Partners in Action Transforms

Article By Nicole Gurgel

In the past two years, Partners in Action — formerly the Community/Artist Partnership Program (C/APP) — has undergone a dramatic, dynamic transformation. The program’s new name reflects deeper structural changes. Compelled by the 2012 strategic plan, the program’s reshaping marks a larger shift, in which ROOTS as an organization is moving from a place of service to one of action. In the words of Ashley Walden Davis, Community Partnership Specialist, through this program ROOTS is “actually becoming a partner. We’re not just giving money to support our members being partners, but we want to be a partner, we want to be a part of the change, we want to have our fingers on the pulse of the movements that are transforming the South.”

What’s New?

USF_San Antonio

Project South’s Universidad Sin Fronteras

The program’s most profound changes came in 2013 when C/APP was renamed and the more transactional, pass-through-funds program was re-conceived, in Ashley’s words, “as a partnership that comes with funding as a perk.” Moving beyond a re-granting model to one grounded in partnership allows Alternate ROOTS to support program partners more expansively. In addition to funding, we are able to assist partners in the realms of fundraising, marketing, and project planning, among others. For example, 2013 partner SpiritHouse requested that ROOTS’ serve as a fiscal sponsor and organizational mentor. Ashley explained that SpiritHouse “didn’t need help doing the work — they knew how to do the work — they just needed money and time to build capacity.”

The second programmatic change builds off of this increased focus on partnership, and ensures that  in-depth relationships begin during the application process, with site visits. Applicants that are chosen to move past the first round of review are visited by ROOTS staff and members. According to Ashley, conducting site visits allows the ROOTS team “to see the project, feel the project, touch the community” and ultimately, “know it more intimately.” In 2013, staff went on six site visits and selected four partners. This year, thanks to grants from the Surdna Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, nine applicants were visited and six projects were selected as partners. Better still — these numbers will grow again in 2015.

Partners in Action did not change as dramatically this past year, but several notable adjustments were made. The application process now involves Conversations of Intent (a friendlier, ROOTy-er version of Letters of Intent) in which first-time applicants speak with Ashley before applying, to ensure that their project is a good match for the program. Additionally, Kathie DeNobriga and Wendy Shenefelt were hired to offer free proposal coaching to all applicants. The increase in funding also allowed us to hire a part-time Programs Assistant (welcome, Joseph Thomas!). Together with Ashley, Joseph will be working to support our partners’ technical and administrative needs. And finally — building from the community formed by last year’s cohort — the 2014 partners will have even more opportunities to connect with one another, beginning with a partners convening before ROOTS week. “Artists in our network are dealing with some of the same challenges,” Ashley noted, “and ROOTS creates space for all these people to connect. That is really important. There’s no one else really doing this.”

What’s Southern?

Clear Creek Site visit

Clear Creek Site Visit: Robert “Bobby B” Martin, Keryl McCord, Carrie Brunk, and Mark Kidd

At one point in our conversation, I asked Ashley how Partners in Action reflected ROOTS’ identity as a Southern organization, and the importance of Southern-ness in social justice movements. Ashley had a lot to say about this, so I’m going to turn it over to her:

“Time. Over and over. It is very southern of us to go and be with people for the amount of time that we are with people [on the site visits], anywhere between 5-12 hours… We take more time, and we don’t rush time.

“You have to let it flow, especially at these site visits. Cause you know, I have times when I have something that I need to get through, but you know what? You let it flow. So we go out — oh, they brought 20 people? So when you meet 20 people you kind of can’t help but have some conversations, you know — that’s our way. It’s gonna be slower. It’s just gonna be slower. You don’t just come to somebody’s house to borrow the sugar — you’ve got to have the conversation first. And that’s very southern and very ROOTS.

“So you better just be in the moment, and it really is about who comes, is. And also a love. It’s a love that is very Southern and very family. No other place — you don’t go to New York and you meet people and you hug them. You’re not— no. Unless you know them. You don’t go to a meeting and the meeting is walking around everybody giving hugs. That is so ROOTy. No site visit did I walk up and somebody shook my hand. It’s laid back in that way — laid back in a loving, family way. And it’s always like a family reunion when we go to these places, and that’s southern. You know when you go you feel like you’re home…”

2014 Partners and Applicants

Global Village

Global Village Project with Elise Witt

The Partners in Action Program has allowed ROOTS an opportunity to learn more about the great work going on in our region. We are so pleased to invite six fantastic projects to this year’s Partners in Action cohort. Please join us in congratulating our 2014 partners! You’ll find a fuller description of each project here.

In addition, we also wanted to share the amazing work going on that ROOTS was unable to fund through the program. We know that our network is a wealth of resources. We hope that if you are interested or have information that would be helpful to a particular project that you will reach out to the team.


2014 Partners

Elise Witt, Global Village Chorus, Decatur, GA

The project expands and develops a Global Village Ensemble at the Global Village Project (GVP), a school for teenage refugee girls in Decatur GA. In addition to expanding the ensemble, it aims to help GVP become a model for arts integrated English for Speakers of Other Languages education for teenage refugee girls. The chorus consists of girls from Afghanistan, Burma, Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and from the ever-growing list of countries from which refugees are pouring into Georgia.

Project South, Atlanta, GA

The University Sin Fronteras recognizes that successful popular movements in the U.S. have always endeavored to deploy art and culture as a substantial, capable, and strategic conveyer of the espoused goals of their efforts. Incorporating visual art, music, theater, film, literature, and poetry can be used as a strategy for teaching decolonization, and this has led the University to explore how to infuse art and cultural work as an organizing tool. Their goal is to use art and culture as a catalyst to engage all of the aforementioned fronts, and to produce collective and accompanying artistic expressions as part of the actions encompassed in the summer organizing plans and the larger Southern Freedom Movement Assembly process.

Robert “Bobby B” Martin, Clear Creek Festival, Clear Creek, KY

Clear Creek is devising and presenting a series of original performative community meals with artists and craftspeople, farmers and foragers and all sorts of other creative folks in Bob and Carrie’s rural Clear Creek community in the foothills of Appalachia.  Participants will explore issues of land, water, food and culture through witnessing original performances, sharing their own stories and engaging directly in hard conversations alongside joyous ceremony and celebration through farm-fresh food, music, dance and love. The intention is to have a lasting impact on participants’ consciousness about their own lives and opportunities to build toward lifestyles, economies and communities that foster greater harmony with the land and with one another. This work is partially inspired by Cry You One and several years of artistic exchange with Mondo Bizarro from New Orleans and will include an extended artistic residency and cultural exchange between Louisiana and Kentucky communities focused on our exploration and experiences of land and culture, loss and resilience.

Appalshop, Harlan/Whitesburg, KY

Appalshop’s Youth Media Program is partnering with the Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College to offer college credit for participating in the media programs offered by Appalshop. Partnering with ROOTS, Appalshop will strengthen the project and seek to find a way to offer university level classes so that residents of Letcher, Harlan and Bell County can acquire a Bachelor’s Degree without having to move out of the area. Appalshop is interested in leveraging ROOTS’ network resources to help make connections with academic institutions that will offer a low residency (attendance) program.

José Torres-Tama, ArteFuturo, New Orleans, LA

The “ALIENS Taco Truck Theater Project” aims to transform a food vehicle into a mobile theater to bring the stories of immigrant day laborers to immigrant communities across metro New Orleans, and to engage day laborers in telling their own stories as a means of making them active protagonists in their fight for their human rights. The goal is to bring heroic stories of these workers to Lowe’s and Home Depot parking lots, churches, high schools, and bring the work directly to immigrant communities, crossing economical, geographical, and racial borders.

Stephanie McKee, Junebug Productions, New Orleans, LA

Junebug Productions, Inc. (JPI), is creating a new project that is being built from the partnerships of artists, activists and educators interested in documenting and reflecting on the legacy of the civil rights movement. In February 2016, JPI will present SOUNDTRACK ‘63, an interactive documentary production with live music and multimedia that commemorates the historic events of 1963. Produced by 651 ARTS, conceptualized by Creative Director Chen Lo and Musical Director Tut Asante Amin, SOUNDTRACK ‘63 is a historically epic presentation of these events including video and graphics installation and musical performances of period pieces featuring the stories of New Orleans civil rights activists and performances by local artists. In tandem with this presentation, JPI will produce several short videos about FST and JPI and partner with Amistad Research Center to make historical documents about FST and JPI’s impact available on its website.


2014 Applicants

Arianna Ross, Story Tapestries, Gaithersburg, MD

The Story Tapestries project focuses on breaking down barriers challenging the Gaithersburg Elementary School (GES) community. It will provide 3rd-5th graders and their families an opportunity to tell their stories through reciting, creative writing, and movement; a process that improves students’ literacy skills while giving everyone a voice. The Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County (CRCMC) will set the stage training teachers and artists to lead dialogue circles; a technique to create safe space for people to feel comfortable sharing their stories.

The Story Tapestries project will develop students’ positive self-esteem and resiliency, build a community of compassionate, caring individuals with better communication channels, enabling the school to better serve the families and student’s needs, and improve students’ reading and writing abilities.  Contact:

Gwylene Gallimard, The Portrait Project, AZULE, Hot Springs, NC

Gwylene Gallimard, a multimedia artist and Azule BOD Chair, seeks to partner with other members of the Azule Board to create a programming arc called Artistic Streams to reach an overall all goal to: 1. Create a shared sense of ownership of Azule and 2. increase the external and local community engagement. The artistic streams include: 1. Skill Shares 2. Words in Nature 3. Portrait Project 4. Tiny Houses and 5. Accent Project.

The streams attempt to cultivate Azule’s local history, future and values. They are built around the Vision statement of Azule that highlights the way the Shafers generated Azule’s architecture: what began as Doctor Kimberley’s tiny log cabin, is looked at, 40 years later, as a work of art. Therefore the project is meant to establish AZULE as a meeting place and safe space to grow basic visionary projects that develop in time to become the backbone and creative spirit of Azule’s strategic planning. Contact:

Sue Schroeder, A Season of Remembrance, CORE Dance, Little Rock, AR

Sue Schroeder is working in partnership with Dr. Gayle Seymour at the University of Central Arkansas, Erik Yang (poet), Patrick Dougherty (sculptor) and Bruce Adolphe (composer) on “A Season of Remembrance,” a nine-month long interpretive project that commemorates the 70-year anniversary of the liberation of the Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas, Confinement Sites.

The project will use the arts as a strategy to illuminate the emotional, personal, and human stories that took place in the camps to support and enhance traditional historical presentations. The centerpiece of this project is the creation and performance of an original evening-length multidisciplinary work titled “Remembrance” that will use orchestral music, movement, and poetic text to evoke the psychological dimension of internment, as well as address the breathtaking courage of the internees in their daily acts of survival. By shedding light on the oppression of the internees, as well as the racism that affected African Americans just outside the barbed wire, “A Season of Remembrance” looks beyond historical interpretation toward community transformation. Contact:

Kai Barrow, EcoHybridity: A Black Nomadic Journey, Durham, NC

In the past 2.5 years, Kai has transformed “her” rental home in Durham, NC into a living art gallery/installation in homage to the Gelede Society (a Nigerian secret society that honors the power of women). The installation is part of a larger project that she calls “visual opera,” an interdisciplinary genre utilizing painting, sculpture, found objects, sound, movement, ritual and storytelling to construct site-specific installations and performances (including protest) that transform “everyday” spaces into sites of resistance.

EcoHybridity explores themes of border crossing, dislocation, sustainability, and resiliency. The project blurs public and private space and focuses on Kai’s experience as an “aspiring nomad and border-crosser.” Kai intends to produce multi-location work while contributing to dialogues on “Spatial Justice” and cultural organizing. Kai hopes to demonstrate how methodologies that use physical and imaginative space in ideas, practices, policy recommendations, and processes that help strengthen communities. Kai’s goal is to uncover models that most reflect these experiences while working directly with communities to create site-specific models. Contact:

Edward Buckner, Original Big Seven Cultural and Heritage Division / Red Flame Hunters, New Orleans, LA

The purpose of the Red Flame Hunters is to involve neighborhood youth in Their Own Cultural Heritage: a tradition dating to 19th century New Orleans and beyond, to ancient Africa. The children are immersed in an ancient tradition and a living history. As part of the Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the Red Flame Hunters seek to support the 7th Ward community. Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs began as communal, grassroots structures offering support to those in need within the African American communities of New Orleans. The Red Flame Hunters fill the vital needs of African American youth in our neighborhoods.

The Red Flame Hunters nurtures and inspires our kids. The Red Flame Hunters instills pride, fosters self-esteem and offers involvement in a rich legacy of which these young people are all a part. It is their birth-rite.  The impact of art on a child’s life cannot be overstated. Contact:


Nicole head shotNicole Gurgel is Alternate ROOTS’ Content Developer, as well as a writer, performance-maker, and educator based in Austin, Texas. In addition to her work with ROOTS, she is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Drama at Austin Community College.

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Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression—everywhere.