Friday, December 10, 2010

The Art of Community, "Offering hospitality…"

Dana…When I think of community I think of eating together! I think of welcoming guests and enjoying each other’s company. I think of family and friends and not forgetting the importance of our relationships.

Some Things to Think About…
⇒ What makes you feel welcomed?
⇒ How do you welcome others?
⇒ How do you accept the hospitality of others when it is offered to you?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Connecting (from the Art of Community collage)

Kat…I found community in a sorority – something that is not always thought of as inclusive and welcoming to all. Our small, local sorority welcomes and celebrates diversity. We are free-spirited yet connected in our support of one another and women’s issues.

Remember a time in your life when you felt most engaged,most included, most welcomed in your community. Create a poem, image, or story that resonates with your experiences.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Listening and figuring out how to include everyone...

Petie…Thirty three years ago I was teaching theatre in high school and directing a Children’s Theatre production which the students would perform for various elementary schools. One of the students involved had autism. We all had to figure out how to ensure his active participation. Another student really modeled how to be open to his differences and respect his involvement. We structured the performance much differently than we would have without him. It was a wonderful learning experience for all us. We all were stars!

Remember a time in your life when you felt most engaged, most included, most welcomed in your community. Create a poem, image, or story that resonates with your experiences.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another Story - Acting on Diversity

Jordan…I’m a little more politically minded as part of the DIY (Do It Yourself) scene in Columbus. We try not to rely on corporations and focus on community activities like pot luck dinners and supporting musicians traveling through town. It is important to have a common vision, but I also feel that we each need to be an independent thinker and share our individual uniqueness to create a richly diverse community. I disagree that “patience pays off.” I think there must be a sense if urgency and that “action pays off.”

Remember a time in your life when you felt most engaged, most included, most welcomed in your community. Please share that by creating a poem, image, or story that resonates with your experiences.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Story from the Art of Community Collage - Love and Togetherness

Lois…The sense of community is extremely important to me. As I was picking the pictures and objects to use I thought about the things that I love about my life, including friends, family, books,animals, and music. The pictures I chose represent to me togetherness, love, family, fun, laughter, and adventure - all things I feel are important in a vibrant community.

Remember a time in your life when you felt most engaged, most included, most welcomed in your community. Please share that by creating a poem, image, or story that resonates with your experiences.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Singing together in community!

"I'll sing and joyful be, and through eternity, I'll sing on, I'll sing on!"

What Wondrous Love Is This

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Art of Community@the Library...Making it Happen

The Erin McKenzie Virtual Welcoming Space at Otterbein Courtright Memorial Library encourages conversations and facilitates discovery of cultures, experiences, struggles and how we are connected. The welcoming space celebrates the gifts and talents in each of us in hopes of creating inclusive communities where all are valued. Annual events are planned with this vision in mind.

In 2009, participants representing the areas of Women Studies; Black Studies; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered & Queer (GLBTQ); International Education; Disability; and Diversity discussed making connections and community building at Otterbein College. This event resulted in two key findings:
1. The need to create spaces where all feel welcome to share and interact and
2. The need to engage more students, listening and hearing their voices and perspectives.

With those findings in mind, on April 18, 2010, a diverse group of students, staff, and community members gathered to further our knowledge about how to create community at Otterbein. We enlisted facilitator and artist, Candee Basford (, to guide our discussion using a process of arts-based appreciative inquiry.

“Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. To inquire means to be open to seeing new possibilities and potentials. Arts based inquiry is the act of exploration and discovery through the arts.”

Each member of the group was asked to remember a time in their lives when they felt most engaged, most included, most welcomed in their college and in their communities. Then, each selected various images and artifacts such as fabric scraps, buttons, tree bark, magazine cutouts, metal, etc. that resonated with his or her “story.” Participants arranged these resonating pieces into a story or pattern onto mat board. This created a visual representation or reflection of their story and the insight within. When completed, each member of the group shared his or her creative image and the story or stories that elicited the completed image.

"Art exists in the absorption in the tasks of putting existing things together in ways that have meaning; and inversely, in the engagements that make personal connections to things others have made." Michael Herman

The visuals have been combined into a collage which is now displayed in the library. In the next few months, individual stories and visual representations from the collage will be shared on this blog.

We would love if you would share your story. Remember a time in your life when you felt most engaged, most included, most welcomed in your community. Create a poem, image, or story that resonates with your experiences.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What is a "normal" life?

I confess that I never watch Family Guy, never saw the entire episode recently in the news, and do not know how the story of a young woman with Down syndrome going out with a boy who does not have it was set up or even if the words Down syndrome were used in the episode. All that I have seen is the now famous line about the governor of Alaska. From that clip, I must admit I wondered what the problem was around Down syndrome. I kept searching to find more about that. I found this quote from the actress who voiced the character, Andrea Fay Friedman, who does have Down syndrome. "My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life. My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes." No matter what your political thinking, her perspective is interesting.

I found myself thinking more about Andrea's comment on being raised "to live a normal life." What is a "normal" life? Jonathan Mooney in his book, The Short Bus, A Journey Beyond Normal, explores that. The question is crystallized in Chapter 12, "Katie's Book of Life." View a short documentary at his web site, The last four minutes feature a conversation with Katie and Candee Basford on this topic. Candee talks about how the concept of "normal" gets in the way of valuing what diverse gifts each human being offers and how that can limit a person's opportunity to have an ordinary life.

In a letter sent to thank the Basford family for their participation, Jonathan says, "One of the deepest scars for me from my experience in special education was the feeling that I had to be something other than what I was-that I had to be exceptional to be valued at all. I learned from my day with you how wrong that was-how our lives are intrinsically linked."

When I share my stories of Erin, I try to convey that Erin was not an extra-ordinary person with a disability. What was extra-ordinary was that she had the opportunity to have an ordinary life. More importantly, those people that got to know her had the opportunity to discover what Jonathan realized and wrote to Katie and Candee. "You gave me the gift of seeing how when we are together, we are so much more than when we are alone."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Spinning in Community with Others

Erin’s life inspired the creation of the Welcoming Space in
the Library of Westerville South High School and the Erin
McKenzie Virtual Welcoming Space Web site at Otterbein
College Courtright Memorial Library. Both provide a
diverse mix of media styles and information to encourage
conversations and facilitate our discovery of one another’s
cultures, experiences, and how we are connected; celebrate
the gifts and talents in each of us; and help us to build
inclusive communities where all are valued.

The mural on the wall of the high school library’s space was
inspired in part by an article my friend Candee found about the
Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. The spinning of the dancer is
an intentional act of participation in what is believed to be the
shared similarity and revolution of all other beings.

Student artist Sarah Boatright took that theme and combined it
with the significance of the circle in Native American culture to
create a beautiful painting of a young woman with long,
flowing hair who looks very much like Erin spinning within
a dream catcher. On a wall to the side are the words,
“Mitakuye Oyasin,” which is taken from the Lakota/Dakota
language and can be translated, “We are all related,” or “All
my relations.” It is a belief of oneness and harmony with the

This connection was also important to Erin. My husband
was involved for many years with the central Ohio Native
American community. When we attended events, Erin was
always genuinely welcomed and invited to dance in the

Sarah’s artwork has marvelously captured how two very
different cultures celebrate the importance of community.
Erin’s life powerfully demonstrated that too.

May we all spin happily together.

Copyright 2008, Barbara McKenzie.