I know several people who, when they approached their thirtieth birthday, had a mild crisis. I did not when I turned thirty earlier this year. But, I did make it a goal to have a full-time job interview before I turned thirty, a goal I achieved with a few months to spare. I was not offered the job, but I very much appreciated learning about their programs and the process brought into clarity some feelings I had been having about my vocation.
First, I like the autonomy of working independently. Not that I don’t collaborate in my work, but I have control over what I do, how I do it, and when I do it. I can choose how to frame my projects, how they’re funded, and there is not an underlying pressure of making it count toward tenure or to make projects fit within an institution's missional scope.
I also realized that my research training has refined my skills in viewing issues from a variety of angles and in the past, present, and future. This is not always the case, however. There are a great many people with passion about one issue or another and have great motivation to work towards social change. But, they do not necessarily have the ability to see the issue in the big picture, or see how decisions now affect future community building opportunities, or that language used actually perpetuates problems rather than addresses them. I have found myself in a position more recently to help provide some context for the best of intentions so that they are more effectively put to use for sustainable change rather than short-term, emoted reactions.
I had spent four years building relationships and getting involved in the greater Lafayette community through interfaith initiatives and community engagement work with a local congregation, and it has been in the past few months that I’ve realized how valuable this time and knowledge is. This is a full-time job.
I spend my time listening to people and identifying individuals who are experts, whether through life experience, self-study, or research practice. I organize meetings and connect people based on shared interests. Some of the time, it feels as if I am not doing a whole lot of anything with my kids tagging along. But, it is all valuable, because, at the end of the day, week, month, year, the time spent connecting with people intentionally is what builds strong communities, activates networks, and enables the possibility of working together across religious lines, across socioeconomic status, across racial lines, across economic, government, and non-profit sectors to address issues in our community that affect all of us.
With these thoughts, and others, I decided to refocus my blog. There will still be studio updates, in the more traditional sense. But, from here on out, there will be more focused posts addressing these artful connections. Because I still see all this relationship and community building as an artform. I spend a lot of time preparing talks, and those will be posted with some modifications. Part of this is selfishly motivated to self-legitimize the work that I do, but mostly it offers another venue for sharing information, for community education, and for creating stronger communities.
Ruth M. Smith
Community arts educator and researcher. Drinking coffee. Home educating. Making art. Listening intentionally.