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Just begin It was June 1, 2012. The artists had just arrived. Nine fresh faces joined our core group of four to embark on a 90-day creative, contemplative journey together. I was terrified. I had dreamed up this program and convinced a bunch of people (friends and strangers) to buy flights to Italy in order to participate in this experiment of collaborative art making and intentional living. I felt an immense amount of personal responsibility, self-doubt and exhilaration at the knowledge that it could totally fail. But I was in. We had started. There was no turning back now.

and producing work that was rushed and lacked profundity. So when the summer began, the stakes were high for me personally. The first night, I looked around the dinner table - excited, nervous, enthralled. And so, I did the obvious thing in my unsure state: I stood up to make a speech.

I had arrived at the Art Monastery three years earlier. From the first moments, I was inspired by the incredible landscape, the beautiful vision, and the passionate souls all around me. But after three years, I had become acutely aware of the ways in which we were falling short of our wonderful aspirations. We talked about living peaceful, monastic, sustainable and creative lives - but we were mostly stressed out administrators, making little time for self-care or even recreation.

In this speech, I started talking about goals and aspirations that had been consciously and subconsciously weighing on me for years as if they were already solved. I spontaneously started talking about the Art Monastery as a place that put equal value on creating a really high-quality art product as well as caring for the artist as a whole person. I talked about how excited I was about all the possibilities we had to co-design whatever kind of summer we wanted: where artistic practice could meet contemplative practice could meet community practice. And that we were in this beautiful situation where we could make fabulous art that would really touch people’s hearts and make the world a better place.

We wanted to be a haven for artists to experiment with the relationship between contemplation and creative practice - but we rarely had the resources to truly offer them this experience. A lot of resentment built up around serving ‘external’ artists while the core team did the grunt work and was artistically frustrated. And maybe most of all, we dreamed of being a community where meaningful, highquality, professionally driven, socially relevant art was produced - when in reality, we were creatively drained

And then, the shocking thing is... that’s what happened. We started living it. That speech was a tangible example of a shift in tone in our community. That summer, we all, in our own human and flawed ways, strove to genuinely care for the creative, emotional and spiritual health of each individual and the group. I stopped resenting others from ‘holding me back.’ I let the fear and self-doubt rush at me head-on and did my best to meet it with gratitude for each new moment, loving every human being I encountered, and

Art Monastery Project

Liz Maxwell trusting myself and the process. And we made a theatre show that I’m incredibly proud of, and lived together in a way that I feel really good about. We did our best. And we did it - one day. And then the next day. And the next. And each day now, I still try to wake up and choose. Because I know that change - even huge, radical shifts - can happen suddenly, and all at once. All you have to do is begin. Liz Maxwell is an award-winning theatre director, physical performer, and the Artistic Director of the Art Monastery Project. Originally from New Orleans, Liz likes to think about space, time, and what it’s like to be a human being these days. Photos by Sean Yoro (left) and Betsy McCall (right)

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