a garden setting, one of the foremost graphic designers in the Black revolutionary movement, Emory Douglas will inspire the year-old Emory Douglas Family Youth Arts Program (page 19) as they continue to forge liberated space in which to release our individual creativity with a collective goal.

And the ¡MIRA! coloring book (page 16?), similarly creates a forum uplifting participants. Both the community artists who provided the design and direction and the youth (and adults?) artists who draw and color engage through art addressing social, economic, racial and gender injustice.

These varied approaches allow us to look at artistic endeavors as part of the work of evolving society. The creative, imaginary mind is vital to our mission to create political and economic policy that transforms how we live and make a living. We can together imagine and create a society that doesn’t bow down to billionaires.

There are groups and individuals in Detroit neighborhoods who, overlooked and exploited by this capitalistic system, are reimagining daily life.

In Puerto Rico, right now, the same thing is happening. In the midst of a massive effort to just survive, a movement towards a new society is developing at an even greater pace. Out of rubble and ruin new ideas and relationships emerge built on common needs, not competition.

It’s our commitment at Riverwise to provide a platform  so that these grassroots and visionary movements can be nurtured, shared and protected as they carry us toward a better future.                                                   


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