Preserving Timeless Arts

Last weekend I had two encounters that felt like variations on a theme.

One was at Kheprw Institute, where we were discussing Charles Eisenstein’s book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.  Kheprw co-founder Imhotep Adisa suggested that our over-reliance on technology compromises our more intuitive ways of communicating and knowing.

“Reality is not limited to that one way of knowing,” Im said, speaking of scientific inquiry and measurable phenomena. (Besides: Who determines what’s worth being measured? Who sets up the arbiters, institutions, and gatekeepers of scientific findings?)

It’s definitely possible to communicate instantaneously without benefit of a text. Many of us have had that experience from time to time. And for those of us in the energy work arena, merging with someone else’s energy field is a skill we cultivate.

But the more we rely on texting to do the work of instantaneous communication, Im suggested, the more we atrophy our native abilities.

Speaking for myself, I know that distracting myself through technology can seriously gunk up my intuition. To be quiet and still enough to sense information differently, I have to spend time away from the addictive barrage of information and communication.

Later it struck me that Im’s words had their parallel in an earlier encounter, with a friend who’s devoted to preserving another dying art: traditional willow weaving. Viki Graber, a fourth-generation willow basket weaver, spent the weekend constructing a living sculpture at Salamonie Reservoir.

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The tunnel will grow thicker and more elaborate with time.

We drove up to see her, and she told us about the project. She received a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission to build living willow structures at three parks this year.

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To make her baskets and sculptures, she grows her own willow bushes—14 different species!—on her property in northern Indiana. For this project though, she harvested wild willow shoots from along the lakeshore. She planted these in the ground about eight inches deep along the muddy bank of a pond, where they should take root. She bent the willow into a tunnel, complete with round windows.

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Me and my old friend Viki

For the next few years she will come back to weave new growth into the structure. A true collaboration.

Viki is passionate about sustaining traditional folk art in general (and willow-work in particular). She wants to keep these skills alive and pass them on to the next generation, and she loves to teach others.

As a functional artist, Viki makes beautiful objects that people want to use. Surely we all have the aptitude to create beauty for each other, whether that’s through physical creations or acutely attuned knowing.

Penney Peirce, in her book Frequency, suggests that we are all equally sensitive, with the very human ability to feel and sense and know things instantly. It’s just that some of us are consciously sensitive, and others unconsciously so.

I would add that some of us, like Viki and Im, are consciously invested in preserving useful, beautiful, timeless arts that the dominant culture tends to devalue.

What traditional, lost, or dying arts/skills call to you? Where do you make your mark in preserving ways that aren’t supported by our acquisitive go-go-go culture?

KI EcoCenter: Transforming Education

Second in a series on education
KI EcoCenter, or Kheprw Institute, has been making change for nearly a decade in my hometown. In recent years, educator Khalil MwaAfrika came on board the community empowerment center to start an independent school. He was tired of discussing school reform while watching the educational system destroy African-American children, particularly boys.

Khepri, by Jeff Dahl via Wikimedia Commons

Khepri, by Jeff Dahl (GFDL or Creative Commons) via Wikimedia Commons

Instead of reform, he is invested in nothing less than education’s complete transformation. As  mentioned in a previous post, “Kheprw” was an Egyptian god with a scarab beetle head. This beetle was a symbol of rebirth in Egypt—so the center is fittingly named.

KI’s school offers a rigorous program for African-American students. Classes are very small, allowing a high degree of mentorship. Community members interact with the students every day in this intergenerational model.

MwaAfrika emphasizes that igniting a passion for learning is key. Instead of promoting a particular ideology, faculty create space for discourse and dialogue. In that environment the children learn critical thinking skills. They are encouraged to puzzle things out themselves.

In contrast with the traditional school system, here there is no need for the youngsters to feel they must give up their own rich culture in order to succeed.

This issue came up repeatedly at the center’s recent Real Talk Summit on urban education. Because our dominant culture is white/upper middle class, racism is the water we all swim in—leading to schools that don’t believe in children from other races and classes.

A faculty member and student at KI EcoCenter Community School

A faculty member and student at KI EcoCenter Community School

But KI is different. “We’ve set up an environment where (black students) can be themselves, where they can learn exponentially, where they never have to compromise who they are,” MwaAfrika says.

KI founder Imhotep Adisa notes, “The primary purpose of education is indoctrination. It’s not liberation.”

Part of that indoctrination is the consumerism that is jeopardizing the earth. “We’re at a very ugly place in the history of the planet,” he says. “Regardless of gender, race, and class, the old paradigm has accelerated this…We have to develop new tools for a new paradigm. We have to have the courage to say, ‘That’s not the world we want for ourselves and our children.’”

KI’s adults model that courage every day. Teaching youth to interface with the culture of power while retaining their identity is a critical aspect of their work.

Social enterprises are part of this, as the students work with KI’s bootstrappers (young adults) to develop the skills needed to thrive in a resource-strapped world.

Barrel at left is via KI's Express Yourself Rainbarrels enterprise, with my chosen artwork

Barrel at left is via KI’s Express Yourself Rainbarrels enterprise, with my chosen artwork

Above (at left) is the rainbarrel made by bootstrappers and students for my urban homestead, via the Express Yourself Rainbarrels enterprise. My partner added it to our rain catchment setup, just in time for big rains.

(Indy-area readers, check it out: Save on your water bill, display your artwork, and support a great organization all at the same time.)

Read more about KI’s work in my Indiana Living Green story.

Next: Bloomington’s homeschooling cooperative, exploring the homestead as learning environment.