lunes, 10 de noviembre de 2008


Contributor: Michael Jones

When every place looks the same, there is no such thing as place any longer.
Glenn Murray

From Combating the Geography of Nowhere

In my last essay, Speaking from Presence, ( I suggested that to be in presence means not only asking what we are speaking about but where we are speaking. And where we speak from often involves a deep and profound connection to place. One setting where I found my own sense of place were the summers I canoed and sailed the pure, cold waters, rivers and inland lakes of Georgian Bay. The love I had for the granite rock, the bent pines, the sun and the wind offered a new and luminous dimension to my world. Now, many years later, when I set my fingers in the keys, I am still playing Georgian Bay. It is not that I need to return to the Bay - it was no longer the same as it was then. Rather I lift up these early sense impressions into the imagination as something to grow out from such that it inspires others things that I say and do.

Questions of uniqueness, belonging and the love of place need to be in the forefront of our thinking now. Not only do these questions inspire leaders, they also inspire the communities they lead. When we create environments without richness and diversity, and where everything looks the same, we dull the senses and our instinctive life. Beauty helps us see. Its absence reflects the loss of our birthright and undermines our sense of trust and belonging in life.

Recently I served as a keynote speaker and facilitator for a community dialogue around questions of uniqueness and place. The conference was hosted by a group of cultural and civic leaders who were deeply concerned about the loss of their roots, their cultural distinctiveness and their unique heritage.

Too often when we think of community we look at through the eyes of the politician, the planner, the engineer or the business entrepreneur. It’s value is measured according to the benchmarks of utility and efficiency. This day was an opportunity to look at the community through the eyes of the artist and designer- who serve as social architects and whose work is to imagine what the community would look and feel like if new benchmarks were introduced that spoke to a sense of passion, well being and the significance of place.

The invitation from the Creating Community Network read;

“ This is a day for everyone whose activities and interests make this place a unique and diverse community; If you paint, plow, write, run, sing, sail and live in this community and love it - this workshop will connect you with others who share a passion and wisdom for our evolving community.”

The invitation attracted over 70 members of the community including the mayor, several councilors, as well as practicing artists and municipal, civic and cultural leaders.
The day was not intended to focus on roads, sewers and brick and mortar. Nor was it to solve problems, map strategic options or develop work plans. Instead it was focused on the organic life of the community, to rediscover its sense of centre, to think of it as a living, emergent and whole system by identifying the seeds of its potential and the soil it needs for these seeds to grow. In this context we also shared in the experience of music and story. This re the essential elements of a living system and as such each are like soil that needs our attention to become fully-grown.

Then, in small groups, participants were asked;

“What is the dream we have for our community that reflects its unique gifts, sense of promise, its roots in its storied past?”
“What is the health of our community commons? That is what are the locations, experiences and symbols that define our sense of center and place?”
“To build soil for our possible future, what needs to be conserved? What needs to change?”
“ What qualities of leadership are needed for this vision of our community to be achieved?

To ask what seeds, roots and soil we need to create our common future involves seeing beyond the perspective of simple infrastructure. The conversations were not about roads or sewers or money but about the undefinables; the air we breathe, the music we listen to, the ground where we live, the beauty of our surroundings, the spaces that nourish us and the informal meeting places where we feel most engaged and alive. Too often these are the places lie in the spaces between the notes and as such we have taken it for granted. We don’t notice their loss until it is too late.

The enthusiasm for the day’s conversation revealed that there is a hunger to take time out from the busyness of our lives to reflect on what really matters. There was also a recognition that healthy economies need to coexist with vibrant cultures and engaged communities. Culture in this context is not formal nor arts specific- for the host committee culture was redefined as both broad and inclusive… “ A way to honor community identity and pride and to explore ways to preserve and enhance creativity and diversity for a sustainable community in the future.”

Our way to a positive future is through awakening the commons of our own imagination. It involves a shift in awareness from conformity to uniqueness, from and efficiency to beauty and belonging, from control to improvisation and from utility to he expressive power of story and voice. This includes bringing questions regarding the beauty into public conversations that surface diverse perspectives and patterns of connection and engagement. In this way, communities may discover what they deeply feel and know and ask questions that are critical to imagining their desired future.

Poet William Stafford writes:

All events and experiences are local, somewhere. And all human enhancements of events and experiences - which is to say, all the arts - are regional in the sense that they derive from immediate relation to felt life.
It is the immediacy that distinguishes art. And paradoxically the more local the self that art has, the more all people can share it; for the vivid encounter with the stuff of the worlds is our common ground.
Artists, knowing this mutual enrichment that extends everywhere, can act, and praise, and criticize, as insiders: - the means of their art is the life of their people. And the life grows and improves by being shared. Hence, it is good to welcome any region you live in or come to or think of, for that is where life happens to be - right where you are.

The central themes in William Stafford’s writing were also the themes of the day; – through creating spaces for quiet reflection with music, for the immediacy of open sharing and the fluid movement among groups, the community discovered the mutual enrichment of its own felt life. The knowledge that life grows by being shared, the necessity of starting from right where we are and that the stuff of our worlds is our common ground makes the intangibles of community visible to all.

This shared awareness is also something to grow out from, inspiring all that we say and do.

C Michael Jones, October 2006

Michael Jones Artful Leadership: Awakening the Commons of the Imagination
Pianoscapes 2006

Glen Murray in Combating the Geography of Nowhere” Greg Baeker, Municipal Cultural Planning, Municipal World (Toronto, September, 2005) with reference to Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape: James Howard Kunstler

William Stafford Crossing Unmarked Snow Further Views on the Writer’s Vocation Edited by Paul Merchant and Vincent Waxen (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1998)

I would like to thank the Creating Community Network of Saugeen Shores who organized and invited everyone to bring their unique voice to the Celebrating Our Cultural Connections Day. I also extend my appreciation to Janine Dunlop, a community consultant for the Province of Ontario, for her leadership and support and Suzanne Simmie Stier, an artist and leader for introducing my work to the community and the vision she held for the day.

Michael Jones
Pianist, music composer, writer
Sent for "UNDICUM"

October 2008

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