Archive for the ‘Multnomah Art Center’ Category

Communal storytelling fosters a sense of human connection

April 16, 2010

Reminiscing one day with my sister, she reminded me of how I used to keep her awake — snotty with laughter, at bedtime — regaling her with stories about naughty Nabeel, a little boy who had a penchant for riding “bare-back” upon the cat’s ear. She had me chortling, and snorting, as I remembered those times, now well over three decades ago. I was instantly transported to a time in my life of belonging, when I truly felt loved.

Humans since the beginning of time have beguiled each other with stories, personal and communal, fables and sagas. Some of these tales have been, in our sophisticated civilization, pooh-poohed as mere myths, fabrications of the mind and imagination. Yet these stories, like the figments of my own fantasticality, have a tendency to stay with us — to root us, and remind us, of where and what we have come from. And that is the beauty of a story, no matter how odd, fanciful, incredulous it may be, it is still a story, someone’s or, many people’s story. It still has power and meaning and place. Even history, that amalgam of facts and many a fanciful folk tale, at its core, is simply collections of “his” “story” and, of course, “her” “story,” “our story.”

It has been said that what once was old becomes new again, and again. Will Fuller, Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc, Schools Committee Chair has dreamed up a way to bring back the way of our ancestors, for one night, (to start), to the Multnomah Arts Center. On Friday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m., “Sharing Our Family Stories,” sponsored by The Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc., Small Grant Program, will debut.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an evening of personal history and storytelling to celebrate the varied lives and experiences of all people in Southwest Portland. Inspired by Robert Gray Middle School’s Project R.E.A.C.H. and Jackson Middle School’s “Peopling The Nation” Family History Project, where eighth-grade students conduct in-depth research into the background (ethnicity, religion, immigration routes and life highlights) of one family relative, or ancestor, and relate their individual stories, orally and visually, to members of their school community. The original intention of these family history projects was, in my opinion, to afford the children opportunities to learn about and from each other, to dispel or at least begin to diminish the power of the myths and stereotypes of “the other.” A way, I like to think, to help them “know,” particularly in this era of multiculturalism, that we are all, no matter color or culture, inherently human, with rich, different, yet equally important stories.

The aim of “Sharing Our Family Stories” is to foster human connection, healing and community in Southwest Portland. Robert Gray and Jackson Middle School eighth-grade students will facilitate the cross-cultural, cross-generational roundtable dialogues with community members. The students will first recount their personal chronicles. All who listen will be invited to share their own tales.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an invitation to all to break bread together (light snacks will be provided), to meet, human to human, heart to heart, at the table of unity and take turns at being storyteller. So each person may, like the ancient storytellers, griots, and fabulists of lore — whose role it was to educate, nurture, entertain, and ultimately unite their people in love, play their small but mighty part in uniting, in humanity and love — our neighborhoods, our community. The ancients knew that the need to be heard is inherent in all humans. To be heard is to belong. To belong is to be loved.

Everyone has a story to tell. What is your story? Your epos or memoir might star, instead of a mischievous munchkin wildly riding the cat’s ear, an unctuous uncle who sailed in on the big ship Newgate; a chief whose ancestors came with the territory, or a mother Goddess who flew Boeing over the sea. It is your story to tell. Please do.

For additional information and to reserve your place at the community story table e-mail schools@swni.org, or telephone 503-764-5501.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 Edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

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Home is…

July 5, 2009

A raccoon once moved herself and her three cubs into my house. She marched right in the backdoor and straight upstairs to my sons’ bedroom.

Thankfully, mama raccoon – spooked by a surprised, but euphoric, Moses and Malik, who hadn’t yet cultivated their poker faces and were salivating audibly in bug-eyed glee – apparently forgot she had scythes for fingernails and fled, dragging her dazed babies behind her.

Creatures of all kinds feel at home in my house. Some of them, arriving uninvited, stay just a while. Some are pets/family members. Others, contraband, smuggled in by my nature-loving boys, pop up in unexpected places having absconded their cages – “unbeknownst” to my little darlings, of course – to live large in quiet, warm crevices in my humble abode, sometimes for 10 free-wheeling days! Snakes in the master bathroom, anyone?

I, however, for many reasons, have never quite felt at home here, in that settled, rooted, connected-to-the-soil way. There’s a general disquiet that has haunted me intermittently. Don’t get me wrong, I love my house and I’ve spent a lot of creative currency making it into a home for my family – there is definitely no denying “Sharon Martini Lives Here!”

Returning recently to Portland from a triumphant trip abroad, my restlessness returned, magnified. I felt like an out-of-place boulder, a recalcitrant beaver, no longer building dams, becoming the dam, blocking a rushing river, being battered by its current that simply needed to flow, wanting to move into the stream but unable to.

Then, I had an epiphany. “Dance!” Not social dancing but, specifically, take a dance class. This revelation astonished me. I consider myself a freestyle dancer – a “play the music and let me groove my way” type of dancer.

Whenever I perform in musicals, it’s the dancing piece that perturbs me, for I feel bound and restricted by the confines of the choreography, even though as a child I danced ballet and tap for almost 10 years.

Still, something within me “knew” I needed the structure of instruction, predetermined steps, a path, a yellow brick road to follow. Somehow I “knew” African dance was the class. I have never taken African dance; it hasn’t interested me before, yet here I was, 19 years into an admittedly unsettled life in Southwest Portland, with my soul now crying out for African dance. What to do?

I searched the Internet. Not only did I find an African dance class, it was happening that evening at Multnomah Arts Center. The Multnomah Arts Center – where over the years I have taken my sons to architecture, messy art, jewelry-making, tap, piano, guitar and clay classes – which, in my “mummy” world has been a place for my children or, my children and me, not me alone.

Before the class I began to panic, feeling silly and self-conscious, doubting that I “knew” what I knew. African dance class, what was I thinking? I wondered who would be in the class, would I be able to follow the steps, would I be expected to be able to follow the steps, would I embarrass myself (I could always would hide at the back), who would the teacher be? Ignoring this mind chatter, I went to the class, albeit tentatively.

Quieting some of my apprehension, this African Dance class, replete with live drumming, was being taught by an African man from Ghana – Nii Ardey. It was a small class, so there was no hiding in the back. But it didn’t matter because once the drums began to beat I was stomping, stepping, swooping and twirling. I was air. I was energy. I was love. I was gratitude. I was home, moving in rhythm and at one with, what I believe is, the primordial heartbeat of the universe.

When the drumming ceased, I stood still, grounded, sweat flowing from my pores, proof to me that the dam I had been had broken, and I re-remembered that “home” doesn’t require a plane ticket, nor bricks and mortar. Home isn’t place or position, country or creed. Home is peace, music, movement; it’s connection, delight, detachment. Home is freedom, letting go. Home is art.

Like Dorothy clicking her heels in The Wizard of Oz, I can go home whenever I want, for home lives in me and I live in she, but, if I ever need help finding my way, I shall hotfoot it down to Multnomah Arts Center for an African Dance class, or whatever art form I need at that time to transport me.

“Home” is where the art is. Dance, beading, painting, weaving, drama, piano, it’s all there at Multnomah Arts Center. There’s “transportation” with your name on it there, I’m sure.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.


This article originally appeared in the July 2009 edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Where is “home” for you?