By Mauricio Salgado
“All right everyone, take a deep breath and let it out. I find that whenever I’m in an uncomfortable or unexpected situation, I stop breathing. That might happen a lot in this workshop–so let’s make it a rule to breathe.”
That’s how we began the Artist as Citizen workshop at the 2013 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) currently in progress at regions around the country. The festival is part of a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide, and this was the second year that the nonprofit where I work, Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), has participated. We were recently at the northeast regional, and I was eager to engage this community of students and faculty and demonstrate to them the power of the arts to transform individual lives and entire communities.
I started by asking them, “What is poverty? What do we see when we close our eyes and think of poverty?”
Many responded—“Poverty is being poor.” “Lacking the ability to do or acquire something.” “Not having access to resources.” “Hungry children in Africa.” “My neighbor.” “Guilt ridden.” “Taboo.”
Then we explored what the opposite of poverty looks like—“Wealth.” “Privilege.” “Big houses.” “White people.” “Education.” “Mac computers.” “My neighbors with a pool.” “Responsibility.”
Then I asked—“Is it possible to find happiness in poverty? Is there anyone who’d choose to live without resources?”
Several immediately shook their heads “no,” but others hesitantly nodded “yes.” So I offered, “Some religious institutions promote vows of poverty and abstinence. And some people strive toward monastic living or choose to volunteer their time and services to the poor.” So then I asked—“What kind of poverty makes us uncomfortable? If people find joy in lacking certain resources, why strive to end poverty?”
And then one of the students offered, “Maybe it’s when people have a lack of choice?”
￼￼At Artists Striving To End Poverty, we are deeply committed to empowering individuals who suffer from an ￼absence of choice—especially children. The right to choose is a fundamental human right, and we strive to end the ￼poverty that robs us of that humanity. By awakening imaginations and fostering creativity, the performing and ￼visual arts create a unique space to rediscover choice. The young people we serve imagine new futures, new ￼possibilities, and gain the skills and strength to achieve them. ￼
Through our exercise at KCACTF, the students were able to recognize what poverty looks like and how the arts can ￼help people find common ground and break the cycle of poverty. It is that recognition that begins to build a ￼creative bridge toward discovery and choice making.
The remainder of the workshop series explored the power of empathy and how to delve beyond our technical theater training to harness our collective power and empower others to ensure that everyone’s stories can be heard.
Together, we explored how to use our craft as a means to build the strength of our communities and our culture. Together, we can prove the transforming power of the arts to change lives.
About the author
Mauricio Salgado is the Director of Domestic Programs for Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP). He is a founding member of ASTEP, is a graduate of The Julliard School, and has more than ten years of experience in arts education. To read Mauricio’s full bio, click here!
Images used with permission from ASTEP.