A remarkable reflection of her experience as a student in “Artist in the City” below. Thank you Lizzy Elliot!
This class has taught me so much about the power of story-telling and good listening. In my experience, successful community-based art showcases good stories. While the technical components of these employees’ work are valuable (likely difficult or complex than most people think), the employees’ personal stories are what truly engage viewers and generate a significant impact. Empathy here is key. When people emotionally relate to someone they do not know, they are more likely to value him/her and their work. City workers in particular have become conditioned by society to think that they are replaceable, that their individuality is not important, only that they are able to get their work done to keep operations going. But each person has a unique and beautiful story. This class taught me how to facilitate the sharing of these stories for not only the sake of the individual storyteller, but for the sake of the listeners (Middletown residents) as well. These stories can be sources of empowerment for the storyteller, but they can also serve to break social boundaries and erode stereotypes that have limited interactions and self-expression.
Relatedly, good stories require good listening. And good listening is an equally powerful tool that serves similar positive outcomes. Allison taught us how to be a good listener and we started each class with listening excises. I realized how much I am constantly thinking about myself while I am supposedly listening to others. I am thinking about my facial expressions, my reactions to their words, what I am going to say next, whether or not I agree, what they think of my response to them. But to listen actively is to give that person your full attention, to give them the space to share whatever they want, to simply just be rather than do. When you give people enough time to share without interruption, vulnerable, often emotional or surprising things emerge from that person. I experienced this with myself, my classmates, and with the city employees. Today when we said farewell to the employees at Waste Water, Al told us that during this process we had treated them like humans; saw them for who they truly are. This anecdote suggests the impact of good listening, of creating a space for people to be seen for who they are, and to connect as humans through that vulnerability.
- Lizzy Elliot, ’16 Wesleyan Graduate!
photo of Al Sanders from The Middletown Press performing his solo about waste water processing