The Rapidian

Fall Times, Community Vibes

How art fosters community at Dwelling Place Halloween parties
Residents gather around a community table to make fall-themed artwork

Residents gather around a community table to make fall-themed artwork

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Party-goers came to events dressed for the occasion, with a wide range of cuteness and spookiness abounding

Party-goers came to events dressed for the occasion, with a wide range of cuteness and spookiness abounding

Young participants painted pumpkins to adorn their apartment buildings for the fall season

Young participants painted pumpkins to adorn their apartment buildings for the fall season

“It’s great to come out … meeting people, shaking hands, telling stories, telling stories like we are now,” says James Fruge as he regards his neighbors at Herkimer Apartments at an annual fall celebration. A young boy dressed up as a SWAT officer joins the fun of the party. Smiling, he calls out “Somebody’s gonna get arrested today!” The room is bustling with people gathering, painting pumpkins and tote bags, munching on cinnamon donuts. The party attendees seem to agree--it is a joy to come together to celebrate the Fall season and Halloween alongside one another. 

Dwelling Place organized six total Halloween parties across Dwelling Place properties: Weston Apartments, Herkimer Apartments, and Verne Barry Place (all properties in the Heartside neighborhood), Villa Esperanza in Wyoming, Roosevelt Apartments in Muskegon Heights, and White River Estates in rural Hesperia. In total, 170 residents, family members, and community members attended this series. Cider and donuts were featured along with an opportunity for kids to trick-or-treat. Residents showed up as villains and superheroes, fairies and greek goddesses, cowboys and doctors. 

Despite the plethora of fall decor, the most meaningful party attraction was the art activity at each given celebration. Party-goers decorated pumpkins and tote-bags and added creative contributions to Fall-themed story prompts. “I love art. It’s a way to express yourself” says Brianna Matten, attending the party at Herkimer. Although she doesn’t consider herself an expert artist, she enjoys sharing in creativity with others. Dipping her paintbrush into purple acrylic paint, she adds “It gives me a chance to know people… A lot of us work and go to school… so it gives me a chance to just talk, a chance to see how my neighbors are doing”. 

Invaluably, art can also bridge the gap between difficult connections. Doreen Timmers, a resident volunteer at Weston Apartments, laments she sometimes feels isolated. For her, volunteering breaks that isolation. The opportunity “for residents to come together,” especially in creativity, is a beautiful solution to disconnectedness, a means to equalize and nurture relationships. Fruge also recognizes this power. He states “Some people only interact with staff when they have problems, issues in their apartments, and this is a way that the staff come out and you can get to know them too”. Staff, residents, and volunteers participate in art alongside each other. Their creative work is equally valuable.

One of the most impactful moments of the gatherings was at Villa Esperanza. Residents and staff alike shared their love of music together. Though there was a language barrier, when a resident began singing a passionate ballad in Spanish, the room hushed to listen, to understand what he was communicating: joy, celebration, cultural history, confidence, warmth. Dwelling Place’s Volunteer Coordinator, Amy, chimed in, singing La Vie en Rose in French. As the residents and staff raptly listened, it was clear the music transcended the language barrier. Sarah, a resident who was excited to share her music the very moment she arrived at the party, bringing along her speaker playing the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, then sang her favorite song from the musical “All I Ask of You,” beaming with pride when the room applauded. 

There is something intrinsically communicative about the arts, something intrinsically communal. Teresa, attending the festivities at Weston Apartments, affirms the community-building power of art. She is content to simply observe the creativity, mentioning she enjoys the opportunity to  “connect [her] to people around the block … get along with all of them, talk with some of them … coming to see the people”. Fruge echoed her sentiments, though not having heard them. He declares “I always like to watch people putting stuff together, like today--a lot of people doing different designs, different thoughts of mind. You can see different things coming out of their minds onto their art.” When people are invited to take the brave step towards artistic expression,  a safe space to be vulnerable is created. Access to art means access to a new language for self expression and connection. To include art in community building is not only effective, it is meaningful. In a world of growing commercialization, technological interaction, and isolation, it is important to be intentional about the arts.

Emma Henkel is a part of the Learning Lab at Dwelling Place serving as the Community Arts Intern, pursuing her degree in Community Leadership at Aquinas College. Previously she has volunteered with Degage Ministries and Heartside Ministries. Currently she works as a certified nursing assistant. She is passionate about just and dignified access to healthcare, housing, and all self-actualizing resources and loves being creative through poetry, creative-nonfiction, and dance.

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