Community Engaged Arts:
As a cultural organizer and community-engaged artist, Chelsea's artistic practice is interwoven with her social change work. After two decades of integrating artistic and community organizing practice, she has come to understand that these need not be separate endeavors because the arts are essential to movement building and cultural shift. Artistic work can raise consciousness and awareness and it can also "move" us, creating experiences that engage us as "protagonists in the necessary transformations of society." (Augusto Boal, "Theater of the Oppressed.")
Working with groups like Urban Bush Women, Cornerstone Theater Company, Asé Dance Theater Collective, and Movement for the Urban Village has taught Chelsea that performance can be a communal ritual for grief, healing, transformation, celebration, affirming identity, consciousness raising, or whatever is needed. The intention is to create space for all participants to be moved by the rituals and/or narratives they are immersed in. In both artistic process and performance we can journey together in a way that expands possibilities beyond what would have been accessible otherwise.
Chelsea began to work as a cultural organizer in the late '90s by producing events that brought together socially conscious artists in performance to raise funds for political prisoners, incarcerated women, and families who had lost loved ones to police violence. She began to work as a community-engaged artist in 2002 with an organization called Make the Road New York, developing a youth arts and activism program in Brooklyn, New York. As Coordinator of The Youth Power Project, she worked collaboratively to develop arts-based campaigns addressing issues such as youth incarceration, police violence, military recruitment in high schools, and the lack of green space there in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In the years that followed she worked on community-engaged arts projects with organizations such as Girls for Gender Equity, Caribbean Cultural Center, and Bristol Riverside Theatre where she directed a devised theater piece that honored the legacy of Harriet Tubman in that community. She also began to work as an arts and social change educator, supporting schools and youth organizations in the areas of leadership development and radical community engagement. This lead to many years of professional development and consulting work, through which she has collaborated with schools and other organizations to support their capacity for equity, cultural responsiveness, and restorative practices.
In the early 2000s, Chelsea became a company member of Shalewa Mackall's Movement for the Urban Village and Ned Williams' Dunham Dance Company. She was then brought on to tour as a performer and facilitator for the community-based theater project "We Got Issues!" which sought to engage women in political process...
Initially co-produced by Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda, Rha Goddess & Jlove Calderon, the project began by interviewing women between the ages of 18 and 35 to see what issues were most important to them. Based on those interviews, the team developed a performance piece and a series of workshops that were facilitated with members of each community they worked in. The ensemble was in residence for a full month in each city, building capacity for the work to continue after they left.
While working on "We Got Issues" she joined Urban Bush Women's Summer Leadership Institute, training with them and collaborating as a writer/performer on a piece called "Place Matters" that explored the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the related dynamics of systemic racism and displacement. She then worked with director Tamilla Woodard to develop a documentary theater piece about the events surrounding the Jena 6 Case, in which 6 young black men were unjustly charged after a series of hate crimes perpetrated by white classmates. The piece became called The 6 Project, and eventually toured to 12 cities across the US, engaging over 3000 people in dialogue on racial justice through workshops, performances, and community gatherings. During that time she also trained with Cornerstone Theater Company, assisting Laurie Woolery and Peter DiMuro as a choreographer for their 2009 adaptation of "Jason in Eureka."
She then toured as a performer and facilitator with Cornerstone Theater Company's "California: The Tempest," a community-engaged adaptation of Shakespeare's "Tempest" that addressed issues such as food equity, the prison industry, and immigration reform. While on break from that tour, she directed a street theater initiative for Berkeley vs. Big Soda, helping to bring about the first successful soda tax measure in the US. She then worked as a choreographer on two theater projects addressing the dynamics of gentrification in New York City- Working Theater's "Bamboo in Brooklyn" and PopUP Theatrics' "Broken City: Harlem."
In 2015 she was a contributing writer and facilitator for Oregon Shakespeare and One Minute Play Festival's "Every 28 Hours," a community-engaged theater project addressing the impact of police violence on Ferguson, MO. She was also a member of the Accountability Team for "Every 28 Hours," co-creating a set of guidelines and working to ensure that all iterations of the project were accountable to those most impacted by these issues.
Her most recent project was Urban Bush Women's "Hair and Other Stories," through which she supported the development of community engagement workshops and co-taught a semester of classes in community-engaged arts practice at the New School of Drama. She also joined the company for the New York City premiere as a performer and facilitator of audience engagement.
She is currently teaching performance studies to a brilliant group of young people at UC Berkeley. She is learning with these students through the lenses of equity, cultural organizing, and the transformative power that performance has to bring about social change.