A 10th Anniversary Reflection
By Sheree L. Greer
Art2Action is celebrating ten years this year, an entire decade of essential arts advocacy, transformative creative productions, and inspiring community programming. Yet, it was only three years ago that I really connected with Art2Action here in Tampa. Everywhere I went, doing arts and community work, either as an individual artist or with Kitchen Table Literary Arts, I would talk with folks who, in the middle of our conversation, would ask, “Do you know Andrea Assaf?” and “Have you met Andrea Assaf?” As I learned more about her and Art2Action's work—particularly her work around supporting women of color artists—I began asking myself, “Why I haven’t I met Andrea Assaf?” and “When am I going to meet Andrea Assaf?” This is where I acknowledge the power of Divine Timing. The nonlinear, fluid nature of the universe brought us together right on time. See, Andrea and I had been in the same circles, both hosted open mics, both visited each other’s shows, both knew many of the same people. And when we finally did meet, I knew from our first conversation that the work Andrea was doing was important, and that her passion for art and its ability to build and sustain community was both inspired and genuine. Opportunities to work together and to support each other’s work continued to show themselves.
In late October 2017, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a panel moderated by Andrea, entitled “Removing Barriers and Encouraging Greater Public/Private Arts and Military Collaborations.” The panel, which also featured Saori Murphy, Linda Parris-Bailey, and Tyler Tarrant, explored the benefits of cross-community work as it relates to leveraging art-based public programs to support relationship-building between military service members and civilians. Another dynamic part of the Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network Summit was the Veterans Community Open Mic: Creative Forces Edition, that I co-hosted with Andrea and A2A. We showed out! We had an amazing time showcasing poetry, music, and personal narratives, from local artists like Dennis Amadeus and Slam Anderson, national artists The War & Treaty, many of the veterans who feature at Veterans’ Open Mic regularly, and more.
What’s more is that the work presented by Art2Action and long-time collaborator, The Carpetbag Theatre Inc., was at the center of a robust and revelatory white paper developed by the Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehab Research (CINDRR) through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The report highlighted the “Creative Arts Reintegration” model designed by Andrea and Linda Parris-Bailey, a model that illustrates the undeniably positive impact of story-based creative arts on the overall “health and well-being of military veterans,” in particular in terms of “connection with others, increased self-expression, self-awareness, and confidence.” To witness first-hand such important, cross-community work was both an inspiration and an encouragement to deepen my relationship with Art2Action and explore new avenues for my own community work.
A few months later, I was able to do just that. Andrea and I collaborated with the USF School of Theatre and Dance, where our work contributed to the development of Breaking the Wall of Silence (choreographed by Jeanne Travers, directed by Dora Arreola, dramaturgy by Andrea Assaf), a piece for the 2018 Spring Dance Concert. Our workshop, “Your Silence Will Not Protect You,” gave us the chance to bring our organizations together, Art2Action and Kitchen Table Literary Arts, to explore storytelling as power and personal narrative as freedom. The workshop invited women to create and share a safe, supportive space dedicated to centering our experiences and amplifying our voices. The women who showed up wrote poems, personal narratives, and songs, illustrating once again that art can give us the tools and opportunity to (re)define ourselves, for ourselves, however we choose.
Working with Art2Action as a program partner has been wonderful, and I look forward to Kitchen Table Literary Arts collaborating even more in the coming years. Also, beyond the programming partnership and organizational collaborations, Andrea and I have found that when we also support each other’s individual art-making, our bond as creatives and community advocates grows even tighter. It’s a bond that keeps us accountable as artists, which is the foundation of our art-based community work. Whether writing from Art2Action’s studio and retreat space, The Artist’s Enclave, or Kitchen Table’s The Getaway: Weekend for Writing, we’ve discovered that when we show up for each other to explore our own work, from my latest essay or short story to Andrea’s latest play or poem, we fulfill our individual creative needs in ways both nourishing and necessary.
Since joining the A2A Board this year, I’ve learned so much more about Art2Action, and so much more about the community of people who have contributed to the organization’s success over the last decade. I marvel at all the organization does to enrich the lives of the artists it supports and communities it serves, and I am excited to lend my efforts to seeing A2A soar into the next decade. The work Art2Action does is essential to supporting artists and their work, bringing challenging, honest performances to the public, and offering progressive, socially-conscious workshops to often underrepresented communities. It’s important work, work that needs to be celebrated and supported.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to celebrate during these uncertain times, but I have to push beyond my anxiety about what’s happening now, and what might or might not happen next, to focus on the people I love, to think about the work that must go on, to support the people and organizations, like Art2Action, who are dedicated to showing up and showing out amidst it all.
A Milwaukee, Wisconsin native, Sheree L. Greer is a writer and educator currently living and working in Tampa, Florida. She founded Kitchen Table Literary Arts Center to showcase and support the work of black women and women of color writers. She is the author of two novels, Let the Lover Be and Black Lives Matter-inspired A Return to Arms, a short story collection, Once and Future Lovers, and a student writing guide, Stop Writing Wack Essays. She has been published in First Bloom Anthology, LezTalk Anthology, Ms. Fit Magazine, REVIVE Magazine, Hair Trigger, The Windy City Times, Reservoir Magazine, Fictionary, Bleed Literary Journal, and the Windy City Queer Anthology: Dispatches from the Third Coast. She has performed her work across selected venues in Milwaukee, New York, Miami, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Tampa. Sheree received a Union League of Chicago Civic Arts Foundation award, earned her MFA at Columbia College Chicago, and is a VONA/VOICES alum, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice grantee, Yaddo fellow, and Ragdale Artist House Rubin Fellow. She completed Creative Capital Core Skills workshops, and was awarded a Division of Cultural Affairs grant to support her current nonfiction work. Her latest essay, "Bars" published in Fourth Genre Magazine, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Sheree teaches composition, creative writing, fiction workshop, and African American Literature at St. Petersburg College in Florida. She draws endless inspiration from poet/writer/warrior, Audre Lorde, author of Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and Sister Outsider. Sheree has served as a Board member of Art2Action since 2019.