“When people start talking and hear the similarities between their stories, it gives them hope.”
We have an amazing person on staff with us this year- Lulwama Mulalu. Originally from Botswana, Lulwama graduated from Bennington College last spring and joined us with a full-time Fellowship funded by the NY State Council on the Arts for the season. She’s had a HUGE impact on our work and our community. We began talking early on during her tenure about finding new ways to engage our community – to open more doors in our work and invite more of the community in. I was inspired by the work of Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History and author of The Art of Relevance, a book I’ve included in my Engaging Arts Audiences courses at Skidmore College the past two years.
Lulwama has worked closely with our resident Drama Club, helping teens find their own voices as writers and performers. She’s taught African Dance to farming kids who have never even been in a dance studio before. She has also created three new amazing programs, all held in our Round House Bakery Cafe, aimed at engaging community members – Open Mic Nights, Storytelling Nights and perhaps most importantly, Breaking Bread Potlucks for our LGBTQI+ community members and allies.
Why might this be most important? Well, here in Upstate NY there isn’t a whole lot of organized support for our LGBTQI+ community, especially for the many teens and youth who work with us and may be self-identifying as gay or lesbian or transgender for the first time and wondering where to go. This potluck series, just began in December, has already connected older and younger members of the community in fellowship and conversation. And it’s given youth a chance to see older married couples, gay and lesbian, who live and thrive here in our rural community – and so it’s given them hope. Hope that life can be rich, rewarding and full of love – no matter where you live or who you love.
At the same time Lulwama is an amazing artist in her own right. Bennington College featured her this week with this interview: The Hope of Storytelling. Read about her now so you can say “I knew her when.” She’s definitely one to watch – and one to work with – if you ever get the chance.