Community Engaged Arts:
As a cultural organizer and community-engaged artist, Chelsea's artistic practice is intertwined with her social change work. After two decades of integrating arts and community organizing she has come to understand that these are not separate endeavors, the arts are an essential part of movement building and cultural shift. Artistic work can raise consciousness and awareness and it can also "move" us, evoking the transformative experiences that engage us as "protagonists in the necessary transformations of society." (Augusto Boal, "Theater of the Oppressed.")
Working with artists like Urban Bush Women , Cornerstone Theater Company, and Movement for the Urban Village has taught Chelsea that performance can be a communal ritual for grief, healing, transformation, celebration, consciousness raising or whatever else is needed. Though we may have a clear point of view on the issues we are making artistic work about, the intention is to create space for participants to be moved by their own experience of the work. In both artistic process and performance we are inviting participants to join us on a journey, rather than directing them towards a pre-determined destination.
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. She worked in collaboration with the Youth Power Project to develop arts-based campaigns addressing issues such as youth incarceration, police violence, military recruitment and the lack of green space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In the years that followed she worked on community-engaged arts projects with organizations such as Girls for Gender Equity, Bristol Riverside Theatre and the Caribbean Cultural Center. She also began to work as an arts and social change educator, supporting creative practice in schools and youth organizations. This lead to many years of professional development and consulting work through which she has collaborated with schools, arts organizations and other non-profits to support capacity for equity, cultural responsiveness and restorative practices.
At that time, Chelsea's primary artistic practice was dancing with 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 with a project called "We Got Issues" that 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 arts-based workshops that were facilitated with members of each community that experienced the performance. The ensemble was in residence for a full month in each city, building capacity for the work to continue after they left if the community wanted that.
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 a member of the Accountability Team for "Every 28 Hours" as well, 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," in which she supported the development of community engagement workshops and co-taught a semester of parallel classes at the New School of Drama. She also joined the company for performances in the New York City premiere as a performer and facilitator of audience engagement.