The Intimacy of Community Arts Engagement
community communing collaborating connnection coming together circles creativity compassion
“When we plant, when we weave, when we write, when we give birth, when we organize, when we heal, when we run through the park while the redwoods sweat mist, when we do what we’re afraid to do, we are not separate. We are of the world and of each other, and the power within us is a great, if not invincible power. Though we can be hurt, we can heal; though each one of us can be destroyed, within us is the power of renewal. And there is still time to choose that power.” —Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark
Circles of Women
Bringing women together to write their lives is my passion and, for me, a necessity.
I have been writing my life since starting to write in a journal when
I was nineteen, inspired by reading the diaries of Anais Nin and the memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir. The tumultuous 1970s transformed my life, as I was radically guided by the “personal is political” and entered into a lifetime of radical politics, feminism, writing, teaching and activism.
Since arriving on this magical Salt Spring Island, the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish First Nation Peoples, I have been able to manifest my intention to create a sacred space for women to feel safe, supported and nourished. We can only be open, honest and vulnerable with ourselves when we feel safe and trusting.
These circles give me a sense of intimacy that I so crave.
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I nd that something magical occurs as women are drawn to these circles. The invitation to join other women to write, read aloud, share and witness their writings inevitably leads to a kind of intimacy that deepens as we continue to meet together. It always feels like a gift, offering these workshops and circles, encouraging, enticing women to write about and from their lives.
The intimacy that is generated within these circles is profound and moving. Coming together regularly—being in one another’s presence— creates the potential for authentic sharing, dialogue and vulnerability that is so necessary to individual and collective growth. As we share our words, our thoughts, our lives, we see one another in our fullness. This inspires ever-deepening connections and a sense of community through sharing our words, our hearts and our lives.
We gather together in each other’s living rooms, bringing treats
to share, our journals, a pen (or a laptop) and a precious invisible collection of stories. During the next three hours, we alternate between writing, reading what we’ve written and sharing. We allow our writings and our creative selves to come forth. It’s a process of deep listening, vulnerability and active trust-building. Sometimes we pull tarot or other divinatory cards to stir the creative embers. Other times we hear passages from recent or long ago memoirists, essayists or novelists (mostly always women) to inspire our own inner rumblings. Then, the room grows quiet and we write and write. Through the ritual of sitting and quietly writing together (and alone), the stories within us take ight, drawn from the well of our unconscious minds to be birthed on the living page.
To further ensure the continuity of the connections that we are creating, I have created monthly women’s writing circles, composed of women who have taken a previous workshop. One of these circles has met for almost a decade and another for close to eight years. There has been some uidity of participation, and two other circles have not, yet, materialized into monthly gatherings. Our ages range from late twenties through eighties. We have recently been collecting our stories about how we each came to live on Salt Spring Island. We are hopeful
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to create a book, give readings and continue to share our writings and our lives with one another.
“Thank you for bringing together women of such diversity of age, background, and life experiences. It is through your love and skillful guidance that we prosper in our writing and the con dence to share our stories. What a wonderful experience it was, women celebrating our stories as we move out of darkness into the light. I brought home with me the warmth, the joy, and the stories of phenomenal women joining in circles to write, to share, to inspire, and to grow as far as our wings of creation will expand and soar.” —Premilla Pillay, member of Circles of Women writing group
Our Island Communities
I am passionate about community.
I crave communing and gathering with others. It is an ardent need of mine. From the time I moved here with Corrie, my lovergirl-life partner, I have been engaged in community and the arts.
Communities are living, changing entities reliant upon the energetic and intentional commitment to be of service to others. Much as with our friendships and even our relationship with ourselves, communities require continued engagement, practice and renewed commitment.
The increasing anonymity of living in a city was becoming a regrettable feature of urban living. This became more apparent when we were visiting Salt Spring Island and returning to our lives in Portland, Oregon.
Moving to Salt Spring Island has opened up avenues that never would have existed had I remained living in the city. I have been offered opportunities to be part of the cultural, theatrical, musical, artistic life, not only as a participant but also as an organizer.
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Being surrounded by water is also a naturally creative element to island life, inspiring, and supporting creativity and expressions of all kinds. Living on an island, even one of the size of Salt Spring, facilitates a kind of intimacy simply from interactions that come as you go about your life. Whether you want to or not, you are bound to pass someone you know, even if brie y or super cially. This, by its very nature, creates the potential for connections and friendship.
Creativity and Collaboration
“Part memoir, part writing practice, part inspiration, this book is a multi-voiced creation of three passionate and committed journal writers…reveals the depth and complexity that emerges from going to the blank page, transforming the act of writing into a catalyst for meaningful conversation, storytelling, mindfulness, personal growth, creative self-expression and mutual support.”
—Wendy Judith Cutler, Lynda Monk, and Ahava Shira,
Writing Alone Together
It is still quite amazing to me that I co-authored a book on journalling since I have lived here. After seven years of collaboration with two other island women, Lynda Monk and Ahava Shira, we birthed Writing
Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection.
We rst met to journal together and then, intuitively, decided that we were writing a book that could be a resource to other women who wanted to write “alone and together.” I don’t feel that I could have created anything like this unless I was living here and connected with these two other writing sisters. All three of us continue to implement the practices in the diverse creative and community projects we’re involved with.
“When we feel that we are part of the world, we feel empowered and more hopeful. We are able to connect with others and feel part of a community. Acknowledging these connections creates the energies
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that move us towards living more conscious lives.” —Wendy Judith Cutler, Writing Alone Together
The Creative Arts
Salt Spring Island embodies a vibrant arts community, perhaps due to its size (larger than some islands and much smaller than most cities) but also through the vital contributions of artists and creators. Practically each week, rehearsals and performances are occurring, art exhibits and shows are mounted, readings, meetings and gatherings of all kinds are occurring. The main venues are well used, including community halls, schools, churches and homes.
“Corrie brought me to this magical island the year after we became lovers. We camped at the most beautiful campground in the world, overlooking the shimmering ocean as seals, herons, orcas and graceful ferries passed by. We returned nearly every summer after that, in early September, after the tourists and students left…. We both felt energetically pulled—to the beauty, the elements, the intimacy of living on an island, and fantasized living here.”
—Wendy Judith Cutler, “Crossing Boundaries”
When we were still visitors, I remember stepping into Salt Spring Books. On one row to the left of the entrance were books published by writers living here. This single row of books has expanded into
an entire bookshelf of offerings. Writing Alone Together has a place on this shelf. The anthology from a small Vancouver Island press, Rebel Mountain Press, Breaking Boundaries: LGBTQ2 Writers on Coming Out and Into Canada, with Corrie and my co-written story, “Crossing Borders:
A Lesbian Immigration Story in Two Voices,” was recently delivered to the store. It sits on the bookshelf across the aisle along with the Vancouver Island literary journal’s Island Writer Magazine, which has a poem of mine in it titled, “We Wise Writing Sisters Gather Together”
Since 2010, through the “Artist in the Class” Program, funded by Salt Spring Arts Council, I have been bringing Creative Journalling
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Figure 32: A Salt Spring Island women’s writing circle from 2017 led by Wendy Judith Cutler. Photographer: Wendy Judith Cutler. Courtesy of the author.
Figure 33: Cast of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, 2018. Photographer: Metta Rose Photography. Courtesy of the artist.
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into high school classrooms and mentoring girls and queer students in small workshops. Journalling unleashes and cultivates creativity of all kinds and the skills of self-awareness, re ection and courage. It encourages students to pay attention to the moment-at-hand, release anxieties, fears and worries. What is most important is that this is writing for themselves, not others.
“Journalling with other people is such a freeing, honest experience. It’s given me freedom to express and share my thoughts and feelings through writing. There’s a peaceful harmony that lls the room when we can listen and share with one another. Journalling has helped me grow as a person. It’s there for me when no one else is.” —Melanie Gregory-Worsell, former GISS Student
My passion for intimacy and connection inspires me to participate in and create community, in all its various forms. Living on this island, I am able to merge many of my deep passions, dreams and concerns.
Theatre and Performance Arts
The magic of performance never fails to excite me, since my rst ballet performance in The Nutcracker as an eight year-old with the Los Angeles Junior Ballet Company so many years ago. When we made Salt Spring Island our permanent home, I knew I would be offering women’s writing workshops. Little did I know that I would become part of the theatre community through performing, assisting and even organizing events and performances.
Performing and dancing in several theatre productions has been something that would never have happened if I had continued to live in a city. I have been in the casts of local productions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Cabaret. Corrie and I were also a couple in a production of The Hard Times Hit Parade, a re-creation of the dance marathons of the 1930s, an exciting venture with a Vancouver-based company, Dusty Flowerpot, directed by Kat Single- Dain.
As I am writing this, Corrie and I are performing as “Ball Dancers” in the revival of a Salt Spring Island classic, Christmas with Scrooge, an original creation of Ray and Virginia Newman, rst performed in 1971. It is lovingly directed
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and divined by their multi-talented and open-hearted daughter, Sue Newman, whose parents’ integration of social justice and theatre arts live on within Sue.
“In the words of the Ghost of Christmas Past, ‘What power we have to make others happy or unhappy!’ It’s so simple, eh? We all have that power! That’s what social justice is all about and Dickens beautifully spells it out for us.”
—Sue Newman, program notes for Christmas with Scrooge
Being part of this production created a widening of my sense of “community”
and a gratefulness for experiences like this to bring out the true spirit of “Christmas” for these two Jewish lesbian feminists, who usually feel somewhat
depressed during this time of year.
The Queer Community
Knowing there was a substantial “out” queer community on this island was an important factor in us choosing to move here. We have been involved
in various ways throughout our years living here. Showing up for LGBTQ Pride events has certainly been a priority. We’ve helped plan and participated in many of these and were part of a small group that conceived of and organized the island’s rst Pride Parade in 2008. Our LGBTQ organization recently transitioned from GLOSSI (Gay and Lesbians of Salt Spring Island) to DAISSI (Diverse and Inclusive Salt Spring Island), re ecting the need to be more inclusive, diverse, intersectional and political in opposing and educating against oppressions of all kinds.
Just after Corrie and I arrived on the island, we participated in a staged reading of The Laramie Project about a town’s reactions to the homophobic murder of
a young gay man in Laramie, Wyoming. It was a unique collaboration between high school theatre students, the queer and theatre communities. As I write this, we are in rehearsals for another staged reading of The Laramie Project:
Ten Years Later, which I am organizing and is directed once again by the high school drama teacher, Jason Donaldson. Collaborations such as these are fruitful models for future events.
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Arts Accessibility and Accountability
Community and local projects must be enthusiastically supported by Salt Spring Islanders and resources must be made available. Our theatre and community halls must be accessible and affordable so that artistic, cultural, political, social, educational and spiritually inclined artists are able to share their creativity and creations. Many cannot afford the nancial cost of renting venues and producing events. The Salt Spring Arts Council offers grants and professional development funds, but these funds are limited. Much more needs to be available to nurture and support arts projects. It is incumbent upon the organizations and structures that highlight the arts to support as many community arts projects as possible.
Many of us take pride in all that Salt Spring has to offer us, but scores of us are unable to bene t. Those of us with the time and skills must willingly offer these precious commodities to those most in need of support and resources. Many on this island have unmet and unrecognized needs, often living in marginal or non-existent housing, forced to move when homeowners evict them to make room for higher paying guests or seasonal visitations. Some have to choose between rent, food, gas or other essentials, trying to make a living, relying on low wages and often unstable employment.
The “we” of us must include the most vulnerable and unsettled of us. In this exceedingly technologized society that seems to privilege speed and ef ciency over traditional wisdom and practices, meeting face-to-face is one of the most important things we can do. Face-to-face, direct contact is what feeds me. On-line communication does not allow one to perceive and receive the more subtle nuances, engage our senses and exchange energies.
The more we come together, honour one another’s pursuits and physically show up and support the various events occurring daily and weekly, monthly and annually, the more enlightened, informed and compassionate we will be, individually and collectively. The combination of politics and the arts are an essential feature on this island. Nothing takes the place of this.
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We need to listen to, honour and support the voices and experiences of
those whose lives have been marginalized and, even worse, silenced. There
is so much richness to draw from and yet in many ways a dearth of concrete mentorship and sharing of resources. This must also extend to the youth in our midst. Support of all kinds must be extended out to them so that they can feel acknowledged, respected and seen as an essential part of our communities.
As a lesbian feminist and social justice educator and activist, I have a commitment to collaboration, critical thinking and social justice. When I arrived as a permanent resident, with my lovergirl-life partner, I knew we would be laying down roots and connecting with others. That is a huge part
of the reason we moved to this precious island. We feel that we are, nally, home and are so grateful to be living the lives we are living. I hope to continue to inspire others to honour the wisdom, power and potency of their words, creations and hearts.
The fact that “feminism” has been named “word of the year” by the American Merriam-Webster Dictionary hopefully indicates that more and more of us
(of all genders and preferences) will identify as feminists. It is my fervent hope that our island, our communities, our collaborations, our creativities, our lives will be moving towards honouring this earth and all of its inhabitants.
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Iris McBride is a painter and retired nurse living in Duncan, BC,
who formerly lived on Salt Spring Island. Between 1964-1967, she was a registered nurse at Toronto Western Hospital, and later worked Lady Minto Hospital on Salt Spring Island. From 1986 to 1989, Iris attended the Victoria School of Art in Victoria, BC. Under Salt Spring artist Kathy Venter, Iris studied clay sculpture from 1990-1993, and then later took workshops in 2004 at Emily Carr School of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC. Her work is available on Salt Spring Island at Rhubarb Design.
Regan Shrumm is an independent curator who is currently an uninvited guest on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen peoples. She received a master of arts in art history and visual studies from
the University of Victoria. She is currently an assistant curator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. She has previously held curatorial positions with Open Space and Legacy Art Gallery in Victoria,
British Columbia, the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Washington, and the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Her essays have been published in academic journals and exhibition catalogues such as The Art of A. Banana Unpeeled (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Open Space, 2017) and Indigenous In uences (Museum of Northwest Art, 2017).
Wendy Judith Cutler is a longtime radical teacher, writer and Jewish lesbian feminist activist who has taught women’s studies and writing for more than thirty years. She was a contributor to The Coming Out Stories (Persephone Press, 1980), the rst lesbian anthology of coming- out stories. She has been involved in grassroots lesbian feminist and queer politics, community-building and culture for several decades. She is co-author (with Lynda Monk and Ahava Shira) of Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection (Butter y Press, 2014). Her poems have been published
in We’Moon 2011 and the Island Writer Magazine. Her essay (co-written with Corrie Hope Furst), “Crossing Borders: A Lesbian Immigration Story in Two Voices” is published in the anthology, Breaking Boundaries:
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LGBTQ2 Writers Coming Out and Into Canada (Rebel Mountain Press, 2017).
She was a Lambda Literary Fellow in 2017 and her essay, “Hello Dear Ones,” is in the upcoming Emerge: 2017 Lambda Literary Fellows Anthology (Volume 3), 2018. Through WomenWriting, she facilitates women’s journalling and memoir workshops and creates sacred circles of women writing together. Her work- in-progress is Memoir of an Undutiful Daughter: Lesbian Feminist Transformation in the 1970s. She lives on magical Salt Spring Island, the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, where she resides with her lovergirl-life partner of 31 years, Corrie, and their constellation of intimates.