By Guest Blogger Lisa Bogle.
I’ve made myself believe I’m pretty cynical. Most people who know me would probably describe me that way. But it’s just a shield I wear. So that when things don’t work out, I can say I knew it all along. Of course, it doesn’t really work. The pain gets through. It always does. And the cynicism only keeps me from letting myself feel it, heal it, and move past it.
But there’s a place where, over the last couple of months, I’ve felt that cynicism lift. A little bit at a time. But it’s going. And I’m not sorry to see it go. I’m starting to believe in magic again.
It was begun by a friend who is, by far, the least cynical person I have ever known. And she’s put her heart and soul into something that can only heal the community it inhabits and the people it touches.
The place is Studio PAUSE (People, Art, Understand, Share, Explore). The person is Sushmita Mazumdar.
Since its opening in mid-September, there have been three Community Pause events. These are events where members of the community are invited to come share their own stories, artwork, poetry, food, and fellowship in keeping with the theme of the current exhibit, whatever that might be.
At the first Community Pause event, the theme being “Black and White and History,” community members heard from photojournalist Nina Tisara, who explained the artistry behind black and white photography in capturing people. Historians Audrey Davis and Christa Watters, two of the authors of the new book African Americans of Alexandria: Beacons of Light in the Twentieth Century, told some of their favorite stories from the book. We then heard from Howard Feinstein, sharing many stories from the civil rights movement.
At the second Community Pause, the theme was “Black and White and Life and Death.” We listened to photographer Ken Marti talk about his exhibit, “Black and White…And Absence,” it’s poignancy and beauty and unexpected humor. We were honored to meet the subject of these photographs, retired army Staff Sgt. Charles “Chaz” Allen, who lost both legs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan. He and his wife shared many stories about his injury, his recovery, and his readjustment to his new life. Mr. Marti also shared a very personal book he created to chronicle his wife’s journey through (and recovery from) cancer. In addition to a very engaging conversation that was sparked from these special guests, others shared their own ways of coping through art. We heard a short story from Terence Kuch, a poem from Shabnam Samuel, and a blog post from Colleen Moore. Each of these people shared how their art has helped them through a difficult period in their lives. The conversation went well past its scheduled time and might have continued even longer if people didn’t have to get back to their lives.
The third Community Pause event was themed “Nostalgia: Celebration!” Community members were encouraged to bring art, essays, poetry, food, and of course stories that represented nostalgia and celebration. Instead of a formal exhibit, which will open later in the month, (Nov 16th to be exact) each person was invited to share personal stories, which they did. The event was more intimate, and the informality led to more sharing of stories than even originally planned. It too went longer than scheduled. The presentations became conversations, which led to more conversations, and more ideas and more community sharing.
And that my friends, is the magic. Sushmita told me that, when she started telling people she had a studio, artists suddenly were everywhere. I was reminded of the line from the movie, Field of Dreams, “if you build it, he will come.” People she had known for years and had never known were creative started talking about their art. And people who thought they didn’t have time, or weren’t good enough, were suddenly being validated by the least cynical person I have ever met. And her friends, and her family, and her community. We suddenly had permission to be “out” as artists. We no longer had to remain hidden and ashamed of our stories. We have a place now to take time out and PAUSE to experience the Art of ourselves and others, to Understand the people around us, their celebrations and their struggles, to Share our stories and to listen to the stories of others, and to Explore our emotions and senses as they are awakened through the magic of this place.
Sushmita, by believing in her own art and stories, brings out the artist in all of us. By creating a space where art and stories are encouraged, she has unblocked this writer, and this is only the beginning!
So please, come in and enjoy a Community Pause. Share one of your own stories. Perhaps your honesty and courage will unblock someone else. Perhaps we can spread the magic even further.