Reflections on Art/Graphic Facilitation


My (Avril) scribbled notes from what Peter said on Day 2, and my thoughts thereon: with notes from Mary Corrigan, and Mariah Howard and Peter Block

  • Reframing the feelings of anxiety over our performance: perhaps what we interpret as anxiety is just a misidentified feeling of heightened aliveness!
  • Making art in public is a way of inviting others into that aliveness. So really, what we offer is not a performance but an invitation to a gift.
  • Creating art in public gives us permission to see each other’s work and show our own. This kind of art-making makes sense only in community, and is what’s needed here and now.
  • Peter Block – “drawing takes us places we can’t get to any other way.”
  • Typically art (of all kinds) is commodified. We’re judged on our performance, which scares most of us from making our mark because we think it’s all about skill and don’t want to be judged lacking. But commodification of art in the name of performance steals our uniqueness and our humanity and makes us afraid.

–      My thoughts on the above: If art is a personal expression of our humanity, then turning it into a commodity repackages that expression into something deemed ‘acceptable’ by the marketplace. This in turns flattens out our uniqueness by pushing us to strive to fit a predetermined mold (à la American Idol, etc.) – and if we don’t fit, we’re out.

–      The fear: of stepping outside the lines/going beyond the bounds of acceptability, of making “bad” art, of exposing ourselves in public, of going “splat”.

–      Peter Block: “How do I bring my unformed self into the public space?”

–      Mary C.: “How does this affect/effect how we show up as recorder/graphic facilitator and constrict us from experimentation and our own learning.  What are the contractual agreements we need to make with clients up front and how open are they to emergence?”

  • Peter reminded us that when we’re inviting people into these activities, it’s important to always set the context.
  • My question: What do we need to tell our clients to move them toward a fuller recognition of what we really offer when we collaborate with them, and how do we explain how we want to work with them? For me, the following things are becoming increasingly important:

a)    To be involved in the design from start to finish so that the art is integrated into the whole process.

b)   This means working intimately and collaboratively with conveners and facilitators, and playing an active rather than a passive role. No more “silent partner”!

c)    A shift from graphic recorder to graphic facilitator (without precluding the possibility that at some points recording is just what I need to be doing). By “graphic facilitator” I don’t mean simply facilitating using visuals (where I still do most of the drawing myself), but where appropriate, facilitating a fully participatory process that involves everyone in creating art, both individually and collaboratively. Yes!

d)   Whenever possible, working together with fellow graphic facilitators. It was such a joy to work with Mariah and Mary. I want to be able to do that more often! Putting our heads and hands and heart together multiplies the value exponentially (in addition to just being way more fun!)

e)    Introducing other art forms into the mix: music, improv, movement, collage, etc. We had music and visual art at the Chautauqua, but they were separate. What would happen if we also worked together with the musicians, and so on?

What I loved about how Mariah, Mary and I worked together:

  • There was a level of honesty and transparency that really moved me – and also grounded me, because it made me feel very safe. I didn’t have to worry about any hidden agendas: it was all there, right out in the open.  Specifically, we intentionally huddled in the morning and talked about what forms the shadow can take when collaborating (competition, comparison, insufficiency), what we each needed/desired in this relationship and how we wanted to work together.
  • It was intensely collaborative:

–      Among the 3 of us – I didn’t feel any sense of ‘proprietorship’ over what any of us drew or wrote. It was truly a group effort, and mutually supportive.

–      Between us and the facilitators – we were involved in all phases of the design as much (or as little) as we wanted to be. Our opinions were solicited, considered and respected.

–      Between us and the rest of the group – people participated in making the art! They drew, painted, collaged, individually, in pairs, in small groups – and they got to places they wouldn’t have gotten to without making art themselves. It was a revelation to see the creativity that blossomed in the room and what it opened up in people.

–      We were full participants in the process and all activities – members of the community and not outside of it.

  • I like Mariah’s description of how we worked as “a new kind of dance between 3 people skipping back and forth over the line of recording, guiding the group and participating…a circle of 3 dancing inside another circle of facilitators who were dancing inside the circle of the whole…”. Wonderful image! The only thing I might add is to turn the circles into an cascading series of figure 8’s, weaving back and forth, back and forth in a potentially infinite progression.

What we did at Chautauqua 2010 – artistic processes:

  • Collage:

–      Great for people who lack confidence to draw

–      Using ‘found’ art lets people quickly juxtapose elements to come up with unexpected combinations and see what meaning they can make from the whole

–      We had people do individual collage – can’t remember if we had them do collage in small groups as well or just intended to do so? No small groups this time (that I recall) though that is powerful as well

  • Music accompanied this process
  • Group drawing:

Day 1:  3 large groups, each facilitated by one of Mary, Mariah and myself. What I did:

–      Asked people in my group to respond to the question, “What themes came up for you around The Call?”

–      When someone spoke up, I asked for a second person to say what they heard the first person say and to visually represent it on the chart.

–      While the second person was drawing, a third person would respond to the question and a fourth would say what they heard and draw it on the chart, and so on. There were always 2-3 people drawing on the board at a time, which kept things moving.

–      Periodically I asked people to comment on larger themes/patterns that they saw emerging.

–      Later on I added colour, borders, etc. to tie the whole thing together visually. Could have participants join in this for what you are doing here is caring for the whole, seeing the whole, acting for the sake of the commons. The job of every citizen.

–      I think the original plan was to have 3-4 people from each of our groups report back to the whole group at the end: “What is important for people to know from the conversation you just had?” But we didn’t have time to do that.

–      Mary – My approach started out more traditionally with me recording the themes they heard.  I quickly turned the markers over to them and asked others to draw things I admittedly don’t know how to do.  I also “encouraged” everyone to at least make a mark on the group drawing.  We reviewed it together at the end and I invited everyone to sign it.  I did add some additional color and borders before we came back into the room.  Peter’s point is well taken.

–      Additionally on Day 1 we intentionally did very minimal public recording before people participated in the group mural process.  The “welcome” recording that one of us typically does was actually collaged – a different approach.  There was also a space created on the journey mural for the community to add its own questions – this provides a safe place for entry.  We can think about more ways to do this.

–      Mariah: I began this process with some improvised movement as a form of warm up. Participants wove around each other guided by their arms, then elbows, then head & neck.  They moved through the space, not touching one another, while stretching and getting as tall as they could, imagining their fingertips touching the ceiling, then they tried moving as close to the ground as possible – snake like. After the movement practice we stood in a circle, looking at the blank canvass together. I wanted make it clear that I didn’t have a sense of where this art process needed to go; I didn’t come in with a preconceived idea of what should happen; I wanted the impulse to come from the group. All I gave structure wise was my hope that we would create an image together in response to The Call stage, then I asked for ideas. After some silence, someone suggested creating a background image of a mountain range that we could all draw on. So I drew this light outline of mountains, and then someone else felt encouraged, one of the students, to draw an image of her own. Once she did, others joined in. We danced around each other and once everyone who wanted to participate drew something, including me, we stepped back to reflect on our art. I asked what they noticed and what that process was like for them. One woman expressed some regret about her drawing; it seemed out of place to her, too large and not connected to the other images. I asked if it was okay if I shared why I thought her drawing was essential. To me, her drawing was a legend or key to the mountain-scape image we all created – her image showed not only where this mountain territory existed, it also showed other territories that were connected to our drawing. She drew the macrocosom while we drew the microcosom. It felt like a great moment because we were able to support her image and the rightness of her contribution to the group map. Truly, there is nothing you can draw that doesn’t work, there are just interpretations that don’t work well.

Day 3:  Small group collaborative drawing (unfacilitated):

–      The plan:

  • Ask people to walk around the room, look at all the collages and charts on the wall, think about conversations they had.
  • Ask them to think about what they most want to remember about this journey and our time together. How would they represent this? Invite them to express it in a way that is meaningful for them.
  • Find a partner to share with.
  • Come back into circle.

–      What actually happened:

  • We asked people to gather in groups of 4-5 and draw collaboratively, focusing on the above question. One person to make a mark, another to add to it, and so on. Talk about what is emerging and what it means to them.
  • At the end we all came back into circle and invited 4-5 people to say what struck them about this process. I believe this was at the end of Day 2.  These sheets were then placed around the center – rather than on the walls.  (I remember replacing them the next morning after the session with Gary and the tubes)
  • Mariah: When the small groups had a chance to reflect on the process of making art together we heard some truly beautiful comments. One man said that in this process he truly felt and understood the idea of Ubuntu – I am because of you. This art making gave him an experience of being in community in a deep way. I thought it was a beautiful moment that needed to be remembered.
  • On the final day, we (Mariah, Mary, me) spoke about the gift it was to us to see everyone make art, and to make art with them and to collaborate.
  • At the end, Mariah invited people to create a symbol, icon or image that represents The Return for them when they have time – something they can share as they move back into their community. Did not have time for this. I thought we did though it was truncated?
  • Mariah also invited poetry into the room by each person thinking of a word. Then coaxed them by randomly or intuitively calling on people for their word. She then declared that poetry.  We could have recorded on the wall those words and would then have the artifact of a communal poem.

Note Bene Ward: The collage and the collective art allowed access to the creative unconscious which is where we hoped the participants (us, we) would go to discover the fire of the known but un-manifest. This kind of discovery is essence of the call. If we create a context where people can quiet self-judgment and criticality especially in the realm of art, we can then move into creativity.

Additional Mariah thoughts on art as inspired by the Chautauqua experience:

What we’re talking about here is no less than creating a paradigmatic shift around art: moving from art as an experience or practice of the few to art as the commons, art as another expression of community.  Instead of holding art as something created by those who suffer on the fringes and go to school or teach themselves over years and years art making becomes a practice/experience that anyone can access. In fact, this experience of community showed us that everyone has to make art – through the act of making and then reflecting on our art we’re tapping into a wellspring of color, image, symbol and icons that can help us connect in a way that words and conversation cannot. We all, as individuals and communities have a (often unspoken) need to create art. It’s there –the art within all of us – and it’s been waiting for a chance to be made and considered. Let’s make art for ourselves, and let’s art for our communities. Just like dialog, every voice needs to be heard, all of us need to a chance to speak through art about what lives in the common space between us. Art gives us a bridge to come into the middle. We’re talking about moving away from art as made by the blessed and gifted to art as a gift and blessing we give ourselves and the community around us.

I want to share an email written after Chautauqua. Of course I asked Blythe if I could share what she wrote, and she was happy to consent. I think her email illustrates a key aspect of what emerged through our artmaking at Chatuauqa = Art = giving us access to living in a new way, access to parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed until the art was made & reflected on. Blythe’s email brought tears to my eyes, and has been working on me in a deep way since I read it.


Hi, it’s Blythe from Chautauqua. We didn’t get as much a chance to talk as much as I would have liked, but I did want to thank you for something you said. You told us all to go home and do something artistic that represents Chautauqua for us. Something that we can share with those who weren’t there. I got home and, after a few days of letting the journey soak in, my fingers started to itch for art. This doesn’t normally happen. I love art, but so often life get’s in the way and i will repress any urge to actually do it. This time, because of the art experience at Chautauqua and what you said, I didn’t repress it. Instead I started cutting out images of people and things that inspire me. It turned into an inspiration collage, instead of just Chautauqua, but in a way that’s what Chautauqua was for me. At the end I had such an inspiration to go home and live me life. Really live it, trying new things and such, instead of just doing the things I need to or am used to. So I was inspired to do a collage that evolved into an inspiration collage. I put up pictures of artists I admire, people I know who admire I look up to, places that inspire me, a picture of everyone at Chautauqua in a circle, and several quotes. Without any intent, sections began to come up. Sections that I didn’t even know were a part of me, or if I did I didn’t think they were as big as they became. There was a Gardening section, I never knew that was a corner of me. There was a music section. There was a “be yourself” section. There was a section about the path, the call, the journey and the return. I didn’t plan any of these, they just popped up. And now, everyday, I get to look at my wall and see these corners of me. These corners that inspire me to really live my life. I need to thank you because you are one of the reasons I felt free to do this. I never knew how much I could discover by doing art. That’s always why I write, to discover. It turns out that art works in a way that writing can’t. They are both great. But very useful in very different ways. This collage is going to keep changing, as I keep changing and continue to feel the need to add to my “inspiration wall.” I need to thank you over and over, for being one of those who inspired me to put this wall up. It’s so important to me now.

Thank you for that gift.


Mariah continues:

Individuals who make art give themselves the gift of symbol, image, color, shape, line and form. By creating art, they have access to their boundless imagination and limitlessly creative self.

Many people have encountered experiences where their creative self has been wounded by the critique of others or the desire for perfection; if we draw a cat that doesn’t look like a cat, instead of delighting in creation of a never before seen new cat-like creature, so many of us decide that we can’t draw. Instead of delighting in a new creation we sideline or marginalize the artist within and move on develop other talents or skills. However, if we reconnect with our art and capacity for creating outside of the need for perfection, we once again align with the part of ourselves that has the freedom to draw, paint, collage or sculpt. What awaits us if we watercolor without the need to critique ourselves? What if we muse on our current life-questions with a crayon in hand instead of a keyboard at our fingertips? What if the process of making and reflecting on art could help us get in touch with that which has yet to emerge – that place that isn’t available to us through words, conversation, writing or thinking? What if art could scratch a part of our back we could only reach with a paintbrush?

Said another way:

So often the artist that resides within all of us has been in exile; once we decided we ‘couldn’t draw’ or ‘didn’t like to dance’ the artist as ourselves was marginalized and put away/put down. Through my work I’ve met hundreds of people who tell me that they can’t draw; they often try to convince me there’s no way they could even learn to draw. When we talk further, people find they want to share the painful stories they’ve carried around for decades – stories about a grade school teacher or playground friend who harshly judged their artwork, or singing or dancing – they want me to know the moment they un/consciously shut out their natural ability to make art. That moment when the artist was no longer welcome to play with markers, or finger-paint or collage was a moment of exile – but like all exiles – there is always the possibility of return. What might happen if we chose to open the door and welcome home in the artist within each of us? What if we shared those painful stories with the aim of freeing ourselves to create art again? If we allowed ourselves to create again, to take back that title of artist, what other aspects of ourselves might ask to come back home? Certainly there must be other roles and voices that have been waiting to guide and encourage us? I believe that allowing ourselves to once again create art could provide us with the process for reunifying not only the marginalized voices within as well as the exiled or unwelcomed voices all around us.

Community Art

What might happen if we all had access to a community space where creating art was safe and encouraged? What could be possible for us as individuals and communities of people who made art together? Individuals who create art in a non-competitive, non-judgmental way, both alone and as a group, could reflect on their art as a source of wisdom and insight. What critical insight might be waiting in a group collage or painting?