Art educator and poet Arielle John exudes an aura of intensity and focus, whether performing Spoken Word on stage, talking about human rights activism or her work with teenagers. It’s little wonder that she’s been accepted by the prestigious Goldsmith University, University of London, to pursue a Masters of Arts (MA) in Performance and Culture. However, she needs to find TT$228,000 in order to pursue her dream.
The 27-year-old has been involved in arts education and youth advocacy for a number of years, which began when she worked with Arts-in-Action, an Applied Theatre Arts organization at UWI St. Augustine. This is a continuation of her teenage interest in social justice and human rights activism, which initially led to her studying law at the University of London (International Program). While doing this, John discovered a passion for performance poetry, which “ultimately led me to spend more time at the theater department at UWI than within my own program. Performing allows me to do the same kind of advocacy work that I wanted to accomplish as a lawyer, but with a sense of immediacy and direct action.”
John said her desire to impact lives led her to study Theater and Social Change at the City University of New York. The idea of art that challenges and questions the status quo remained a guiding principle for her work as an emerging artist. “I wrote and developed my first one-woman show- Cascadoo, as a thesis study examining Caribbean women’s narratives through trans-atlantic movement and migration, and definitions of ‘home’ for a people whose lives seem to be perpetually transient.”
John also spent three years working as a teaching assistant at the college, mentoring high school students who were taking an introductory college theater course, and various other additional teaching opportunities. “After graduation, I began working with the Brooklyn College Community Partnership as a teaching artist, facilitating after-school workshops with at-risk youth in poetry and theatre. This particular environment allowed for much meaningful dialogue and exchange with the students, leading to the development of powerful ethnographic writing and performance activities in the school.”
“In 2014 I launched a project entitled ‘The Lagniappe Project’ in my Brooklyn neighbourhood which involved an archiving process through photography, that sought to capture the West Indian community being threatened by displacement due to the rapid gentrification of the area. The photographs were taken during our annual block party as a statement of presence and a claiming of space, all in the theatre of the street. Prints of the images were distributed to community members in addition to an online gallery with public access.”
John said she is intrigued by the ability of the immigrant West Indian community to transfer culture from one region to another, “as largely demonstrated by the preparation and practices surrounding the annual West Indian Labor Day Parade in Brooklyn, Notting Hill Carnival and Caribana in Toronto. I have partnered with a Brooklyn-based arts organization – CaribBeing – to develop ongoing work and research into Carnival celebrations and what they mean in a removed immigrant context, their relevancy and new developments, particularly in such a volatile community.”
John represented T&T in the 2008 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam competition, where she was also a 2009 finalist in the ‘Speak Green’ environmental poetry competition held in Chicago. She was a valued member of the Brooklyn College Poetry Slam Team, which placed 2nd in America at the National Inter-College Poetry Slam (CUPSI) in 2013. John was a 2015 Callaloo Fellow (Oxford University) and is the author of an electronic chapbook ‘Songs in a Strange Land.’ John also worked on a number of productions, including the writing, directing and performance of a devised work entitled ‘All Hallal Trucks Go To Heaven’ a critique of American Islamophobia, as well as directing Ann Wuehler’s ‘Doll Cargo ’, a short-play that offers a troubling narrative of American women who are trafficking other young women for prostitution.
John is currently the creative director of The 2 Cents Movement, a performing arts nonprofit organization in T&T, which pursues youth developmental work through the use of spoken word poetry, involving a variety of social engagement initiatives. “I’ve been finding innovative ways to use the existing culture and technology to motivate young people to think critically, express themselves creatively and act positively in changing their world. Part of my strategy as a creative has been to approach theatre with an aim to explore multiculturalism and the performance of power.”
John said when she finishes the MA, she will continue to teach, and plans to go wherever she can be of service.
Original link: http://digital.guardian.co.tt/?iid=143313#folio=50