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Inspiration House Retreats

INSPIRATION HOUSE RETREATS gather men and women of conscience to seek rejuvenation through honest dialogue, dynamic silence, and the magic of cultural art performances. Our goal is to provide respite for staff who work in the stressful working conditions of nonprofit community service and social justice organizations. At Inspiration House Retreats, individuals explore how music, art, dance, theater, video arts, and creative writing can help them transform their stress into professional inspiration, personal renewal, and a new set of strategic tools. Retreat participants also attend performances and presentations by virtuoso cultural artists (as well as roundtables and conversations with the artists), in order to fully experience the renewing power of art that is created by men and women who imagine a humane and just society.

Rationale:

Over the years, in our work in a variety of nonprofit community service and social justice organizations, we've have found that:
  • Staff working for community service, neighborhood development, and social change can burn out emotionally, become territorial, begin to mistrust collaboration, and sink into helplessness, because of the inherently slow pace of reaching their goals

  • Staff become less effective in advancing their social justice agendas, maintaining organizational stability, and developing a broader base of partners and constituencies

  • There are few tools and systematic training approaches addressing both structural/institutional causes of conflict/oppression and the importance of engaging and healing the personal/political pain, grief, and frustrations that organizers/activists often carry after operating for years within crises

Inspiration House believes that no social change can be sustained unless the social change workers are sustained. Cultural arts are uniquely able to help individuals rejuvenate themselves despite having to work from crisis-to-crisis. Cultural arts such as poetry, drama, music, dance, painting, sculpture, and video/film can be particularly effective tools for integrating personal awareness, interpersonal skills, and organizational service. Producing art and witnessing performances by artists can help individuals explore ways to remain committed to their highest organizational and ethical principles.

Primarily, cultural arts incorporate and transform strong, difficult, often contentious, human emotions into artistic statements through tools such as symbolism, metaphor, improvisation, indirection, storytelling, personal testimony, movement, and role-playing. Using these tools can help individuals improve their imaginations, creativity, and flexibility in their approaches to social justice work. They return to their organizations understanding how cultural arts are profound tools in the creation of survival and thriving strategies in the work to create a just society. They return motivated, inspired and equipped with tools and attitudes that can help foster an institutional atmosphere and operational system in which staff can face crises with individuality and improvisation.

Individuals working on community service and social justice issues need the capacity to apply a variety of vibrant strategies to remain politically effective and interpersonally healthy. Inspiration House asserts that tapping the cultural arts can fundamentally improve the capacities of retreat participants to convert inevitable difficulties into inspirational opportunities to improve individual and organizational work for a humane society.

Cultural arts, explored in a retreat setting and within an atmosphere which values and encourages ethical relationships, helps participants adhere to their guiding principles even under stress. Ultimately, cultural arts help them contribute to the development of their nonprofit community service and social justice organizations, because they learn to apply dynamic patience, respectful listening, and a supple strategic capacity to balance paradox, organize chaos, put pain (and its healing) on the agenda.

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SELECTED TEACHING/PRESENTATIONS

2005

Filmmaker & discussion leader at screening of "Johnson Chronicles," Pan African Film & Art Festival, Los Angeles, CA

Conversation and workshop with Jeremiah Fellows of Progressive Jewish Alliance, "Cultural Arts and Social Justice," World Stage, Los Angeles

Workshop, "Ethical Leadership and the Arts," adapted for high school students participating in programming provided by The HeArt Project, a Los Angeles arts education organization, ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena

Filmmaker & discussion leader at screening of "Johnson Chronicles," National Black Arts Festival, Atlanta, GA

2004

Poetry Performance, "Pure," featuring Peter J. Harris & Ruth Forman & music by Robert Hilton, Getty Center, Los Angeles

2003

Inspiration House Writing Workshops, ongoing private consultations, Los Angeles

2002

Reading/Lecture, "VoiceMusic for Whole Living," Fort Valley State University's John W. Davison Lecture Series, Fort Valley, GA

Panelist & Reader, National Black Arts Festival, Atlanta, GA

2001

Spoken Word Concert, Inspiration House PoetryChoir, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Panelist & Reader, "A Love Supreme," Graduate Student Conference, UCLA

2000

Poetry Workshop, Third Root, Pomona, CA

Poetry Workshop, Writerz Block, San Diego, CA

1999

Guest Lecturer & Reader, Graduate Writing Program, San Diego State University

1996

Poetry Workshops, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA

Panel Convener & Presenter ("Soulfires"), National Black Graduate Student Conference, The Claremont Graduate School

Guest Workshop Leader & Reader, African American Writers Guild, Washington, D.C.

"Business Writing Skills," Class for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation's "Training Institute," San Francisco

1995

"Stomping the Blues: Joy, Affirmation & Writing in the Pursuit of Happiness," Class, UCLA Extension, Los Angeles

"Business Writing Skills," Class for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation's "Training Institute," Los Angeles

1994

Workshop Presenter," National Poetry Education Conference, California Poets in the Schools, San Francisco

1993

Poetry Workshop, Lincoln High School, Los Angeles

Poetry Fest, Upward Bound Project, Occidental College, Los Angeles

"Lock-in '93," Manual Arts High School's "Safe Passage Project-Community Drug Free Zone," Los Angeles

"Writing More Effectively," Class for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation's "Training Institute," Los Angeles

1992

Creative Writing Classes, Marla Gibbs Performing Arts Youth Summer Conservatory," Los Angeles

"Writing More Effectively," Class for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation's "Training Institute," Los Angeles

1987-91

Featured Workshop Leader & Reader, Spring Poetry Festival, St. Mary's University of Maryland, St. Mary's City, MD

Guest Workshop Leader & Reader, African American Writers Guild, Washington, D.C.

Writing & Publication Production Workshop Leader, Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, Washington, D.C.

1983-87

Poet-Teacher, As a member of California Poets in the Schools, I taught poetry workshops to students in all grades in San Francisco Bay Area public schools.

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Photo by Peter J. Harris