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Reflections on Creating WellSpace at TCG Miami 2019

By Viviana Vargas posted 05-28-2019 20:06

  

I love that this year’s TCG Conference, a reflection of where some of the theatre industry nationwide is at, interestingly aligns with where I am in my artistic and professional practice. After attending The Melanin Collective’s POC Entrepreneurial Bootcamp in Washington, D.C. and artEquity’s National Facilitator Training in New Orleans last year, I was inspired to develop and articulate my personal “self care” practice as an artist, activist, arts manager and facilitator into something that could be shared with others in these fields.


I officially held my first session of the “Self Care = Self Love Workshop” (after having shared it unofficially with my roommates and friends in our apartment in New York) at MINKA Brooklyn, an incredible POC and LGBTQ+ uplifting, sliding scale, wellness space in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn. The session went so well that I realized I could share keep sharing it in different spaces. After starting Advancing Arts Forward, a movement to advance equity, inclusion and justice through the arts, I had a lot of potential offerings for the arts community that would “advance equity, inclusion and justice through the arts,” but wellness and self care was really something that stood out. I apply to so many funding opportunities, speaking opportunities, fellowships, etc., on a weekly basis and the Self Care = Self Love Workshop is what consistently keeps getting selected in community. (I’ll also be sharing this workshop at the Arts Administrators of Color 2019 Annual Convening in Washington, D.C. this November 9th and 10th.)

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(Graphic by PrincexDesign. Image Description: Seashells surrounded by palo santo wood sticks with a border of the words: physical, psychological, homelife, sexual, workplace, emotional, financial and spiritual.)

For more information on the workshop itself, check out this page. In a nutshell, we are talking about self care actually as the act/actions of self love. It’s about saying, “I care about you, self, enough to not put you through things I wouldn’t ask my best friend or closest family member to do.” It’s about choosing to be a best friend for yourself; I am choosing to be my biggest ally instead of my biggest bully. This is hard to do sometimes, but when you think about it, who benefits from you not taking care of yourself? Those who want to see you fail. So, especially, especially, for those from historically/currently marginalized communities: our abusers, colonizers, haters, however you want to describe them, benefit off of us not taking care of ourselves, off of us being sick, because then they win. This also goes more broadly for those of us in the arts, in theatre, fighting against those who don’t believe in what we do. Those who don’t believe theatre is worth funding or producing or convening around. This is why, “the future of the theatre industry depends on the wellbeing of its theatre workers” to quote from our WellSpace at TCG description. If we as theatre workers contribute to putting ourselves down, those who want to see us fail benefit from that. They benefit from us being sick, being unwell --unwell physically, emotionally, in community, spiritually, financially, sexually, in the workplace, in our homelife, with our planet, and beyond. Self care, which is self love, is a revolutionary act.

With this being my philosophy around wellness, self care and community care in the artistic workplace, I was so thrilled by the initial conversation I had with TCG Conference producers Hannah Fenlon and Devon Berkshire around their ideas and plans for what would be “WellSpace” at the 2019 TCG National Conference in Miami, FL.

We had an initial video call in February and about a month or so later, I got the confirmation that my session would be a part of the “Skills-Building Workshops” sessions. The team also wanted me to help co-curate what this WellSpace would be in terms of intentional thinking around all aspects of the space.

We embarked on this months-long journey of video calls, a big google document and emails to curate what this space could and would be.

We started with how we wanted to describe the space, which is the blurb you can read on the site and also pasted here:

“WellSpace is... the manifestation of the TCG Conference’s commitment to self-care: not just as a band-aid, or a one-time event or purchase, but as an ongoing practice of healing, restoration, and reflection that must be cultivated over time. Our personal self-care, and the self-care of those who work with and for us, demands an investment of our time and energy. If we are able to commit to that, the subsequent benefits (for us as individuals, and for our industry as a whole), will be transformative. The future of the theatre industry depends on the wellbeing of its theatre workers. Wellspace offers the unique opportunity to explore financially sustainable models of self-care, while also acting as a launching pad towards setting up an affordable self-care practice in an industry where compensation is not always a top priority. In Miami, this space serves as an opportunity to take part in and learn from ongoing activations, workshops, and healing circles that prioritize care and sustainability. WellSpace is also an invitation to practice and share your own self-care strategies such as meditation, journaling, art therapy, and beyond. We welcome you to visit WellSpace at any point during your Conference week to take some time to personally invest in yourself, and in our community. We'll see you at WellSpace.”

I’m living off of a new “EDI” philosophy valuing decolonization and collective liberation. Read more about what this means here. A lot of these values are reflected in the community agreements for WellSpace, which are ever-evolving as we will be updating and adding to them during the conference:

WellSpace Community Agreements:

  • Respect the people in the space: everyone is processing and engaging in their own way. Please note that multiple activations may be happening in the space at a given time.
  • Respect the objects in the space: they have been brought here with the intention of serving the community.
  • Respect the ideas and content offered in the space: The aim of WellSpace is to create multiple entry points for self-care.
  • Respect the use of time in the space: Some activations in this schedule are time sensitive, and we ask that you help us by finishing up sessions you are leading/participating in at their appointed times.
  • Please do your best to keep the space clean and clean up after yourself.
  • Ask for consent regarding touching other people and their belongings.
  • Please avoid oppressive language in this space, and all TCG spaces. We encourage you to use liberated language in this liberated space! For example: if you aren’t familiar with someone’s gender pronouns, we suggest using gender neutral pronouns/identifiers (like they/them/theirs) instead of assuming a gender identity.
  • We are creating a space that emphasizes decolonized learning. In practice, this means that we will avoid programming that ignores or appropriates the cultural roots of certain self-care practices, and we will strive to create a dynamic that de-prioritizes the “expert status” of those leading a given activity. Remember: we all have something to learn and something to share.”

For me, I always had and still have a few specific driving goals, concerns, and thoughts buzzing in mind for the space. Mainly, I want to make sure we are being mindful of who and what we give power to in the space, which includes decisions around who is hosting sessions; who is facilitating; what topics are featured; what activities are offered; and how we set up the space. The “self care” industry in the U.S. has been very co-opted by capitalistic and culturally appropriative actions. Selling goods and services that are culturally specific to communities of color without giving profits to them, for example, is super common these days. We also see so much content that is not accessible to everyone in many different ways, including ableist spaces and financially inaccessible spaces, for example. In the future, I definitely want to push for more inclusion and more accessibility in curation, always. And I always think we need more people with disabilities in positions of power. I also constantly think about intersectionality here too.

With WellSpace, I know we, our co-curating team including TCG Conferences Associate Amara Brady, Hannah, Devon and I, were constantly pushing on both our external and internal/personal aspects of this kind of thinking. We realized that so many things in mainstream U.S. American wellness can be culturally appropriative and/or extremely capitalistically driven.

From our first initial video calls, one key aspect where we found ourselves conflicted was around sharing yoga as a wellness practice in this space. There are many conflicting ideas out there about how to practice yoga in a decolonized way, debating whether it’s even possible and what it means in our present day context. Amara also shared with us two articles early on to start our thinking about it, which I will include a further learning area at the bottom of this post. I highly encourage everyone to do their own thinking, processing, research and discussion on it. To be truthful and transparent, in the end we couldn’t come to a solid “yoga politic” for all, especially one that we were ready to share as an example for others at this Conference. I’m excited for this continued conversation around yoga in our communities; I know I have a lot of thoughts.

After we had a solid outline of what we wanted the space to be, Lani Fu, Elizabeth Doud, and especially Annalisa Dias, all members of the Conference Committee on Climate, were specifically helpful in giving feedback on some of our early ideas. Sometimes, you need this kind of feedback when it comes to creating inclusive and equitable spaces. This included things like rethinking a community altar and a conversation about how we discuss spiritual wellness, the need for more POC affinity spaces, thinking about community care and not just “self” care, and so much more.

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(Photo by Yura Sapi in Colombia. Image Description: A green landscape of mountains with a border of trees and plant life.)

I’m also really grateful to the Conference Committee on Climate and for addressing climate change mindfulness overall and in WellSpace. This is another area where we need more focus. I personally think climate wellness, our relationship with our planet, is a super key aspect for our own wellness and our community’s wellness. In Kichwa and Quechua indigenous languages, we call her pachamama, mother earth. And I think we, living in a colonized, white supremacy culture, have to go through a serious shift in our relationships to pachamama-- a shift that involves moving from taking and destroying to giving and restoring. Decolonization and indigenization are inherently tied to climate justice and earth wellness. That’s another area in which I’m excited to grow personally at this Conference and in my artistic and professional journey.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you at WellSpace, at the Self Care = Self Love Workshop and at the conference overall!

Love,

Viviana Vargas
(Pronouns: they/them/theirs)

Advancing Arts Forward, a movement to advance equity, inclusion and justice through the arts.

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Advancing Arts Forward Logo. Image Description: A dark purple circle filled with lighter purple fingerprint-like designs. The words “Advancing Arts Forward” and an arrow above the words, both in yellow, are on top of this purple circle design.)

Some Further Learning Resources on Yoga:

How a Popular Decolonizing Yoga Summit Became a Colonizing One” By The Tattvabindu Collective

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