Why are the arts essential to Fools Mission? One simple answer is that art makes life worth living. Another is that the archetype of the fool has always been associated with art as a method of raising consciousness and disrupting the inertia of privilege. Art is strong medicine. In a technical, “data-driven,” rules-based society dominated by structure, art exercises your imagination. If you can express yourself in poetry, essays, music, drawing, painting, dances, circuses, or plays, you might be better equipped to thrive in a culture that divides people into winners and losers. We need art because it reminds us that we are alive. Fools recognize that at the moment where we can laugh at our own absurdities and brokenness, they no longer have power over us.
The programs that Fools Mission offers do not represent the final solutions that we seek. Kathy Curran, Executive Director of San Francisco’s Healing Well, spoke in solidarity with fools everywhere when she said,
“The most common question we hear is: ‘You’re teaching yoga and poetry to homeless and poor people? Shouldn’t you be focused on helping them find housing, secure jobs and complete their education?’ The answer is, ‘We are.’ Only when people are mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually able to cope with the challenges of their everyday lives, and there are sufficient resources to address long-standing community needs, are these goals attainable.”
A new program introduced in 2016, Compassion Through Music, brings immigrant families and established citizens together to sing old favorites in English and Spanish, participate in drum circles and gong ceremonies, and learn basic music literacy. Many of the school-age children in the program rarely (if ever) see a music teacher in school. We’re now offering separate guitar classes, as well. In a culture focused on “performance excellence,” we are excited to offer a musical experience that emphasizes fun, strength, and mental health.
At one of our Music Jams, we were surprised to see that no Latino families were present. We learned that a beloved uncle, Jesus, had passed away and that the family was stricken with grief.
We recorded one of our favorites—John Lennon’s Imagine—as a tribute to Jesus, and this video was the result. In a matter of days after posting the video on Facebook, over 800 views were logged from locations as distant as Mexico.
In partnership with the Faithful Fools Street Ministry, Fools Mission has presented workshops on theatrical improvisation from a number of traditions, including clowning, Playback Theatre, and Theatre of the Oppressed. The latter tradition is an improvisational approach that includes tools for dealing with oppression in all its manifestations, including individual/intrapsychic, interpersonal, institutional, and ideological.
Herbert Marcuse once said that,
“Servitude can be broken only through a political practice [that] involves a break with the familiar, the routine way of seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding things … so that the organism may become receptive to the potential forms of a non-aggressive, non-exploitative world.”
These workshops teach new skills for coping with everyday life while building strength and resilience. In one workshop, a participant shared a story from his life about an encounter with police officers in New York where the officers were ridiculing a homeless man. Participants had the opportunity to replay the scene again and again with volunteer actors playing different roles, in search of new ways to respond to the situation while maintaining respect for the human dignity of officers and homeless alike.
Want to find out more about why we enjoy being fools in this world? Check out the following articles: