July 28, 2
Last Thursday, July 21, Still Point presented a celebratory performance entitled I Can See Clearly Now, in honor of 25 years of the Imagination Workshop. Still Point Founder Lisa Wagner-Carollo began the program at Esperanza Community Services all those years ago, and directed fifteen participants from two classes for this presentation. I was incredibly sorry to have missed the performance. I began teaching the Imagination Workshop with Lisa in 1992, and have so many profound, moving, and hilarious memories from that experience. Mostly I remember the people – participants who sparkled like vibrant and multi-faceted gems.
For example, I recall Alvin, an extremely endearing man. His eyes twinkled and he had a crooked smile and he always called me “honey”. Well, he called everybody “honey,” to be fair. He would also frequently raise his brows and tilt his head in a charmingly hopeful gesture and ask, “Coffee?” In fact, in the first performance that I facilitated with the group, Alvin characterized having coffee with a friend as his personal definition of “Paradise.”
At that time, Alvin was already far from young. He had his share of health issues. I remember when he was out ill for an extended period, and I realized that he really could be gone at any time. I thought of how his absence would leave an Alvin-shaped hole in the hearts and lives of those who knew him, and a realization about the intrinsic value of human life crystallized in my mind.
It’s been years now since Alvin passed away. Several other members of Esperanza’s Imagination Workshop have come and gone, and have also left their mark on the hearts and minds of those who knew them. Since the first program started at Esperanza, Still Point has collaborated with many other agencies and organizations including New Horizons, Insight Arts, Search Inc., L’Arche Chicago, and Orchard Village to give opportunities for creative expression to adults with developmental disabilities around the Chicago area. I moved to Cleveland in 2001, and starting in 2006 began a contract with the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities to bring this work to my new home. I would have never taken that step without the Imagination Workshop.
Both in Chicago and in Cleveland, I have worked with many people with disabilities over the years. We have a long way to go in our society in terms of appreciation and integration of this community. Finding a place for people like Alvin to exist in a way that acknowledges their unique attributes and gifts, rather than counting differences as automatic deficiencies, would be a diversion from the status quo and a worthy goal. I feel that each Imagination Workshop performance presents a microcosm model of what that life-affirming system could look like. From the beginning, the philosophy of the Imagination Workshop was to help each member discover his or her unique creative voice, and provide a vehicle through which to share it. The Imagination Workshop exemplifies the Still Point motto: “We all matter, and art matters for all of us.”
I have so many wonderful memories of the Imagination Workshop. I remember performances called Searching for Paradise, Burning With a Cosmic Fire, and A Place to Find Home. I remember giving people the spotlight and watching them shine on stage. I remember hearing audience members remark, “I had no idea that s/he could do that!”
Consequently, it is with a great deal of joy that I wish a Happy 25th Birthday to the Imagination Workshop! I am very proud to have been a part of it, and to see how the Imagination Workshop has grown over the years. The Ravenswood Players, our resident Imagination Workshop facilitation based at Ravenswood Presbyterian Church, is open to public enrollment and regularly presents performances which are increasingly well-attended. Our group at Orchard Village recently presented a beautiful production called Bridges and Mirrors at the historic Skokie Theatre. A short documentary video is being compiled about the making of Bridges and Mirrors, and we hope to be sharing that with you soon. Through the Imagination Workshop we seek to break stereotypes, celebrate diversity, and end the marginalization of people with intellectual disabilities and differences. Deepest thanks and hearty congratulations are due to all of our participants, facilitators, and supporters. Bravo!