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An interview with Process Group Facilitator, Wesley Days

Wesley Days, Ph. D, works internationally with groups in conflict and also works with EMC Arts in NY.

Jacinta White: At Snapdragon Journal, we believe there is power in art to heal individuals and communities. What's your opinion of this and the relationship of art & healing?

Wesley Days: I do believe there is power in art to heal individuals and communities. Art has healing components within it. I have both witnessed and participated in conventions that draw on inner beauty, humanity, and raw emotional power. However, it is extremely difficult to perform these roles. It requires a certain dexterity, adroitness, gratitude, ingenuity and inventiveness. And perhaps what is most difficult, often one must relinquish control to others. Paul Gauguin's binary comes to mind here: "There are only two kinds of artists -- revolutionaries and plagiarists." If your intention is to heal through art, then you will want to find yourself in the former. Art offers a guide on how to recreate one's beliefs and assumptions to reconcile with dynamic human environs. Pulling from illusion, image, metaphor and gifting to reality. The art of free-form group facilitation can transform difficult conversations and topics into exciting, important, rewarding, and even fun aspects of a person's growth and development.

JW: When did you first recognize that art builds community?

WD : I recognized that art builds community from my first conscious moments, starting with my nuclear family and into my extended family. Art of all forms was the happiest moments of coming-together; in play, in artistic mimicry, spiritual acknowledgement, in artistic reverence. On my life journey, one example that comes quickly to mind was working in numerous Somali reconciliation conferences in the Horn of Africa. We talked hardcore politics but always made time for Somali poetry which is didactic and answers profound existential questions. When poetry would enter, it changed the atmosphere of the room. If, as the saying goes, "the first victim in war is truth," then the most important victim in the Somali wars has been their poetry. Art builds community by learning to trust creative impulses, seeking spontaneity in one's work, losing self-consciousness, developing confidence and trusting others in taking risks, enhancing powers of observation and concentration, and strengthening self-discipline.

JW: Tell us more about the work you do specifically using art as community building.

WD : The unique side of my work is in its embodied performance and improvisation within an African aesthetic to produce what Yale Scholar Robert Farris Thompson describes as a spirit-driven, body-fed, An community sustaining "exaltation," a boundary-jumping quality. The performance-based facilitator creates on multiple planes simultaneously investigating, empathizing, persuading, inventing and distracting. Art unpacks the almost incomprehensible complexity of identity. Often in facilitated exercises, I ask participants to present different aspects of our identity (through various channels) with each partner, under the assumption that such a task is easily performed. Yet, it should be recognized that identity is not akin to box of crayons open to meticulous selection and extraction of distinct units. Still, my work explores all the levels of our identities and delivers them in unfamiliar contexts, a process which, above all, accentuates the fact that identity is a complex, chaotic web of qualities, events, emotions, preferences, etc. whose threads can never be fully separated or experienced independently of the web. This amalgamation that is our identity is always subject to transformation. As a chaotic system, the slightest, most trivial event can radically alter our identity in ways that we could never have expected. In terms of conflict transformation, the chaos and complexity of human identity and the processes of identity formation, play a significant role in determining the manifestation of particular methods and outcomes. Apparent are the ways in which situations (conflictual or otherwise) transform one's identity and simultaneously how one's preexisting identity shapes new circumstances marked by (varying degrees of) conflict. We embark with the bold intent of discovering what (and in what context, or rather how and why) "seemingly insignificant" events served to drastically transform identity and how the polarities of our identity interact in a balance at the "edge of chaos."

Scholar Thulani Davis asserts that the challenge of this type of endeavor lays in the creation of a public space where many private worlds can be seen and heard. The movement and ritual practices that are drawn upon and created in my symposium will demonstrate the spirit of negotiation in a community striving for coexistence. What, then, is the role of the arts, specifically movement, music, and ritual theatre within a multidimensional approach to conflict transformation? Following along tradition of innovation, as artists at the intersection, my response is a collection of post-modern, hybrid ritual practices designed to stimulate debate about the opportunities for and limits to conflict transformation through artistic methods.

JW: What are some of the challenges you face (or you see others facing, like community or leaders) with using art to heal?

WD: [Quoting Adonis Ali Ahmed Said] "When the Sufi poet enters a world of transformations, he can leave it only by transformative writing; waves of illuminating images which do not bear scrutiny by reasonable or logical means and through which reality itself is transformed into a dream."

Some of the greatest challenges in using art to heal are (1) ideas around the "present-centered" concept of time/space that develops/evolves in a steady, consistent, and undeviating way (unilinear) versus spiral concepts of time; (2) an analytic rather than holistic conception of origin, nature, method sand limits of human knowledge; (3) a human-over-human versus non-hierarchical, shared-power concepts of human relations; and (4) a human-over-nature concept versus humans in relationships of care and responsibility with nature.

Where people lose sight of another possibility of existing. People get so caught up in what they have seen or know, they forget to use their imagination, thus forcing the facilitator to drag them into the world of creation.

JW: As arts practice continues to gain ground in the US and around the world, what do you see is next? Or what would you like to see happen next to expand the work of art in community?

WD: I will continue to enjoy the proof-of-work going on around the world whether that be an article that shows the neurobiological role of Art in social bonding or experiments in Mimetic Transposition. I would like to see arts practice utilized with block chain technology, decentralized autonomous organizations and smart contracts.

JW: Ha, say more.

WD: Well, there's cutting edge technology coming forth that's allowing companies to build equity in a more transparent way. I would like to see that happening more in the nonprofit sector and in community organizations. I wish I could say more but this technology just came out this year and it's very new, so we are all in the infancy stages of understanding its potential. I just want to make sure everyone'sat the table.

JW: Like organizations that work to build community?

WD: Right. Equitable access to doing this work. I so easily see this area being "gentrified." A way-of-being that gets acknowledged.

JW: Talk some about space. Locale, room, space are important to me. What are your thoughts as a facilitator?

WD: Yes. A facilitation space is an instantaneous configuration of experiences. While at UCLA I was a teaching fellow that taught to undergrads the skills to use artistic mediums in peace building with a special focus on group and partner movement exercises with musicians and interactive theater and ritual group process. Students discovered how to construct space/stage that engages and transforms people and their emotional, cognitive and physical selves, presents divisive issues, moves the room, adapts to sudden emotional shifts, sustaining processes, connecting and closing groups.

JW: I can imagine how much of an impact that was for participants.

WD: Special attention was given to the intersections, parallels and divergences among the social constructs of the students themselves such as race, class, language, age, gender and sexuality providing relevant and concrete issues for community transformation through communication (non-verbal) and dialogue. Very powerful.

JW:Wesley, as we close, is there anything you would like to add?

WD: In closing, I would like to leave you with questions. The questions that I still grapple with. That I will probably take to my death without satisfactory answers.

1. How long can movement and music lower defenses of participants in a co-existence process?

2. How do ritual theater exercises, with music playing an equal part as actor itself, allow persons to see and understand the "other" or "enemy" perspectives to which they were not pre-disposed?

3. How can collective, creative group processes with music and movement form bonds between people at war with one another?

4. What psychological perception-shift processes occur when music and movement activities are applied to people socialized to hate and mistrust?

5. How does one measure the effectiveness of a particular movement exercise in creating empathy for persons outside one'sown group?

​6. What is the role of a facilitator who uses creative processes and how does the facilitator'straining and experience shape that process?

JW: Wow, these are powerful questions. We join you in contemplation and invite our readers to do the same.

WD: W.E.B. DuBois description of the necessity of art in our lives parallels a successful facilitation session: "taking us outside ourselves" a matter of trying to create an atmosphere and context so conversation can flow back and forth and we can be influenced by each other.

JW:Thank you, Wesley. We look forward to following your work.

WD: Peace. And, thank you.

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