Sunday, November 21, 2010

Social Work/Culture Work: Shannon Jackson's talk at the UW SSW

A few thoughts on Shannon Jackson’s talk at UW School of Social Work, yesterday:

Shannon Jackson argues in her seminal work, Lines of Activity: Performance, Historiography, Hull House Domesticity that Culture Work and Social Work were intertwined to create a vehicle for social reform. She continues to argue that a variety of arts and crafts- performing, visual, as well as sports and play were employed to cultivate social cohesion and to “create a lived democracy” (Addams) and facilitate “…active learning” (Dewey). While potent in many respects (Hull House housed a pottery that generated a cottage industry for Mexican immigrants, generated musicians such as Benny Goodman, invented the play ground, educated 1000s of children in the delights of producing theatre)- she also argues that there was a great deal of complexity here at this juncture between social work and culture work. She argues that the need to struggle with issues of ethnic/racial identity and structural inequities are critical. She described the transformational processes that both the upper class, WASP Settlers of Hull House and its members experienced.

In her upcoming book, Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics, she continues to explore how culture work is continuing to be employed again both as vehicles of social cohesion as well as to “unsettle narratives” of oppression and power. Like social work, she argues, culture work engages with complex institutions and questions social justice and offers several examples of how various art projects work to interrogate and transform institutions and to engage communities in crisis(such as post-Katrina New Orleans) in deep conversations. She asks that we allow space at the juncture between social work and culture work to generate the complex questions that arise here organically, whatever they may be.

While I appreciated Dr. Jackson’s presentation, I was left with many questions as a social work practitioner and teacher seeking to integrate culture work back into social work practice and pedagogy. What does this mean in an era dominated by “evidence based practice?” As Jackson acknowledges, art isn’t taken seriously in social work because it is “fluffy”, uncontrollable, immeasurable perhaps in regards to its efficacy as an “intervention.” I often find myself shy or apologetic when I describe my commitments to participatory music and dance as a liberatory, embodied, community-based praxis worthy of consideration in social work. I often feel like my explanations for why it is so important to me are met with silence- a silence I am not sure how to interpret.

The examples she offered during her talk from her forthcoming book struck me as fitting with what we think of as “community practice”, social action in social work terms. Meanwhile art, music and theatre therapy are evolving, -though in my poorly informed opinion marginalized- practices in relationship to what we think of as interpersonal practice.

It should be acknowledged that these conversations are happening slowly and quietly in our own School of Social Work at UW, as the post below describes. A number of us, including students and faculty are deeply committed to integrating a variety of art forms into our social work practice, research, and pedagogy. Examples include the conference Jackson spoke at yesterday, which was organized by Emily Conbere, an MSW student and playwright as well as the Seattle Fandango Project, which I have been a part of and is in fact funded in part by the School of Social Work. As we move ahead, these practices will require greater theorization, research, evaluation in order to be taken seriously in social work academe and intervention. In the meantime, we, like Jane Addams and John Dewey, know from experience that we are healing ourselves and facilitating opportunities for healing for others via the curative power of the arts, “via the charm of human form in active learning” (Dewey via Jackson).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CAMP Collective

My friend and colleague, Theresa Ronquillo and I are working on a poster presentation for Imagining America. Here is a wordle we generated for our presentation on the CAMP Collective: Community Arts, Media and Performance in Social Work Practice.

Wordle: CAMP collective">

Here is the link to see it in detail:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TEDxSeattle - Fandango Without Borders

I had the delight in April of being part of a group who presented a TEDx Seattle talk on the Seattle Fandango Project and the transnational movement it is a part of with the phenomenal Martha Gonzalez, singer, song writer, and percussionist of E. LA Band, Quetzal and doc student in Women's Studies at UW; Francisco Orozco, doctoral student in Ethnomusicology at UW and co-curator of American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music at the EMP; and Kristina Clark, bailadora (dancer) and community member of SFP. We were accompanied by Quetzal Flores of Quetzal; Laura Rebelloso, master of all aspects of the tradition of Son de Jarocho; and the lovely bailadora, Iris Viviros.

I was too green and shy to dance this tradition in a performance at that point, but it was awesome to be a part of. We also presented at the EMP Pop Music Conference in April and are preparing for an event we are facilitating at Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life at UW later this month.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coworking at Office Nomads

I wrote this over the summer. Its rough, but I think it gives you a pretty good sense of the coworking movement:

After many years of working in academe and the nonprofits, new interests in media and a recent divorce have prompted some serious introspection about my financial situation and career goals. I needed some space to consider my professional future and space came in the form of a layoff from my research job at the U this past winter during this challenging year of recession. In addition to introspection, I have also done a lot of job hunting mixed with a variety of freelance and volunteer projects that have kept me very busy, if not terribly well-compensated.

Office Nomads has become my second home in the midst of all of these changes in my life. As an extrovert, spending long stretches of time alone in my house was deadly for my mood and ended up to be more distracting than anything else. Working at ON provided not only the companionship of many delightful and amusing people, I get way more done, too. As a freelancer working on many projects for/with different people and organizations, it feels great to feel some sense of continuity each day that an office provides- a fridge for favorite snacks, familiar faces, the proverbial “place where everybody knows your name.”

I have learned a lot, here. Not only do I feel a strong resonance with the values that undergird coworking, I have really appreciated how ON owners, Jacob and Susan have included the ON membership in decision-making and made themselves available to the Capitol Hill community. I have also really enjoyed learning about my colleagues’ various projects and businesses.

Part 1: Community Building and Greening the Work Day

I met Jacob Sayles at a Transformational Breathwork session last year. Between sessions of hyperventilation into altered states consciousness accompanied by painful tetany (TB is another story for another day), we chatted a bit about his commitment to community building (a mutual favorite subject) and about Office Nomads, his co-working space in Capitol Hill. What is co-working you ask? I was curious, too.

I first visited Office Nomads a beautiful early summer day. Sun poured through the huge windows in this former industrial space on Boylston in the hip Pike Pine Corridor neighborhood of the Hill. I found serene colors and exposed brick, free coffee and KEXP playing in the background, hip, happy people were working, and dogs occasionally ambled by. Dogs are most welcome.

Office Nomads is a space where indy contractors, solopreneurs, and other telecommuters can work from instead of their homes or coffeeshops. What makes it so special? As Jacob will tell you, it ain’t about the free coffee or the printer. Its about community. He was quoted thus in an article last year:

“You have to understand what technology can do and what it cannot do. And what technology cannot do is sit and have a beer with you.” –San Francisco Magazine, August, 2008.

There are the memorable moments- the shared experience of Michael Jackson’s passing or particularly amusing response by Cortez the Chiuaua to a siren, but what matters more is the everyday familiarity that builds between folks.The daily participation in each others’ lives - neighborhood happy hours and role playing game nights result in strong bonds among Office Nomads’ core membership. What makes this unique? This intimacy of working side by side isn’t accompanied the potentially unpleasant politics of working for the same organization.

Nomads attend each others’ birthday and bachelor parties and help each other move- the legendary Seinfeld measure of friendly intimacy. - Pretty reliable signs that “community” is indeed being built. Additionally, many organizations, including Sustainable Capitol Hill, Bar Camp Seattle, and various computer programming groups meet here regularly, as do many Biznik events. Artists also show their work on a rotating basis throughout the year and ON is open for the Capitol Hill Art Walk each month.

Jacob’s business partner, Susan Evans arrived at Coworking from a different but complementary perspective:

In a question to “green” her work day, Evans longed for a community office space that she could walk to. A pedestrian commute creates “a beautiful place to start and end my day. It improves my quality of life. What if more people could walk to work in Seattle?” she asks. “Especially since public transportation has not come together here? What would they do with the time spent on commuting?”

Evans and Sayles both are asking “what does it mean to start a business with a “triple bottom line”? The goals are about not just profitability, but contributions to society and the environment. While the financial piece is fairly straightforward, the social and environmental aspects of this project are the iterative everyday processes that really motivate the pair.

Part 2: Roots of Coworking:

Coworking is cafe-like community/collaboration space for developers, writers and independents.

Or, it's like this: start with a shared office and add cafe culture. Which is the opposite of most modern cafes. ;)
(co-working wiki.

The Coworking movement finds it roots in various large cities like New York and San Francisco. As a globalized economy characterized ever-increasingly by flexibility and reliance on technology, not to mention the recession, numbers of freelancers are growing, particularly in the tech industry as well as other arenas ( Finding working alone disheartening, informal networks of freelancers started meeting up in New York City in what has since become known as Jellies, a phenomenon that has now spread all over the country.

Dedicated coworking locations started springing up in several cities over the past five years, particularly in the Bay Area. Sprial Muse and the Hat Factory opened in 2006 and were followed by Chris Messina and Tara Hunt’s Citizen Space. Office Nomads opened here in Seattle in 2007 amidst several other locations providing similar services. Collaboration being a key characteristic of the movement, there is an emphasis placed on cooperation rather than competition between Coworking spaces here in Seattle and around the country.

Coworking is heavily influenced by Open Source programming culture and web 2.0 values of community building, collaboration and sharing resources. The movement’s connective tissue is found on its Wiki page and a Google group that new folks interested in starting Coworking communities in their areas post to every day from all over the world.

Looking further back, Coworking’s roots can be found in artists’, writers’ and nonprofit collectives and cooperatives that have thrived since the early 20th century and even further into the 19th century pre-industrial era of workers’ collectives.

Part 3: Accelerated Serendipity: Community building leads to collaboration

Coworking pioneers, Chris Messina and Tara Hunt refer to “accelerated serendipity” as a motivator for the movement- meaning that Coworking facilitates opportunities for increased collaboration and resource sharing, that results in work being done more efficiently and creatively.

Here at Office Nomads, accelerated serendipity is in evidence all over the place. Biznik, the networking organization for solopreneurs worked out of here for months in exchange for free advertising. ReVision Labs, an exciting project Susan Evans has been working on with Gabriel Scheer incubated here until it outgrew the space available. Ryan J. Salva’s Capitol Media is headquartered here and has created a website for Sustainable Capitol Hill and hired a number of contractors working out of ON.

Working side by side with people every day offers a great window into, well frankly, how they roll. I have both received work and referred work to my colleagues at ON. I have also

The future of Office Nomads

Growing at a rate of about one new fulltime member a month, Office Nomads will be 2 years old in November and is currently at 60% capacity. 23 of the possible 40 desks available are full. Feeling isolated working at home? I urge you to take advantage of a free day here and check it out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back to School

After a 5 year hiatus, I am a full time doctoral student again, working on a variety of projects, including teaching in the Masters in Social Work program among other things. Loving it and I am sad that I now really have even less time to blog (not that I was terribly prolific to begin with). Find me on Twitter if you don't know me personally or Facebook if you do.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


Desire is its own answer, because it’s healing. Desire in the sense of feeling--the opposite of desensitization, anomie, indifference, apathy—because desire is natural. Now you might not be able to satisfy it, but the recognition of the desire is in itself a virtue. Like thought is natural to the mind, desire is natural to the heart.
-Allen Ginsberg