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What is the Berkshire Art Kitchen All About?

March 10, 2009

I’m sure many of you are probably wondering:

Just what IS the Berkshire Art Kitchen?
Well, I’d like to share with you a little about what we’re up to here at BAK, as well as to let you know more about the Red Collaborative and specifically, the Walk Unafraid Project, for which this month’s programming is designed to benefit.

((BAK – mission, programs & events))
The Berkshire Art Kitchen, while only recently opened, was conceived a few years ago – in my mind – as a gathering spot for art, ideas, conversation and social change. It became manifest only a couple of months ago, and in fact, Saturday, February 28th we held our first public reception for the opening of our inaugural exhibition: The Promise of Light.

The Berkshire Art Kitchen is committed to providing unique opportunities for creativity, connection and change. We’re doing that through exhibitions, house concerts, creativity & professional development workshops, and by opening our doors to new possibilities.

It is pretty commonly accepted now, that creativity – and exposure to the arts – is richly rewarding on many levels: emotionally, spiritually and physically.
I’ve also found, (and possibly you’ll agree) that creating community and strengthening connections is vitally important to one’s quality of life – and one’s experience of life.
We may also agree that giving is important. We know that the gift of giving – of oneself, one’s time, one’s art or music or money can be immensely rewarding as well.

To help another is to help ourselves – or you could say : to give to others is to give to ourselves. I’ve especially found this to be true during the lowest points of my life. It can really raise one’s spirits to be giving or “in service” to others.

Just as importantly, however, we know that the act of giving helps to create change.
We all know that change can be made though commitment, focus and effort. Look at what President Obama accomplished with his Campaign for Change!
As Margaret Mead said:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

The Berkshire Art Kitchen provides many opportunities for people to participate in making change in the world. Each month, BAK focuses on an organization that is making positive social or environmental change, and donates 10 percent of profits realized from sales, events and programming to that charity.

We each can make a difference, no matter how seemingly small our contribution is.
The cumulative impact over time is enormous, and the change that is manifested – physically, emotionally and spiritually – is significant. I know, because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the relieved faces and gestures of gratitude from folks in New Orleans, last April, who after 2 1/2 years post-Katrina were still displaced from their homes and were grateful to me for bringing their truth alive through my simple art initiatives.
As an artist, often with very little to give financially, I give what I’m able to.

The truth is, I am a billionaire philanthropist at heart, but often a penniless philanthropist in reality! So I give what I can – I donate my time, I donate artwork to charity fundraisers, I give moral support and help spread the word about whatever cause or organization I am supporting – I do what I can in my own small way.
And that’s what every single one of us can do.

The Red Collaborative – mission, programs & events
This month’s chosen organization is the Red Collaborative, an arts initiative established in 2003 that formed organically out of the very personal, transformative artwork I was creating a couple of years earlier.

Red Collaborative’s mission is to empower individuals, give voice to the voiceless and initiate public dialogue on the silent epidemic of physical, sexual and emotional abuse through community-building art initiatives.

We offer collaborative public art programs for schools, community groups and social service agencies around the country, working together to raise awareness and empower survivors of abuse.

((Walk Unafraid – the project, the experience and the new public art kits))
This month’s events are specifically intended to support the worldwide launch of Red Collaborative’s Walk Unafraid Public Art Initiative.

Walk Unafraid Chelsea, Gabrielle Senza + The Red Collaborative 2006 copyright

Walk Unafraid Chelsea, Gabrielle Senza + The Red Collaborative 2006 copyright

You can visit our photostream at flickr to view a slideshow of what looks like a crime scene. This is the Walk Unafraid Initiative.
Walk Unafraid is a powerful public art installation that was first exhibited in 2003 when I was asked to participate in an exhibition titled Art as Activism as Art. I had developed a reputation as an activist for social and environmental causes, so the curators gave me free reign to create an installation piece based on whatever I wanted. I chose to create a crime scene in the public green, near a heavily trafficked road (– Probably not what the curators had imagined!). The crime scene had nothing to do with vehicular homicide and everything to do with physical and emotional violence.

On that occasion, I solicited – via e-mail: 1st) the silencing threats that victims of abuse might hear, and 2nd) empowering mantras that would help raise public awareness of the devastating effects of abuse, and might encourage victims to seek safety and protection.
The responses I received were very, very real. Many friends who responded and many participants I didn’t know personally, had, like myself, experienced some form of abuse in their own lives. Only the week before, the adult daughter of one of the participants had been beaten to death by her husband in front of their two young children.

From that collaboration came Walk Unafraid, a mock crime scene representing the often, fatal effects of abuse. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse that frequently results in homicide or sometimes suicide. For that first installation, I used shredded bits of shirt fabric (containing the threatening phrases hand scrawled on the fabric) that formed the imaginary victim’s body outline; and police barricade tape – with the empowering slogans block-lettered on the blank side, marking off the “crime scene”.

Since then I have produced Walk Unafraid installations in several other public locations including in New York, in Brooklyn, Chelsea and SoHo, and locally in Great Barrington and Pittsfield.

In mounting these installations, I have had the privilege of working with dozens of wonderful collaborators, many of whom are survivors of abuse themselves. These include: my close friends, several of my art students and studio interns (both male and female), as well as mothers and children from shelters, homeless teens, directors and volunteers from other social-service organizations, and even people passing by in the streets while the work is in progress.

The experience has been emotionally intense and deeply empowering for all who have participated in creating these public art installations. I’ve found that for women who have been recent victims of violence and abuse, the process of creating the piece is both healing and cathartic. By writing out the painful insults and terrifying threats they endured helps to release the shame they’re still carrying. The process of writing the messages on the barricade tape, those “Walk Unafraid” messages, intended to empower and help others who might be in a similarly dangerous situation, is like passing on the torch of victory, where now they are able to move from helpless victim to empowered, wise survivor. They become the bearers of the light, helping the public to understand the vulnerable positions victims of abuse are in, and encouraging people to reach out, speak up, or encourage a victim to seek the help or protection they need to stop the abuse or escape violence in the home.

The social service agencies with whom we’ve collaborated – together with the institutions and municipalities who have hosted the Walk Unafraid installations – all recognize and support the power of giving voice to the voiceless, raising public awareness, and working towards providing education, prevention and assistance to victims. They acknowledge the important part a public art project like Walk Unafraid has in accomplishing those goals.

We have developed – and are about to launch – a kit version of the project, that can be created by different groups in any location around the world. The Walk Unafraid Public Art Kits will raise public awareness and help stop physical, sexual and emotional abuse, while at the same time, empower victims and strengthen communities around the globe.

The artists performing at the Berkshire Art Kitchen this month have very generously given their talents in support of the Red Collaborative and the Walk Unafraid Public Art Project. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has donated their time, money and talent to support B.A.K.’s featured change-maker organization this month.  Thank you!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Atteqa Ali permalink
    March 12, 2009 7:22 am

    I was looking at your website and am currently working on an application for a Fulbright Fellowship. I am a curator and art historian based in Pakistan and would like to visit Simon’s Rock College where I was once a student. As part of this fellowship, I would do some events in the community as a public outreach. Would the Berkshire Art Kitchen be interested in hosting a talk or an exhibition on the subject of gender and islam? Please do let me know and I can provide more details.
    atteqa ali

    • March 22, 2009 2:41 pm

      Hello Atteqa,
      Thank you for being in touch. We would be very open to working with you on your project. It sounds fantastic so far. I look forward to hearing more!
      Please feel free to send along more information to berkshireartkitchen at
      Thank you and best of luck on your application!

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