Artists Within Spotlight: Coming Out – Dance, Memory and Hope at J. Van Story Branch
“We have seniors here that have been here for years and they don’t want to come out and mix with the new population.”
This sentiment was met with approval from other residents and visitors of the J. Van Story Branch apartment following an interactive workshop developed by Dance and B’More for Artists Within. Dance & B’More provides biweekly movement classes and multi-disciplinary workshops with the residents of the J. Van Story Branch Senior apartments. Dancers and residents collaborate to create new memory based works in movement and spoken word intended to increase activities for the residents, improve memory and increase residents’ mobility.
Artists Within is a coalition of award-winning arts and activist organizations engaged with social practice. Working with Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc., the Central Baltimore Partnership, and MICA’s Baltimore Art + Justice Project, the Artists Within coalitions seeks to bring new energy to the community development efforts underway in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District. The coalition includes Dance & B’More, FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, Single Carrot Theatre, and Youth Learning Lab of Education and Applied Design. Working with local residents ranging from middle school students to senior citizens, the coalition activates and cultivates the artists, designers, and performers within these residents with the intention of increasing local participation in the arts and in community development efforts.
On this brisk October day, five senior residents and one visitor participated in the hour-long Dance and B’More workshop led by CJay Phillip. Participants told stories of their favorite concerts and childhood memories. These stories were set to music and movement led by the musicians, therapists and dancers. Ranging from ages 62 to 80, participants completed warm up activities, sang Motown and moved their bodies to African drum and keyboard. After the workshop, residents sat down to talk about their experience, their hopes and their challenges living in J. Van Story Branch. More importantly, the seniors talked about coming out.
“Sometimes, some people do [come out] and some people don’t. Some people don’t even speak.”
Coming out at J. Van Story Branch has multiple layers of meaning here. Coming out is not just about leaving one’s apartment; coming out also means feeling safe, being heard and having a sense of kinship with other residents and visitors in the building.
“Older people used to come out more but then other people was being nasty to them. They don’t have no security or nothing so the older people just stay in their rooms now.”
Eight years ago, the population at J. Van Story branch changed from seniors only to a mixed population of ages and abilities. As the population has shifted, the number of activities designed to engage residents has decreased, while fears, insecurity and isolation has increased. But things may be changing for the good.
“It’s a good thing, this is something we need. When they [Dance and B’More] come out, I always come out.”
Through Artists Within, Dance and B’More is bringing in activities residents enjoy and helping residents feel connected across population through movement, memory and community building. Over the next year, Artist Within and Dance and B’More will be able to see if by consistently coming in, residents will feel safe coming out.