CORNERSTONE_DEC

ArtPlace recently spoke with Raquel Gutiérrez, Manager of Community Partnerships for Cornerstone Theater Company. Cornerstone is preparing for their next play, Lunch Lady Courage, the third play in The Hunger Cycle, a six-year series of world premiere plays about hunger, justice and food equity issues.

ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?

GUTIÉRREZ: The thorniest issue of course is always the question that seems to elude my colleagues as well as myself — who is the community? It might seem like a benign question to pose, but there is an anarchy of assumptions embedded in the singular and collective asking.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with assumptions—they are real, messy, complicated and possibly the most telling of our individual perceptions of the world. Doing community engagement has placed me in the way of different peoples’ assumptions about you-name-it. We walk into most scenarios with a set of assumptions and the sad part is that we often walk out of those spaces unchallenged and unchanged.

However, it is my belief that we should get comfortable with our assumptions. Go ahead now! Shake its hand! Give it a name!

I say this because when you get comfortable with your assumptions it becomes easier to assess them in a safe, non-judgmental environment. This is crucial because it allows us a space for the growing of understanding and a deepening of a cultural competency that we as arts practitioners and community builders strive for every day.

From my vantage point, this task is difficult because it requires that I as a cultural organizer make the attempt to summon all of my assumptions, sit with them critically and see where along my journey did I pick up such notions about different people and the communities they inhabit. It requires that I suspend my impulse for perfection or fear of scrutiny. I have to be courageous and risk being miscast as a bad person because I hold an assumption about a community different from the one(s) I am a part of. But carving out a space to be vulnerable in this work is part of the journey. Once I place a name, a face, a memory to my assumption, it becomes easier to throw them out the window and know I will never return there.

And doing that exercise enhances my service to building and strengthening community.

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