Every year, Walker Center hosts MASSCreative for a leadership retreat. MASSCreative is a local organization that works with artists, community leaders, and institutions all across the state to build public will and support for the arts. Their on-the-ground work includes advocating for public funding, making sure arts education is accessible to everyone, and building vibrant Massachusetts neighborhoods through public art.
MASSCreative is unique because it lives at the intersection of art and politics. Tracie Konopinski, their program director, told us it’s usually rare for someone to be both an artist and an activist, so one of MASSCreative’s missions is to help give artists a voice and learn to advocate for themselves in the public sphere. Tracie grew up dancing and worked as an environmental organizer, so she understands how closely connected the two worlds really are.
“I think a lot of artists are political in their work, but don’t always engage in the political system,” she said. “We’re inviting a lot of people who haven’t necessarily been involved in politics before to use arts advocacy as the way to advocate for more access, inclusion, and vibrant democracy. I think we’re building a pretty cool movement that doesn’t necessarily include the ‘typical activist.’ When artists are in their studios or actors are on stage, they’re not always thinking about what’s the most important bill in the legislature that can impact their work. So that’s what we do. We help give people the opportunity to weigh in or use their voice for policy.”
Tracie says our democracy is something she truly believes in. Our voices can make change. Therefore, artists should feel empowered to speak out.
“I think the way our country is built is for people to weigh in on what a more perfect union could look like," she said. "Especially as politics get more divisive, people are looking for ways to connect, and the arts provide that. There’ s lots of people who are pushed to the margins who do actually have voice and agency and power, but the way certain systems are set up, they don’t always allow them to, so we’re working to make that more accessible.”
MASSCreative’s leadership council includes various representatives from over 400 member organizations across the state – places like schools, community art centers, and galleries. While at Walker Center this November, MASSCreative was able bring their leadership council together to brainstorm, talk about priorities, and allow members to bond and collaborate face-to-face. Tracie explained that in the day-to-day, the leadership council is busy running their own programs, but when they come together at Walker Center, they finally get to connect with other like-minded people.
“There are really great collaborations that come out of the retreat because there are just really great minds together. Walker Center is a home and it’s got a social justice mission based on its history. It provides a home away from home to allow for thinking differently and brainstorming. It’s really wonderful to break bread with people that you either work with as a colleague or as a partner. It’s nice to have real lunch and meet the people who make it, and you actually sit around the kitchen table together. We don’t always get to [slow down], so we really appreciate the [ambience] the Walker Center provides.”
Carol Zahra Lee, M. Div., is a local Sufi leader for the Shadhiliyya Sufi Center. Her title as Sufi minister is murabbi rahi, or “caretaker of the soul.” The Shadhiliyya Sufi Center is a national organization, but Carol is leader for the Northeast region. In early August, she held the Boston-area Sufi retreat here at the Walker Center. According to Carol, the retreat exists to help people slow down and reconnect with their Source. People come from all over the country - and some even from outside of the country - to receive spiritual guidance, pastoral counseling, and inner healing.
“There is a focus in our spiritual communities to help other people,” Carol says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Sufi or not.”
Carol has been hosting “Sufi school” here in Boston for twelve years, but 2018 was their first year at The Walker Center. The group had been meeting at Andover-Newton Theological Seminary, which closed in 2017. After the closure, the group was in need of a welcoming space that could accommodate Sufi practices, such as a halal diet, a room for prayer five times a day, and space for an overnight prayer vigil. Luckily, they were able to easily switch their retreat location to the Walker Center.
Carol spoke with pride about the retreat. It was evident that those who attended left with a sense of inner spiritual renewal and a deeper connection to God.
“The people that came to our event - for many of them it was life-changing,” Carol said. “For some people, their relationships changed with each other, or with a spouse. Healing physically happens for people when they come. If they were depressed they don’t feel that depression; they feel like there’s hope. They feel uplifted and fed by being in community.”
This retreat is one of three hosted by the Shadhiliyya Sufi Center all across the U.S. There is one in Boston, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Texas. Carol explained that these local events are good for people who have families or don’t have the time or money to travel to the Mother Center in California. They provide a point of access for people to receive healing, have spiritual questions answered, and be in community together.
Twelve years ago, when the retreat first started, the group had trouble finding an affordable space is Boston. Many organizations charged for their rooms by the hour, which would have made affording their overnight prayer vigil virtually impossible. Carol shared how she had prayed for a place to find. She remembers looking into 24 different places in Boston before finding Andover-Newton. After their closure, Carol was happy to have The Walker Center as an alternative space that her organization could afford.
“Having this space was so important,” she said. “I don’t even know where’d we’d be if we didn’t have an affordable space... We’re looking forward to coming back.”
The Directors' Desk
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