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A workshop in Portsmouth is opening up dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion through art

Culture Keepers Culture Makers art.
Courtesy
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Art from the Culture Keepers, Culture Makers workshop explores the influence of culture on race and equity.

A workshop exploring the influence of culture on race and equity through art started this week at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth. The workshop, Culture Keepers, Culture Makers, will hold classes Tuesdays and Thursdays through Nov. 4, inviting people to engage in dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion.

It was organized by Richard Haynes, who is the artist behind the workshop, and Kristen Butterfield-Ferrell, the facilitator. Haynes and Butterfield-Ferrell talked with All Things Considered host Peter Biello about Culture Keepers, Culture Makers. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Peter Biello: I'll start with you, Richard. Can you tell us a little bit about what the artists in this program will create?

Richard Haynes: Let me tell you historically where I think this came from. I was thinking about my life, not knowing an awful lot about my life. The whole idea of culture keeper, culture maker sort of came up as an idea, and the idea was to record my visual culture because when I saw that was being recorded of me, as a Black man in America, I didn't like the imagery. And so what I decided is I'm going to start painting my own story from slavery all the way to where I'm presently doing right now. And then we were asked to work with the Race Unity Group in Exeter to do a similar project, to have people do workshops or talks about diversity, equity and inclusion. And after that, and watching videos and after that, we asked them now to create an image of what they thought that the most important things were about the conversation we were having. So that's keeping the culture at the moment where we are and what we've just learned. And the cultural maker is once the piece is displayed, what would the community know about what this workshop was all about? What would this community know about this workshop in Portsmouth? It's wherever we do it. If we do it in Durham, if we do it in Exeter, what would they understand about this community?

Peter Biello: So, it sounds like there's a lot of thinking that's going to go into both the piece of art in particular and the nature of where we are culturally right now.

Richard Haynes: That's right. We're asking these people to think deep beneath the surface of the way life looks now. As an artist, I believe we need to be deep thinkers. We have to make the invisible visible.

Peter Biello: And Kristen, I wanted to ask you, too, because part of the mission behind Culture Keepers, Culture Makers is to reinforce the importance of a safe space to talk about race and equity. Kristen, how's this group going to do that?

Kristen Butterfield-Ferrell: Yeah. So, Richard and I really foreground that we want this to be a space that everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, no matter how incomplete or messy they are, because we believe that in relationship is how you build trust and then how you're able to have harder conversations. So we really try to have that be present through all of our conversations so that people can trust each other and then create that space for each other to have hard conversations and hopefully come up with new ideas and new vision for the future.

Peter Biello: Richard, this workshop is aimed at people as young as 16 years old. Why start at age 16?

Richard Haynes: We had students even younger. I think the youngest student was probably about 13, and the oldest was probably in the late seventies, early eighties. And it's simply because I think that our younger folks are not getting what they need, to me, in a classroom setting. And if they could come out into the community and learn a little bit more about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, what a great time to literally start them.

Peter Biello: Kristen, you've said that you're profoundly impacted by the way the art process brings people together. Can you tell us a little bit about the process? What will the process be for these workshops?

Kristen Butterfield-Ferrell: Sure. And we invite anybody who calls themselves an artist or who says, "I'm absolutely not an artist" to participate in these workshops and I'm in the latter group. So I've always said that I'm an art appreciator until getting to work with Richard. And so I think no matter where you are in the spectrum of interest in creating art, getting to be mentored by Richard and understand that so much of art comes from the heart, you really realize that we all have something to give and contribute artistically. And I think that's one of the greatest things getting out of this project is being able to see yourself as having a message to give and being part of a community. And I also think by creating art together, it brings people together. So again, we're forming stronger bonds with each other of care, and that's a really inspiring thing to watch as well during these workshops.

Peter Biello: So Kristen, what do you hope people get out of this, either as an artist or as someone who views the art?

Kristen Butterfield-Ferrell: I hope that people take away that we all have a part to play in making our community a better, more inclusive, safer space for everyone. And I hope people get that out of a conversation and the creating of art, but also when they see our images, that's the message that they take away that every one of us is important and we all have a part to play and it is possible. And while we have a long way to go, we have to always keep in mind, we've come very far and we have farther to go and to keep that positive spirit.

Peter Biello: And you, Richard?

Richard Haynes: Yeah, I'm looking also very much like [Kristen], when I'm looking for people to really become serious thinkers. After yesterday's workshop, and what little we gave them, they had to literally go out and begin already to think about diversity, equity and inclusion. And one young man said to me that his parents had put some ugly things in his heart and he was so happy he was there because automatically he had already began to change. It's a place where people can be as honest and open as possible, sharing the deeper inside. And we are allowing that space. And it's amazing the kinds of things that they are willing to share. And finally, eyes are opening to say, "I've never thought about it this way." So we're really hoping - I'm really hoping - that as they look at other people different than them, that they could literally see other human beings as opposed to stereotypes. Those are the kinds of things that I would like to see happen before I leave this planet. If we are all loving each other strictly because of who we are. I was also talking to one person yesterday and I asked the person, "Let's do something. Let's just close our eyes and let's just have a conversation. Let's forget all stereotypes. Now let's just talk." That's the way life should be as opposed to the way it is.

Peter Biello: Artist Richard Haynes and Kristen Butterfield-Ferrell are working together on an art workshop, Culture Keepers, Culture Makers, that is focused on exploring the influence of culture on race and equity. It's going on now at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth. Thank you very much for speaking with me.

Kristen Butterfield-Ferrell: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I really appreciate it.

Richard Haynes: Thank you.

Julia Furukawa joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing All Things Considered after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.
Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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