The General Dance on Canvas

It’s true that participation in community sustains us, feeds us, and gives us a sense that we count.

And, it’s also true that the dominant culture of individualism, in which we live and breathe, promotes separateness and standing apart.

The community canvas created at EHoP this summer was an embodied experience of letting go of the illusion of separateness in order to receive the reality of community.

This was the invitation:

Pick up a brush, choose or mix a color, and paint on the canvas.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, to say “yes” to participation, one had to agree to do so not on his or her own terms — to forgo a special place, a sense of direction, a final say, or any sort of status or protection for one’s contributions.

Not easy.

The artists of this piece agreed to give up control and come alongside the other participants, many of whom they’d never meet since multiple sessions took place over my 8-week residency at EHoP.

I lugged the 42-inch square canvas, brushes and paint out to the picnic table five times and made the invitation. People came and went alone and in small groups; in silence and in gentle, playful companionship. The current reality of the present moment was layered again and again, merging with and sometimes covering up what was already there. There was even a spontaneous baptism by the sprinkler system on one occasion.

Naturally, there were instances of doubt, clinging, and disappointment in the process.

“Where this was leading? Could someone really paint over my part? Isn’t it finished? Why don’t you give the next group a fresh canvas?”

As the earthly architect of the experience, I remained curious and filled with delight.

I stood back and entered in, taking in the twists and turns with amusement, awe and gratitude.

Between sessions four and five, I took off the masking tape I’d earlier placed on the blank canvas. The EHoP logo with rays like a sunburst coming from it was revealed. Then I had my own session, intending to contribute some sweeping strokes and fields of color to unify the piece.

The next week another group arrived and I invited them to have their way with it. After a couple of hours, a few people were peacefully lollygagging on it when interrupted mid-sentence by a sun shower. The session abruptly suspended, I was asked, “Is it complete?”

“For now,” I answered.

The next day my residency was over and I packed my belongings for the trip home, leaving it behind.

Author: Julie Ann Stevens

My art flows from the patterns & paths of my lived experience which ⏤ like yours ⏤ are at once deeply personal and entirely universal.

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