Community-Based Art is a collection of banal words that means something magical. This almost supernatural process changed how I see art. I, along with seven other college students, dipped our toes into a something mysteriously exciting and new, led by an all-knowing professor Allison Orr. We all had each others’ backs from the start, giggling after a ridiculous morning at the Waste Water plant or hugging after a frustrating day at Higby Water Treatment plant. No of us knew what we were doing until we literally did it. Until we sat on the tiled-floor staring in awe with an unbreakable smile at our newly made friends performing. I know. I’m still amazed. I can’t believe an eighteen-year-old walks into a Water Treatment plant in his first year of college, and not only is respected, but also trusted by people, who are more than two times his age that have been working for the city and keeping everyone safe for 10+ years. Like what? As my time with these workers continued throughout the semester (even at 7:00am when no college student should ever be up), I learned. I learned so much. Of course, I gained the knowledge of all the ins & outs of the plant, but these employees also taught me how to listen, how to stick to my passions, and how to care for one another. In today’s world, knowledge is a looked at as a privilege and as limited, but this class taught me that if you sit and just listen, knowledge is embedded in everyplace you go.
I had four guys teach me about every nook and cranny of the plant and then proceed to literally shape an art piece that the greater community would see. These men, filled with societal norms of masculinity and the homophobia of male working-class culture, created art. That is crazy. I’m honored to have worked with Allison and to have absorb her never-ending enthusiasm and vast knowledge. And I’m humbled that I was accepted and cared for by four loving Middletown Water Treatment employees.