In this interview, ArtCorps Artist Naphtali Fields explains how sowing confidence, purpose and creative leadership builds stronger communities.
The youth have learned that their stories matter and how to use storytelling and theater to promote discussion and behavior change. They have also experienced the power of what they can accomplish by working together. Staff have learned to value creativity, to give themselves more time and space in their personal life to reflect artistically, and that there is always a more dynamic and engaging way to present information.
How are the youth and staff applying their new skills and knowledge?
Youth are coming up with their own initiatives for continuing to creatively work to improve their communities. Other public and nonprofit organizations have approached the youth we trained to create original plays. The staff are thinking in new ways about how to incorporate creativity into their meetings and workshops, and they are trying to resolve conflicts in the office and the communities where they work by using arts-based tools.
Servicio Jesuita takes a “holistic” approach to human development. Can you explain how this plays out in your work?
I think the best way to think about community development is to understand how the issues are interconnected. The kid in a theater group is the same kid who gets sick when he has to put chemical fertilizers on his corn, the same kid who’s seen his dad beat up his mom and the same kid who only studied up to third grade because he had to start working full-time. So we are discussing, reflecting and working on multifaceted issues that are part of the participants’ daily reality. We’re holding up a mirror of what’s happening now along with an alternative vision of what we can accomplish together.
I’m proudest not of the plays that we’ve performed, but of the change I see in the youth after they join the group. This takes place in the moments when they realize that they have accomplished something that they never imagined they could (like memorizing a part, singing a rap or performing for an audience)–and it happens not only in performances but in our weekly rehearsals and workshops.
How has your understanding of Art for Social Action evolved over the past two years?
I’ve realized that social action doesn’t happen until there is individual transformation–and that is a slow process. The beauty of Art for Social Action is that when one or two people discover their confidence and purpose and begin to blossom creatively, their actions inspire others to follow their example. This is how change spreads!
In 2012, the youth groups trained by ArtCorps Artist Naphtali Fields performed nine plays reaching over 700 people with messages about sustainable agriculture, women’s rights and violence prevention. This project is being carried out in collaboration with Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo and Oxfam America.