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 organizing she has come to understand that these are not separate endeavors, the arts is 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 community-engaged artists like Urban Bush Women and Cornerstone Theater Company has taught Chelsea that art can be a communal ritual for grief, healing, transformation, celebration, consciousness raising or whatever else is needed. It is different from activism and organizing because the focus is on creating a transformative experience for participants to respond to, rather than on enlisting them in a specific agenda. 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 that experience and to respond in their own way. In the artistic process we are inviting participants to join us on a journey, rather than directing them towards a pre-determined destination.
Chelsea began her work as a cultural organizer in the late 90s by producing events that brought together socially conscious artists to raise funds for political prisoners, incarcerated women, and families who had lost loved ones to police violence. She began working 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 work with educators, where she has worked collaboratively with schools to support capacity for equity, arts integration, culturally responsive education and restorative practices.
From 2005-2008 she toured as a performer and facilitator with a project called "We Got Issues" that sought to engage women between the ages of 18 and 35 in political process. The project began by interviewing women from that age group to see what issues were most important to them. Based on those interviews, the creative team developed a performance piece and arts-based workshops that would be facilitated with members of each community that saw the performance. They were in residence for a full month in each city, building capacity for the work to continue after we left if the community wanted that.
While working on "We Got Issues" she joined Urban Bush Women's Summer Leadership Institute, 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 began to work with Tamilla Woodard to develop a documentary theater piece about the events surrounding the Jena 6 Case. It 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 on 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, 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 advised on the development of community engagement workshops and co-facilitated a semester of classes at the New School of Drama. She also joined company performances in New York City as a performer and facilitator of audience engagement.