Art Connects

It’s been a hectic two months and I am so late in putting these thoughts down in print. But I decided that it was better to have some quiet reflective time to do this rather than be rushed while life was pulling me in so many directions!

It all started in early 2016 when my daughter, Purna Bajekal, and I were planning Austin Dance India’s 25th anniversary October performance at The Long Center. I had decided early on to call it Girl Power! but how this very general topic would eventually take shape was still very much up in the air. As we researched girls’ empowerment online, we came across a newly proposed initiative by the United Nations called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) or Global Goals. These seventeen goals include basic human needs and rights as well as community and global objectives. Goal #5 is Gender Equality. This was a huge discovery and in the end created a framework for the entire show!

Since this introduction to the SDG’s I became more and more taken with the urgency of this detailed initiative and how each of us is a partner in achieving them within fifteen years by the year 2030. I signed up for webinars, studied curriculum, researched various topics, and reached out to organizations that were involved with sustainability. Eventually I came across SDSN Youth (Sustainable Development Solutions Network) in NYC who was creating a global artist network. After sending in an application, I was selected as a member of the Artists Network 2030, a NYC based global network of artists whose work reflects their passion for SDG awareness, education, and implementation. None of this would have been possible without direction from my dear student, Sarayu Adeni, whose graduate degree is in global development! She helped me navigate this new world of information.

So in mid-2017, based on what I had learned and experienced, it was an easy decision to take my work into the direction of what is often called social practice. Not only is it imperative that we all participate in sustainability but it is equally important to help others participate. In fact, this involvement is included in the goals. This got me to thinking about sharing stories that are not heard through voices that are never raised. What about those who are affected in their day to day lives by lack of clean water, transportation, education, or any other basic amenity?  From here, the Dance for Global Goals project was born!

From January through to April, I had the privilege of working with two groups of girls and women whose voices are rarely represented in our society, let alone within the arts. The first is a group of refugee teens from Thailand and Myanmar and the second is a group of seniors originally from India. I proposed a series of workshops during which their stories could be collected through a variety of visual, oral, and movement exercises. Again, I enlisted Sarayu who graciously assisted in this project and without whom, it would have been very difficult! Even with all the planning, there were so many elements and factors beyond our control within the scope of the project. Working with first-time performers, the school district, and the City of Austin brought up many unanticipated situations!

In April, after much practice we put together a performance with only one full rehearsal with everyone! Until the day before the show, we could not all be at the same place due to a variety of reasons. Our musicians, with whom I had also had only one rehearsal to create the original music, were par excellence and provided the most beautiful score! We had a decent audience that came out to watch the show and received positive feedback from many who were touched by the stories of the girls and women they had just seen on stage.

In the end, I think it was me who was changed by this project. Hearing the stories, the hopes and dreams of young women and seniors who have left their homeland and created a life here was a humbling experience. As I got to know each of the participants, I was drawn to their compelling story and the resilience of their spirit. Art tells stories. Stories connect people. I know that this is just the first of many such projects using art to connect.

Anuradha Naimpally