STATEMENT ARTS- "The World Art Project"

The World Art Project blog is a forum dedicated to helping Katrina Victims share the experience and journey of a group of Professional Actors, Singers and Performers who traveled to the Gulf Coast to help uplift the spirits of those surviors. Our hope is to provide insight, knowledge and offer way for readers to get involved and help in forms of Donations, support or expression of opinions and feelings.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

From A New Friend...

Dear Liza,

Your presence in Cafe Du Monde yesterday was truly inspiring. Thank you so much for your wonderful music. You had more of an impact that you probably imagined.

We were meeting with a group from a local church whose community was destroyed in the floods following Hurricane Katrina. We were working with them to help resolve some of their immediate challenges and also to help them rebuild their community and the neighborhood around them. Since they only knew one of us, they were not sure what to think and not sure whether to trust us. When your group appeared, none of us could figure out what was happening. Was it some type of protest or guerilla theater? What were you protesting? Then we heard your remarks and all of us realized your good intentions.

When your singing started, I looked around the table and everyone was
smiling and singing along with you. We were all genuinely touched.

What you did not know is what happened after you left. Somehow,
the music broke down the barriers and the trust grew stronger.
We were also able to solve the most immediate problem they had
and make great progress towards their longer term rebuilding.

Your music was exactly what was needed to begin the process. I
would be delighted to return the favor and do whatever I can to
help your organization.

Thank you so very much for your kindness,

A new friend
New Orleans, LA

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Affirmation of Faith"

I believe in people.

I believe that in the darkest times, people can reach out thru the darkness and find another person's hand, and that is hope. And that is faith. And that is light.

I believe that it is possible to smile and sing and laugh and dance even when you've been living in a tent for three and a half months, when FEMA still hasn't given you a trailer, when it rained and thunderstormed the nite before, and your tent collapsed in on you and you had to sleep that nite in the cold, wet mud--I believe.

I believe that human kindness and goodness can persist after seeing nothing but debris for miles and miles and months and months.

I believe in rebuilding; I believe in rebirth. I believe in creation--creating songs to sing on cold, lonely nites, creating love in the most devastated places, creating communities who trust again.

I believe in the little boy at the library, who couldn't tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas because he thought whatever he asked for would only be destroyed, like all his other toys were. And I believe in the little boy who, when invited to pick out a single toy for Christmas, picked out a pink toy, because that was his sister's favorite.

I believe in the man who runs the liquor store, who couldn't bare to cry, but managed to mumble that people coming in to sing for him was the nicest thing any one had done for him in his whole life.

I believe in the little girl who is too shy to sing, and I believe in the boy who loves to dance.

I believe in chance, and I believe in luck. I believe in good fortune and good blessings. I believe in fate. I used to believe, that people believed, in one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. I can't believe that anymore. But I believe in you, and I believe in me, and I believe in our power to surpass our old beliefs and burst into new faith, like the glorious phoenix rising from the ashes of death, towards resurrection and life.

I believe all this because of every single one of you. I believe in the people on this bus. Because of you, I now believe that people can make a difference. I now believe in laughter and song, and I believe in the old lady's smile, and I believe in the young man's tears.

I believe in healing.

And, most importantly, I believe that in the end, you and your loved ones will be together again, in the place where love and pain, birth and death, joy and sorrow, belief and fear, are one.

I love you all. Thank you for teaching me to believe again.

Lazarus' Eyes

I kept hearing the comment, "the pictures just don't do it." As photographer I pointedly decided not to take my camera on tour. It was time to act on a credo I hold so dear to my heart, "It is not the program, it is the relationship! As I process through my soul the experiences of the last week of my life I can't get past one thing, her eyes.

I remember as a child, my mother/aunt taking me to all sorts of places to sing in the church choir. There weren't many of us and often we would sing after some inspiring or semi-professional choir. But African American churches are very forgiving! We would sway and sing and clap and sing while the audience jumped to its feet. They too began to sway and sing and clap and sing assuring us that they had once been there. Assuring us that we were the best choir of the day because we weren't trying, we were just singing our hearts out.

If it weren't for moments like that over thirty years ago I would not have been standing in Slidell, LA on 16th of December. The roles had changed, here I was in the "professional choir" from New York City feeling a wellspring inside of me as the music track of a Black church's Chrismas favorites floated in the air. Over that soundtrack was the unmistaken voices of children singing their hearts out mingling and intertwining with their adult counterparts. As we ran from the bus to prepare to sing and our group stopped to ready ourselves, I kept running around to the front to be bathed in this choir's sounds and inspiration.

And then I heard a familiar lyric, "Hark the herald angels sing," followed by, "Jesus the light of the world." My heart warmed, my voice involuntarily hummed, my body swayed and my hands started coming together in a familiar rhythm--clapping to the beat of the song. I was back in church--six years old singing one of my favorite songs from our hymnal "Jesus The Light Of The World." I liked it because we could finally clap to a Christmas Carol as kids! This choir was showering me with memories, comfort, familiarity and joy. I looked at the people looking at me, smiled at the people smiling at me. The members of the World Art Project had caught the fire and were clapping and swaying telling this choir to "sing on!".

It was then I realized, this was the only concentrated group of African Americans I had been in the company of during our entire tour. Then I saw her eyes. She was of dark complexion, 5 or 6 years old. She was standing between a teenager and an older woman. At first I didn't notice that she kept looking to each of them in turn for reassurance, holding the pant leg of each in turn. I thought it might be stage fright but for her eyes . . . Her hair had been straightened not by a relaxer but by a straightening comb heated in fire, her scalp greased well. You could tell because the hair close to the scalp had been gingerly straightened and the ends weren't as straight as the rest of the hair. It had been pulled back into a ponytail. There were stray hairs escaping from either temple. The coat she wore to keep out the chill fit just right. The kind of just right that tells a momma it won't fit next week this time. The kind of just right a momma knows will keep just enough chill out in the night air.

But her eyes . . . almond eyes of black strictly bordered by white. Her eyebrows ever so slightly burrowed above the bridge of the nose. She had the eyes of Lazarus. Eyes that registered being left alone in a dark and scary place. The only place in our world that is not familiar. What Lazarus would call inside the tomb. The eyes of a child not quite believing the Christmas lights on the trees in a park where a few months ago there had only been water. Her eyes would continue to look for reassurance from that adult and teenager she stood between even as she left them to come onstage and sing with us. She was not scared to be away from them. There was an invisible rope between her and them. She knew they wouldn't let her go, they hadn't before. Her eyes made my heart weep and I wondered what the story was behind her eyes.

Then I found out. Like so many others her town had been flooded and destroyed. There was little if anything left she, her family and friends could call their own. But there was one difference from her perspective. You see in her little community as rescue workers descended to help, save and sadly count the dead no one came. For seven days her town, she her family and friends were written off as casualties of the storm. You see from the beginning no one could find a way into the town the report was that there was no town. For seven days the girl with Lazarus' eyes holed up in a town while water lapped and splashed. For seven days and nights out of a short life of 5 or 6. Thankfully a newsreporter from the town asked the question, 'How come I can't find anything out about my hometown?'. Armed with a camera crew and some rescue workers they finally found a way. That is the story she told with her eyes.

December 16th in Griffith Park, Slidell, LA it is no wonder the choir sang, "We'll walk in the light, beautiful light, come where the dewdrops of mercy are bright. Shine all around us by day and by night. Jesus the light of the world."


Monday, December 19, 2005

A note of gratitude...

Subject: bayou tour
Sent: Sunday, December 18, 2005 6:01 PM
Hi Liza. I live in Slidell, Louisiana and was affected by Hurricane Katrina. My home sustained some wind damage but by a miracle did not flood. The water was up to my doorstep.

Unfortunately, my family was not so fortunate. My father and step-mother lived only two miles from me but their house flooded and is uninhabitable. They, along with their dog, are living with me. My mother lived only about three miles from me and she lost everything. She has only a slab left. She is also living with me.

Me, my dad and my two young children were fortunate enough to see you and your World Art Project Tour here in Slidell on Friday night. I cannot even begin to tell you how much that meant to us. I had tears in my eyes several times during the performance. My children were swinging when the bus pulled up. We watched as all of you got off of the bus. When we heard you sing -- all I can say is wow! It was so uplifting, so joyful, so heartfelt and so much fun. You really had us laughing hard with the 12 Days of Christmas. It was so good to see my dad laughing while trying to remember all of the moves!

I just wanted you to know that you made a difference. All of you brought some much needed joy to a very devastated area. I hope that all of you have a great Christmas. We really appreciate what y'all did!

Slidell, Louisiana

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Letter from Santa

Dear boys and girls of all ages,
As you all know this is Santa's busiest time of year. Christmas is drawing near and I've been very busy up in the North Pole. There's so much to do! Keeping watch over the elves as they hurry to finish their toy making. Making sure the reindeer are well fed and getting their rest. And, reading all the letters I get from boys and girls from all around the world. You know, I get so many sent to me up here in the North Pole that I have my own post office! I try to read every letter I get before Christmas Eve, even if I don't have time to answer them all.

One letter in particular touched me this year. It was from a young woman named Liza Politi. She lives in New York City. She wrote to tell me that she and some of her friends who love to sing and tell stories were going on a bus trip down to the Gulf Coast to spread some holiday cheer to children and their families who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. They were planning to go to many different places to sing Christmas songs, tell Christmas stories, and let everyone down there know that they had friends from all over who were thinking of them and wishing them well during their difficult time.

I smiled from ear to ear when I read this! It warms my heart so much when I hear about people doing such good deeds for one another. Liza then asked me for a special gift. She and her friends were planning to stop at the Kiln Library in Kiln, Mississippi to perform for a group of children who had been displaced from their homes because of the hurricane. She said it would mean a lot if Santa could make his way down to the Kiln before Christmas to see the children and let them know I had not forgotten them. Well boys and girls, I decided if Liza and her friends could take time to come all the way down from New York City then surely I could make my way down from the North Pole for a special visit before Christmas.

I gave my reindeer some extra feed, hitched them to my sleigh, and away I went! Dashing through the snow, I managed to make it all the way down south in record time. I arrived at the Kiln Library just as Liza and her friends were finishing their songs and storytelling. My goodness, those boys and girls were sure surprised to see me. I never saw such a clamor! They helped me carry in my big sack full of books I brought for their library, as many of theirs had been lost in the hurricane. Then we sat down and had a nice visit. I had so much fun sitting with the children. Having our pictures taken together, and listening to their Christmas wishes.

You know so many of the boys and girls had lost everything in the hurricane, including their toys. Yet, they were all cheerful and happy. And, they asked for nothing special for Christmas this year. Well, except for a few 4X4 trucks, and 2 wheeler bikes. Oh, and Barbie dolls! Ho, Ho, Ho! Now don't you worry, children. My elves will work extra hard to get all those toys ready by Christmas. I was having so much fun, but I had to get back home and get to work. So, I filled my sack with all the wonderful pictures the children drew for me, and dashed off to fetch my reindeer.

Well boys and girls, I'm back at the North Pole now getting ready for Christmas. I want to thank Liza and her friends for being so kind and spreading holiday cheer all along the Gulf Coast this year. And, I especially want to thank all the boys and girls I met at the Kiln for being so good. I was so happy to see each and every one of you. Thank you for your wonderful pictures, and especially all your wonderful hugs! You made Santa's day!

And thanks to everyone around the world who has reached out to the people who have been affected by the hurricanes. My wish for you is that you continue to reach out whenever and however you can. It means so much to them. More than you will ever know. Be good to each other, and love each other as much as you can. Oh, and Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Happy Holidays and Much Love,

Friday, December 16, 2005

gulf waters

Wednesday December 13th, 2005 9:45 am….
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

gulf waters

looking at the gulf waters
so calm and still
the sun shines bright
on the water
miles and miles of coast
with trees dressed in
shards of ripped and torn
pieces of grass, of wire
radiators, plastic bags
sheets, a pink bra
trees at a 90’ angle
broken and bent
in sharp angles
refrigerators busted open
stanking to high heaven and three blocks away
spilling foam and plastic
so many white sheets and striped mattresses
caught in the tangle of pines
that have lost their favored place
in the warm sun
near the great gulf waters

in the background, the hum of tractors
sheets of orange netted plastic dangling
blowing gently in the breeze
those waters really had their way with this land
her people have to surrender to the water
to survive

folks here have that tough
gritty, black starry look in their eyes
the kind of look, that when you go in
you see so much going on
it looks like the embers in a fire
they have lived thru a force of nature so strong
so vicious and mean
the soul of a person looks back and remembers only the waters
surrounding them
while tables and chairs
neighbors’ tables
float by thru the front door
and out the house from a 3rd floor window
talking about how lucky they were
to have a few bottles of scotch floating by
so they have something to wash their hands with
cause when the waters went down
they had nothing, saw nothing, couldn’t do anything
for three days till the water and the mud subsided

so i’m sitting in this gulf sun
coming down this christmas to carol for folks
i’m sitting close to the ocean, by a salt water pool
what i suspect is leftover from those great waters
i see a solitary whooping crane, looks like a sole survivor
moving really slowly through the water
i’m wondering if her legs are ok
she’s kind of staggering across the water
stopping every now and then
to stretch her neck and lean down to feed
there’s a few cricket sounds
but things are very quiet here this morning
except for the handsaws, the hammers, the bulldozers
in a lazy rhythm with the generator
some of those FEMA trailers with their blue tops
have brand new CHAMPION CHIPPERS
spitting out all those mossy Live Oak trees
like popcorn
looms white and large behind me
and volunteers and workers from all around
start drifting in for breakfast or coffee
a tiny white guard house is being built
wires going in slowly
sensors, lights
so when darkness falls, and there’s no moon
you can still see in the night


Day 1's Show...

Our first performance was Wednesday night in the Morrell Foundation's feeding tent. It is just that...a giant tent with a wood-chip covered floor and 3 rows of folding chairs and tables, a makeshift trailer kitchen and a serving line which uses portable plastic hot boxes to keep the food "hot". Donated supplies are stocked everywhere. The plates are styrofoam to-go containers and Dora the Explorer paper bowls and cups. Bright orange, pink or blue plasticware are at the end of the line. But what this lacks in charm, it more than makes up for in love and generosity of spirit. These dedicated, wonderful people work so hard to create meals for the volunteers who are from all over. Church groups from Tennessee, individuals from California, a Jewish group from Minnesota...some who are here for a week at a time while others have moved their entire families here for the last 3 months, home schooling their children and giving them a very different kind of education about the indomitable human spirit in the process.

When we arrived for the show there were very few folks here at first. I was concerned about whether this would all be a bust with no audience. The thought that maybe we were wrong about this flashed through my mind more than once. Sarah Hamilton and Liza Politi who organized this all never seemed to doubt the power of what we were doing. That amazed me and both encouraged me and made me more nervous! Either they were dreamers with the incredible talent to make those dreams a reality or they were nuts!! I was hoping for the former but feared the latter.

We tried to gather a few more folks from the building that the Morrell brothers had built for the volunteers to sleep in and then it was time.

As people got their dinner and sat down, we gathered to sing. Folks were looking at us rather warily...trying to figure out what this group of performers from NYC were going to do. Well, here it was...the make it or break it moment.

Connie, our friend from the liquor store, had shown up and before I knew it, Liza had her up singing our first song, "Deck the Halls", with us. I took this as my cue to begin getting "volunteers" to come up. When I saw anyone singing along, I jumped into the audience, took them by the hand and brought them up front to sing with us. There were some teenagers who got nabbed early on. After I got two of them, another girl came walking up on her own from the back of the room. It was working!!! The faces of the everyone in the room changed. Smiles abounded. When we hit "Rudolph", I headed straight for a 5 year girl called Natalie who I had met earlier. And she was a star!

Before I knew it, we had about 10 audience members up front, singing with us. Obviously, Liza and Sarah knew exactly what they were doing. There were maybe 50 or so folks there but it felt like more. Song after song, we had people coming up and joining us and even those who chose not to come up, were singing along. For that hour, people forgot about the tragedies they were seeing and experiencing day after day. There was this incredible release throughout the tent. We became this amazing community.

By the time we did our now infamous "12 Days of Christmas", complete with hand motions, everyone was on their feet, joining in with the Morrell brothers doing a solo on the 5 Golden Rings moment! The energy in the room was beyond description. This was an evening I was not soon going to forget.

Throughout the evening I had tried to get Natalie's friend Colby to join us. Colby is an eight year old boy who had made it abundantly clear over and over that there was no way he would come up. Natalie came up to join us on the last song and she leaned in to tell me that Colby wanted to come up for the last song. Well that was all I needed to hear. Off I went to get Colby and sure enough, he was happy to join us. I leaned over to both Natalie and Colby to tell them that the song was "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and was informed by Colby that of course he knew that. He was a pro and needed no help from me! *grin*

When all was said and done, it was one of the best performances I can remember doing in years. All the mad scrambling to put this together and worries of whether it would "work" or not were gone. People who an hour earlier were strangers were giving us hugs and thanking us for coming. Telling us how much this meant to them.

Some are even seeking out our other performances! What an amazing experience this is turning into and this was only the first performance!

If you build it, they will come!

Disastercorps Gives Thanks....

Subject: Update
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2005 20:50:51 EST

Don't know if you are checking your email along your route but Margaret is loving assisting your group. What a joy it is to have you in the Gulf. A blessing will be for each of you for sharing your time and voices, we loved the Joy to the World download we got the other day. Hope the weather will not be to bad for the rest of the week.
Thanks again, your group is wonderful!

Stephanie Spencer

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Day 1....

So today (Wednesday) we began the day by heading over to the Morrell Foundation's feeding tent which was the same place we were going to sing later on. It was the first time we able to see some of the devastation by daylight. There are not enough words to describe what we saw between our motel, Key West Inn, and the feeding tent and that was just the beginning. All along the road near us, we're able to see buildings with their roofs caved in or windows blown out with only half of a wall left. But that is not the worst of what we would see today.

As we turned onto the road near the beach, we passed lot after lot where all that was left of the homes were the three concrete front steps and a small plywood sign with the address spray-painted on it. Later on we learned that these folks' homes had been pushed by the waves and wind further inland so that many of the lots blocks behind them had 4 and 5 houses that had landed there. Those poor people now have to clear all those additional houses and debris from where their homes used to be.

It was a beautifully sunny day as we drove into the beach front area where the Morrell Foundation has their volunteer housing and feeding tents/building. This is an amazing operation. Volunteers who come in from around the country need a place to stay and somewhere to eat. Since there are few restaurants and even fewer places to stay this organization has built a building with loads of rooms with cots. There are not as many volunteers coming down as 3 months ago and yet the need is still great. The few volunteers who are still coming are a dedicated and wonderfully giving group of people. They are here to help clear out these homes, many of which have not even been touched yet. Refrigerators have remained exactly where they landed filled with rotting food. These incredible people empty all the debris out of these homes and then start bleaching/cleaning in hopes of making the structures somewhat inhabitable. This is difficult work both physically and emotionally.

We missed their breakfast time but their generosity is such that Tom, who runs the kitchen, went back into the kitchen and made us pancakes. Amazing pancakes at that!

After breakfast, we were joined by Margaret from Disaster Corps, an organization that was started by a woman called Stephanie Spencer who lost everything in Hurricane Floyd. These are some of those incredible volunteers I described earlier. Margaret gave us a guided tour through some of the worst hit areas of Bay St. Louis and Waveland. Large old trees that look like snapped matchsticks are everywhere. Rooftop after rooftop smashed into the ground. Homes that don't resemble anything like a home but a pile of sticks, like a popsicle house gone awry. Every time we saw another devastating sight I had the impulse to want to photograph it in order to document this insanity. After a bit of time, I felt guilty. I felt like we were treating this disaster like a tourist event...riding through the area on our big blue bus, snapping photos. It seemed so wrong. Houses sitting in canals, chimneys smashed to bits, a pink bathroom sink, tub and toilet strewn about a property...wrong to take pictures and yet wrong not to. People outside of here need to know how awful this still is.

When I was trying to raise awareness for this trip, I contacted everyone I could think of. One major corporation with which I had some ties told me that they were "All Katrina'd out.". I'm sure these folks here are "all Katrina'd out" but still they go on.

After the tour we had a bit of down time. The next thing I knew, we were standing in the liquor store next door to the hotel, singing "Frosty". It seems that the folks in there seemed awfully down so we thought we'd cheer them up. Little did we know who we would meet but a wonderful local woman called Connie. She joined in with us and stayed and chatted with us. She is amazing. An older woman who informed us that she had just gotten electricity into her FEMA trailer the day before!!! Crazy! This is December. Well Connie was amazing. She asked where we were parking our bus at night and offered to let us pull up next her trailer if we needed to. She then took our schedule of performances and promised to try to join us.

We had another rehearsal in the afternoon and then gathered for our first performance. We had no idea what was going to happen next. We arrived at the Morrell Foundation tent and there were very few folks there. We were afraid that we wouldn't have much of an audience and a bit worried about how this was all going to go. We try to gather folks and before we knew it, we had a small crowd of about 40 or 50.

What happened next is part of the miracles of this trip...Stay tuned!

Sue Berch

From Sarah... Can you Believe it has been only six weeks?

To think Liza and I started this mission just six weeks ago. And other days the truth is very real, with fourteen hour days, lack of sleep due to excitement and schedule changes and travel. That being said, so much can get done when many people help. It reminds me of a Quaker saying my Aunt Neva use to say that I think I said at one of our first meetings. "Many hands make light work". And Boy have I ever seen it to be true up to now.
In this mere time we found a tireless law firm: Debevoise and Plimpton LLP, a PR firm: Swan LLC who were on the ball from the get go, A web master: John Deely who can turn out a site like no ones business , a designer: Jason Kamps at Woof design with creativity to spare, a Fiscal Sponsor: The Field who make our donations possible, A Musical Director: Sara Krieger who keeps our singers connected, a Documentary Team: Malindi Fickle, Kris Leinert, Kari, and Louisa with a compassionate vision, a Producing Team: Stephanie Schrader and Margaret Baillet found keep our loose ends together, and our singers who will carol us all the way from north to south. And I can't wait to meet the great folks from Disaster Corps. And I mustn’t neglect David Margolin Lawson: our sound engineerand Nik Munson:who lent his beautiful voice together with our crew indefatigably last night recorded our version of "Joy To The World" at David's studio. Check out the song! I am so grateful to be part of this talented extraordinary bunch of people.

The Holidays can be a splendid time of year Full of love and tradition. The last few years of my life this has been brought home to me over and over again. What is precious has been very clear to me. Remembering to take a moment everyday to stop and remember what I am thankful for and I am truly thankful for all the generous, generous help I have encountered along these last three months. I truly look forward to meeting everyone when I arrive. Happy Holidays!!

With Much Love and Light
And Anticipation
Sarah Hamilton
Executive Director

For more information or to get involved with Statement Arts
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Thursday, December 08, 2005

I was asked to join wunderwomen, Liza Politi in creating her brainchild idea, The World Art Project Tour, under the umbrella of the Statement Arts. This road trip would find itself in the hardest hit region of Mississippi and Louisiana, after Katrina stormed through the area, uprooting trees, buildings, the land and most saddening the many lives that inhabited this region. They are fighters, they know Hurricanes, but this one was different. It's devastation has left in it's path those struggling to continue to rebuild and searching to replant the roots of a community once strongly melded in the tradition of the South.

From all of this sprang hope and help from around the nation. And now, a troupe of New York City Professional singers, actors, song writers, talent with a desire to help our friends South of the Mason Dixon line. Lead by Liza, they are headed down to sing, perform and help where they can. I've had the opportunity to help organize this trip and I wish I could go, but I'll be following along via this journal to observe their journey and know that despite the sorrow there might be a silver lining for those hardest hit. Join me, as we watch, discuss and cheer our on this generous group of individuals December 11th - December 18th. Their first stop is to meet with Disastercorps, a group founded by the fearless leader, Stephanie Spencer. Having weathered two Hurricanes that took all she had, Stephanie continues to pave a path of renewal and hope for those living in Bay St. Louis, MS and Waveland, MS.

Please help them fund this effort, DONATE if you can or send your comments and wishes to our blog.

Happy Holidays!