Yesterday I had the great fortune to attend a lunch event hosted by Erika Dudley, Interpreter-in-Residence at The Smart Museum of Art in Chicago. In this group of 10 people, we talked about how we experience welcoming and belonging in our personal lives and in artistic spaces. As I looked around at artist Jessica Stockholder's installation above us in the lobby, I thought back to the first time I took students to the Chicago Cultural Center. The Chicago Cultural Center is a beautiful hub in the heart of Chicago's downtown district, a home for exhibits, performances, and meeting and conference spaces.
I took the students to the first floor on the north side of the building. My students scanned the room of tables and chairs, and looked at people eating, working and having conversations. One of my students spoke up:
"So, it's okay that we're here?"
"Of course!" I replied before the weight on the question sank in. My student wasn't trying to confirm that the building was, in fact, a free public space. She wanted to know if people like her and her classmates, Black children from Chicago's South Side, were welcome. She wanted to know if I wasn't with them, would they have permission to be there.
I wanted to believe in the "yes" that I gave her so quickly, but I thought about the ways we are told we don't belong without it being said. The way people look at us or don't look at us. How different the environment is from what we are use to. What and who we see when we first walk into a space.
Needing permission to explore creative spaces is an internal issue as well. My sense of permission in spaces is pretty broad, thanks to an education that encouraged exploration. However, I don't always have a great sense of creative permission. To just act on ideas I have. To ask for help. To be bad at something for as long as I need to before I can be good at it.
Today I am meditating on what gives me permission to be creative, and how to extend this permission to myself and others.
Your Turn: What or who give you permission to be creative? What would you say to someone who is struggling with this? On Twitter, reply back with the hashtag #HWPermit
A little PSA: As we go into the holiday season, consider exposing a young person in your life to the cultural institutions in your city.