Joy Sullivan is an educator and poet living in Columbus, Ohio. Currently, she serves as the artist-in-residence with the Pages program and as a Museum Education Fellow for the Wexner Center for the Arts. With a masters in Poetry from Miami University and a teaching license from Ohio Dominican University, her academic work reflects an interest in gender studies, social justice, and community development. She is passionate about her neighborhood of Franklinton, equality in education and facilitating local writing workshops in the community. Joy emceed the Pages open mic reading and reception, celebrating the ten year anniversary of the program, and below she reflects on the evening and the transformative power of gathering, sharing, and listening.
Last year, I remember sitting in the audience of the closing Pages reception. I was only peripherally familiar with the program, but was truly fascinated by the concept. The Pages program partners with educators, artists, and the Wexner Center for the Arts to provide high school students with a bridge to accessing art and gallery spaces via writing and creative expression. It is a unique space that reminds us why we write, why we reach, why we listen. By the end of the reception, I recognized a radiant momentum in the room; it was an irresistible energy I wanted to be a part of. There was a buoyancy, a flame. I was drawn back like a hungry moth.
This year, I found myself as the artist-in-residence for the performing arts component of the Pages program. I sat, now, at the closing reception with pride witnessing students and teachers I have collaborated with approach the mic, the stories of our shared experience clutched in their hands.
Throughout the night, I noticed a strange and powerful phenomenon begin to transcend the room. Students began tentatively reading their poetry, their short essays, holding up personal paintings. I watched as two girls, inspired by each other's perspective, stood to dialogue via their work. They wrote about the power of art, how it challenges us, wrecks us, takes us somewhere unexpected. I watched an older gentleman, a grandfather of a Pages student, warm to the words in the room and spin a story of his own from behind the mic. We began as audience and presenters and, in those moments, we slowly, mysteriously, merged into speakers and listeners. Like jellyfish, there was a tangle and return. A gape and a morph. Both the speaking and listening became active work. Suddenly, there was a rush of readers, a soft clamor. The earnestness became palpable.
Here, again, I witnessed the transformative power of Pages as a place to put our grief, our bliss, our fear, our love. Because of this, Pages asks a lot of its participants-- pushing teacher, artist and student alike into a vibrant place of stretching, exploring, and creative risk-taking. It reminds us that art is for anyone, everyone, and it is in sitting with one another’s vulnerability that we make meaning. It is hard, tender, and necessary work.
I’m circling the program again this year as I return as an artist-in-residence for the year 2016-2017. As I think about the spark that first drew me to this program, I am reminded of earliest man creating fire circles and kindling stories into the night. In the same way, I’ve seen how Pages serves as this metaphorical fire circle and its closing reception as an invitation to that good heat. It serves as a testament to how hearing each other’s shared experiences rosies our cheeks and warms our hands--how it revives and sustains us even in the darkest winter.