The Museum of Healing, through its pilot program BeingWith_, aims to be an antidote for unspoken vulnerabilities. Every few months, a group of artistic friends and collaborators gathers to stage the event series, which explores themes of ambiguity, stigma, and societal shame by grounding them in conversation and shared experiences.
Founder Hannah Roodman has been interested in diverse perspectives and community building since the start of her career. In addition to programming, the BeingWith_ event series and serving as Managing Director of HUMAN, an advertising agency creating media for social impact, in 2012, the artist and producer directed Project 2x1, a Google Glass documentary about the Hasidic and West Indian communities living side by side in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Roodman brings the empathy and curiosity that fueled Project 2x1 to all her creative endeavors, and along with her Museum of Healing collaborators, she's staged two full-scale installments of BeingWith_ to-date. Each event leads audiences through a packed program of storytelling, performances, discussion, and meditation.
In May 2016, Injury & Illness brought together speakers Joshua Dunn, Chana Raskin, and Jessica Belasco, who discussed the ways their lives have been altered by brain injuries and physical ailments. Their stories were supplemented by art installations by Michael Matchen and a dance performance by Dunn himself. Dreams, staged in October, delivered an expanded program that included spoken word poetry by Max Stossel, animated works from YoYo Lin, sound installations, and more.
Following the first BeingWith_ event, Injury & Illness, Roodman recruited a staff of collaborators to help further hone the programming. The freshly assembled team includes partner and marketing head Lindsey Royce, experience designer and creative director Skylar Jessen, meditation designer and peer facilitation instructor Rachel Stein, and producer Janine Moody.
A few weeks into planning the third installment of BeingWith_, the results of the 2016 election sent shockwaves through the collective. Unable to continue conducting “business as usual,” the team put an alternate, immediate plan into motion to stage an impromptu gathering “to immediately give the community a space [to process the outcome]” Roodman tells The Creators Project.
BeingWith_ embarked on a six-day sprint to round up organizers, poets, and activists for the event, which took place Tuesday, November 15 at Repair The World in Crown Heights. The stripped-down convocation included a panel discussion, guided meditation led by Stein, and a series of exercises led by poet Tracy Fuad and activists and teachers Kobi Skolnik and Vernice Miller.
Discussion focused on the vitriolic political coverage leading up to the election, specifically the vocabulary and attitudes that shaped such caustic dialogue. Skolnik and Miller asked the audience to alternately fully ignore and then completely engage with discussion on passionate issues, then surveyed the room on the feelings resulting from each approach.
"Do you think that if we had this [active] listening in society, from policy to education to the police, would anything be different?” Skolnik asked. “Think about building that muscle and how it becomes part of our engagement. We don't need to have a degree in compassion, it's actually something that's accessible to us, and it starts with engagement with the ‘other,’ no matter who the ‘other’ is.”
But the evening’s panel discussion featuring Miller, Skolnik, Fuad, poet and educator Shannon Matesky, and activist Diana Morgan addressed a potent aspect about engaging with “the other.” After an audience survey revealed zero Trump supporters in the room, Angelica Lara, a student of Miller’s and longtime organizer and activist herself, pointed out that “the other” might not always show up.
“This means that we're not being inclusive and we're not inviting the people who we see every day to come and engage with the conversations that we believe are important, not only for us but for them as well,” Lara said. “This is the important, uncomfortable conversation that I have had with plenty of my friends and allies about where we stand as students, youth, and as privileged people who have capital."
Poetry by Fuad and Matesky rounded out the evening, after which the audience took the discussion onto the sidewalks outside, leaving Roodman and her team to reset the room. While not entirely landing on or even aiming for pat conclusions, it was a night that nevertheless gave voice to many issues surrounding the election, which is the first step towards overcoming them.