Arts heal

Community events planned by artist-activists
By Fran Gonzalez | Jun 07, 2019
Courtesy of: Belfast Creative Coalition website

Belfast — On a Thursday afternoon in the former Baptist Church on Court Street, now known as the Maskers Building or "The Bazz," a group of artists, community leaders, an invested citizen and a former inmate — all activists — talked about how arts can play a role in healing.

The group, RAW 4 Change — Art in Action Project, meets weekly to discuss ways to organize, energize and inspire, connecting art and activism with community involvement and the opioid crisis. RAW stands for Restorative Art Works. The group falls under the umbrella of Belfast Creative Coalition.

Its mission, "revealing that the opposite of addiction is connection," speaks to the many resources available to community members in need and helping them tap into available networks, organizers say.

Each month until November, Raw 4 Change will host different events in the community, culminating in a Nov. 1-2 weekend learning project with Vijay Gupta, a violinist, advocate for social justice and the 2018 recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant. Gupta is described as a passionate advocate for using music to heal, shape and change the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

Other artists featured for the November weekend include acclaimed visual artist Natasha Mayers, international facilitator Gail Burton and justice advocate and prison poet Joseph Jackson.

In April, the group sponsored the film "Beautiful Boy" at Colonial Theatre with a panel discussion proceeding the movie.

Former inmate Norman, identified only by his first name, said he was incarcerated for 30 years and graduated from Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast. He said he became involved in Raw 4 Change because of the importance of "telling the stories."

He hopes the group will bring knowledge and information to the community.

"It's not just for the offenders, but also for the families," he said. Having knowledge of available resources helps people re-enter the community at a "level" standing, Norman said.

Raw 4 Change is also hosting free discussions on the last Saturday of the month, called "Community Conversations," focused on the power of art and justice and the opioid crisis. The presentations are held at "The Bazz" (17 Court St.) and contemplate the role art plays in making change, calling for justice, restoring ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors.

Anyone interested in joining the ranks of Raw 4 Change artist-activists is encouraged to attend one of the weekly meetings on Thursdays at 1 p.m. at The Bazz. For more information, visit belfastcreativecoalition.org and go to Raw 4 Change.

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