The Rebirth of the Settlement House Movement

12/03/2010 6:00 AM |

What age were the kids that Nerve Tank was working with?
These were adolescents, between the ages of 15 and 20. They are kids who have demonstrated that they're really interested in developing their creative skills. The kids who come to The Door are some of the most vulnerable youth, and they couldn't be more open to this work.

After the initial workshop, Nerve Tank put on a show as part of the Performance Project series for an adult audience, right?
Actually, the following week, Nerve Tank invited the kids to the Settlement to be a part of their final dress rehearsal. And this was wonderful because a lot of these young people were performing in our space for our Share Salon, so they really got to understand how the tech stuff goes and what it feels like to have to deal with all of that and what happens when you're putting on a professional show and somebody forgets a line in the middle of the dress rehearsal. And they got to talk a lot with the performers. Nerve Tank was doing a work-in-progress show at University Settlement so those participating in The Door program will actually go to the Incubator Arts Project when the show premieres there. Allowing them to see all the different stages that artists have to go through, to learn that it's not so instant to make a show.

Saxophonist/Performance artist Matana Roberts who is performing in our space on December 10 and 11 is also a really incredible teaching artist. She's going to come work at The Door to do vocal composition. They will come to her performance. Then she'll come back and do workshops with them, so that they'll be able to process what they saw. Her show is about her family's lineage. She has quite an amazing story of coming from a family of slaves and slave owners and this piece that she's going to do at the Settlement is based on compositions that her great-great grandfather wrote. For a lot of our young people identity is a huge concern and to see how an artist is navigating that journey—I'm very excited about that.

Over the three years that you've been developing this public performance series, do you see much crossover with the audience that comes to see the shows and those that use some of University Settlement's other services? Have you been able to grow a new audience at all? Or is it a different audience every time?
What binds us together are the type of artists we're presenting, not the genre, which makes it challenging to brand what we are. And we've been at it a very short time. So I would say that our audiences have been predominantly the following of the artists that we're presenting.

But what I do see is that people are really excited by this idea. I am really moved by how open artists are to wanting to do this. And other partner organizations also. We've developed this really great partnership with Incubator Arts Project where now we're able to co-present. In the case of Blue Mouth Inc., which we're presenting in January, that's a group that Incubator was very interested in working with and they happen to be a company that is really all about connecting to the communities that they are making art within. They have a show that is an interactive theater piece called Dance-A-Thon. They're gonna be doing workshops with our seniors, who are obsessed with ballroom dance, and with our young people, recruiting them to actually be in the show, so they will actually have the opportunity to rehearse and tech and perform with an internationally acclaimed theater company. To me that's so exciting.

That's the kind of thing that can only happen when we welcome artists into our community. I have faith that the more of these experiences we have, with artists really becoming part of the community, the more we're going to be able to clearly articulate what we're doing and why we're doing it.