WhyArts Hosts Listening Session for The In[heir]itance Project

On Jan. 15, WhyArts hosted a listening session for The In[heir]itance Project, a national arts organization that collaborates with communities throughout the creative process, combining their lived experiences and sacred narratives through a unique methodology of collective research, artmaking and reflection. The group is in Omaha this year working with resettled refugees and the communities who have welcomed them to build a play together in partnership with the Union for Contemporary Art and local civic, arts, educational, and faith communities and organizations. You can follow the project at www.inheritance.org. Below is a glimpse into the session from one participant. 

It’s The Perception, Stupid

The In[heir]itance Project Omaha Team and Carolyn Anderson.

I’ve always loved NYC. When I was little, I lived less than an hour’s train ride away from the famed metropolis, although the only time my family traveled there was to pick up or drop off someone at the airport. I pictured it in my mind’s eye, though – fast, loud, exciting, a bit dangerous and the home of my beloved Knicks, Giants and Yankees – a place I was sure would figure into my future.

Well, my family moved to Iowa when I was 10, so the first time I really experienced it on my own was a weekend trip with a college friend to see a show. It was everything I pictured.

I’ve never understood the immediate negative response some Midwesterners have to New York, i.e. – everybody’s rude, you’re gonna get mugged, you can’t trust anyone, it literally stinks there, etcetera. “But you’ve never even been there,” I’d try and counter.

So, I was excited to learn that The In[heir]itance Project, a national arts organization based in NYC, was coming to Omaha in 2019 to, as they explain it, “put communities’ lived experiences in conversation with stories from the book of Genesis to make new plays in five mid-sized U.S. cities.”

The Omaha play – whatever it ends up looking like – will be grounded in the Book of Exodus with a focus on refugees. The performances will be held this November. Until then, the team wants to talk to as many Omahans as possible to gather our thoughts and experiences and weave them into the creative process.

I sat in on a recent session hosted by WhyArts that included local artists and actors (I am neither), and that’s what I’m supposed to be writing about. Here’s my Top 10 list of reactions to the experience.

  • Jon, Chantal and Ariel (read more about them in the Team section of the web site) are super friendly.
  • They didn’t look down their noses at anyone in the room at any time.
  • They are good listeners.
  • They asked questions that made everyone think.
  • They created an environment that made you want to be honest in how you responded to them.
  • Once one person ‘went there,’ the conversation changed from exchanging pleasantries to truth telling.
  • They understand the important role good coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts play in running a successful session.
  • Chantal has great sneakers, and she swears a little when she gets excited, so I felt right at home.
  • Actors talk with their hands.
  • People stayed to chat after the advertised end time was up.

Even after only 90+ minutes, I now feel somehow invested in the process, and I’m curious as to how it all ends up. If you get a call to attend a listening session or get involved with the project in some way, don’t blow off the opportunity. If you don’t get a call, call them. They’re the real deal.

At the end of the process, I hope the team can return to NYC and start dispelling some of the idiotic perceptions some New Yorkers have of the Midwest – we all drive tractors, there’s nothing to do here, we don’t lock our doors at night, we’re all a bunch of rubes, etcetera.

I also hope I start checking my perceptions at the door on a regular basis.

– Teresa Gleason is the communications coordinator for WhyArts.