From Kate Proietti, MFA Student in Drama and Theater for Youth and Communities at UT Austin, Forklift Summer Artistic Intern and Stage Manager
Photos by Jonica Moore
“Have you done this before?” a Forklift Danceworks Community Arts Youth Leader from the Dove Springs neighborhood asks me as we approach the next house on our route. “No. Have you?” She shakes her head. We high-five. This is our first block walk. Our goal is to personally invite each household in Dove Springs to the Nadamos Dove Springs/Dove Springs Swims performance in July. The Youth Leader and I practice our script in Spanish and English as we walk from door to door.
It is late afternoon and hot. Summer in Texas kind of hot. With each household we meet, more and more excitement about the performance grows. We invite residents to a pool party on Saturday. We ask folks about their relationship to/with the neighborhood pool. Do they use it? If so, how often? We invite them to be in the show. Do they swim? Like to dive or do jumps? Do they know someone who might be interested in performing? We start rehearsals next week. We offer information about voter registration, free swim lessons at the Dove Springs Recreation Center, and ways to get involved in grassroots organizations doing work around parks and pools in the neighborhood.
This was the first year Forklift Danceworks has hired Community Arts Youth Leaders from the Dove Springs neighborhood. My primary role on the project was to support this youth leader program. My graduate research at UT Austin looks at Participatory Action Research (PAR) with young people. At its core, PAR is about shifting paradigms of research that have historically reinscribed social and power relations by centering voices of those most impacted by the research. Knowing that Forklift’s work is situated within a larger public discourse around creative placemaking and public policy, I approached this project curious about the role community art can play in youth empowerment and agency along with questions about how Dove Springs is situated within a larger city conversation around inclusion and equity. Can the City of Austin’s planning policies accommodate forces of change while also respecting the specificity of culture and values of Dove Springs?
For several weeks prior to the opening of the show, the six Dove Springs Community Arts Youth Leaders, Forklift Danceworks’ Assistant Choreographer Gretchen L., city planner and researcher Lynn O., Lynn’s team of researchers, and I met twice a week. I came to this work grounded in the social constructivist belief that knowledge is constructed through interactions with others and committed to centering the lived experiences of the Dove Springs Community Arts Youth Leaders. We shared celebrations, challenges, needs and goals for the research project. We crafted interview questions for Youth Leader’s friends, family and neighbors related to the Dove Springs Recreation Center Pool. We went to neighborhood meetings, posted posters, distributed flyers, and visited partners and organizations in the ‘44 Dove Springs neighborhood. In addition to the research aspect of the project, the Youth Leaders contributed their voices and movement through song and storytelling, dance, dives and jumps, helping to shape an intergenerational performance and neighborhood celebration circling beyond the circumference of the pool. Forklift Danceworks team, led by Allison Orr and Krissie Marty, have shown me more ways an artistic vision can invest in and valorize the creativity already present within a community.
One of the many hats I wore in Nadamos Dove Springs/Dove Springs Swims was as Stage Manager, where each night I stood as witness to the beautiful stories and dances onstage in the pool and offstage behind the bleachers. The practice and embodiment of care, respect, trust and love within the ‘44 neighborhood holds so much for me to learn from. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” I ask a Youth Leader after the first public performance. “No. Have you?” I shake my head and we high-five.