5 Years of People's Joy Parade and working with CAMP

Yesterday we celebrated the 5th year of the People's Joy Parade, and as I reflect on my experiences of the day, I notice that I am still learning so much from this event and particularly its duration.  My role has shifted over time from coordinator, to teacher, to only participant, to workshop host.

If I could briefly recap the overall experiences of each year I would describe it as follows:
Year 1- oh my god that was amazing I can't believe we pulled it off!
Year 2- This continues to feel incredible, look at the contagious enthusiasm and way in which our crowd and participants have grown.
Year 3- I am so glad to be a part of this parade and it is super fun to perform as the spider woman.
Year 4- How fun to be with friends as our girl doo wop group and watch the way everyone brings it.

Each year has had its own bit of specialness, people, parts that have made it unique.  But this year in particular I learned a lot about giving a project over to the group.  The first few years Lyndsey Scott and I worked hard together to get the word out, fundraise, and include community.  Jenny Shriner had taken over as Parade coordinator three years ago and I continued to assist her in varying capacities.

Jenny and I began with a meeting where we sat down and hashed out what sort of work needed to happen for the parade and what sort of work we wanted to take on.  Sitting down with myself and getting really honest with my time and efforts, allowed me to clearly identify that I wanted to work with kids and the neighborhood and I wanted to work with artists in a workshop setting.  Finally, I could identify that I really enjoyed helping coordinate the day at the lot but not all the email and phone calls in advance of the parade.  By focusing my energy on aspects of the parade that were energy building, I created a situation in which now, after the parade, I was not burned out but rather ready and excited for next year.

*Lesson 1- Focus Energy on What feels Good.

Furthermore during this meeting Jenny and I brainstormed several components that were important to this year's success including hosting a volunteer meeting, having a non-kickstarter fundraiser, and re-vamping the workshops.  This volunteer meeting turned out to be a pivotal moment.  At the meeting over 25 people showed up, we shared what we loved about the parade, did some general brainstorming and then broke off into smaller topic groups- workshops, lot coordination, fundraising, and outreach.  Hearing the ideas that each group brought to the table and feeling the support of the room really alleviated the stress I had with the idea of pulling off the parade.  In past years, we had put in so much time on both the aspects of coordinating the parade and fundraising to ensure that we could financially cover ourselves, the event, and the time it took to put on such an event.  In the small group settings, we came up with a more concise series of ideas that we were able to take forward.  For instance my lot group decided to have "day of" art projects on site, tents for sign up, and refreshments.  My art workshop leaders, Elisa Sugar and Cam Fuller, very clearly stated their desire with the adult workshop was to hold space for art making and lend advice, but not to specifically teach a class.  Their decision led to a really sweet creative space at CAMP the month leading up to the parade.  Finally knowing that a fundraising committee existed and had taken on the responsibility of coordinating Joyrita, meant that we could skip the Kickstarter campaign and its associated deadline stress and reward aftermath, and focus on our individual tasks at hand.

*Lesson 2/3/4- The more brains and bodies involved the better the end result.  Event momentum/history yields support.  You never know what sort of volunteer support you might have unless you ask.

Our artist workshops started at the beginning of April.  That first day I sat at the CAMP table with a couple of friends and we began to brainstorm.  I came in with the loose idea of a Mermaid Float after a prior conversation with my friend Is'Mima.
 Is'Mima is a fellow mermaid fan and she has created a folklore/mythology based around the idea of mermaids that occupy the Mississippi River.  I asked for her permission to use this theme "Mermaids by the Mississippi" as a part of the parade.  Initially I wanted to build a float featuring her as the Queen Mermaid.  As she was too busy caregiving for an elderly parent, she gave me blessings to continue on with the theme.

Anyways at that table with Jenny Hansen, Sallie Durbin, Jeff Miller, and others, we schemed a bunch of ideas for this float.  Sallie had a clear vision for the mermaid and seemed committed to helping me make it.  Jeff was willing to put together a Tom Sawyer on a raft component.  Jenny Hansen felt pretty confident that if we put the word out we could locate other mermaid/men to walk with us. Jenny Shriner popped in that she would love to make mermaid costumes for her and her mom.  Meanwhile Elisa and Cam began brainstorming building a bug.
Cam and Elisa work on the bug armature.
Coco naps and Niki R. builds.

Other friends popped their heads in and checked to see what we were doing.  This sort of fluid community art space became the standard for the workshop.  At the next session we began to build, soon we were joined by Gigante pro, Wesley Fordyce who brought an earth, hourglass, and a set of peace/love staffs.  Niki R. worked on a collaborative processional piece for Poetry Scores.

Wesley's Peace and Love
Peter C. and Alex Pennington started to create a Fish.   I fondly remember that at one point Celia arrived and started playing her guitar on the yellow couch in the back of CAMP.  As we built the bamboo bases for our Gigantes, we got to sing along to "This Land is Your Land" and "Cielito Lindo".
Peter C., Wesley, and Alex work on Fish Gigante.
A group of neighborhood girls- Camilla, KK, and Tamara, came in from the side gate, perhaps hearing the music and they marveled at our burgeoning creations.  Celia let KK make up an impromptu song as she backed her on the guitar.  Sallie and I wondered around the backyard and CAMP grounds discovering materials perfect for our mermaid, tomato cages and chicken wire for her tail, as if by magic.  We continued on to Sallie's workplace to collect ribbons and fabrics that would become the mermaids body and hair.
Sallie searches for materials.
Wesley stores Gigantes on the garage!
The bug takes form!
As the weeks continued on the CAMP space was filled with other artists working on their costumes; Holly, Jenny, Susanna, Je.  Is'Mima came by gave mermaid advice and delivered supplies.  Others stopped in briefly to get ideas for projects they were working on at home.  Watching things grow in process, we bounced ideas off of each other and shared materials.  Digger occasionally popped his head in to give some of his professional puppet making advice.  My view of CAMP expanded in a way as I realized how wonderful it was that we were able to use the building as a temporary project space.  In these moments when we were all running around the building constructing our costumes, floats, and Gigantes, I felt community.  I felt the stir of energy I felt in grad school when one artist project inspired another.

*Lesson 5 The Value of a flexible, shared, community space to building art community.

A brief digression on my history with CAMP.
I've been a CAMP regular since the parade started, brought into a partnership through my friendship with Lyndsey Scott, I've enjoyed seeing all the ways CAMP works in the community.  Initially CAMP for me was a place for parade workshops and fiscal sponsorship.  Sure I'd been to many events there but I had not been deeply involved.  Ben West, the CAMP treasurer at the time became an important asset for practical aspects of the parade; funding, legality, logistics, and thus to the longevity of the parade.  As I spent more time at the CAMP space through the Parade and my friendships with the residents, it seemed natural that I would move my studio to the building.  Since then I've enjoyed seeing all the ways CAMP tries to serve the community.  Through the collective CAMP is a cost effective living space for people wishing to follow pursuits that don't always yield large amounts of money.  CAMP is a project space and over time I've seen it host- guitar lessons, yoga, Capoiera, drum circles, kids art classes, kids food classes, acro-yoga, belly dancing.  CAMP is a meeting space for projects like "May these Changes Make Us Light", Gateway Greens,  The Confluence paper, or the Parade. CAMP is an event space for art shows, Kwanza Celebrations, and Wellness Groups.  For myself and a few others CAMP is a studio space that is safe, heated, and alive.  CAMP is a safe recovery space, as the walls of its building have served as a body to store projects of the past.  When I think of CAMP, one of the things I am enchanted with is that it serves the underdog.  You don't have to have money or a lot of resources to belong or lend a hand.  I love that there are a community of people that I've met through this building and that even with the work it has done, it still has more work it can and will do.  If you have initiative, CAMP is a great place to start a program.  CAMP is for me wabi-sabi, it may not be for everyone, as things are in a way always shifting, there is always something to clean or a new project to consider but it the right sort of perfectly imperfect.   Things aren't always easy at CAMP, the leaders are mostly volunteer except for moments of grants received or fundraisers that cover costs, because of this it is a labor of love where one has to find a healthy boundary pertaining to participation at CAMP vs. meeting personal needs.  Due to the openness of the space, things disappear (so sorry for Elisa's bike).  I understand as well that a singular bad experience in the past may have tainted a person's view of CAMP- But that said, it is always shifting depending on who is involved, and so I'd advise those who've had a previous negative experience to be open to the continuing shifting leadership, from what I understand CAMP is celebrating its 10th birthday, things are work enough, people keep pushing enough, for it to survive. 

Where I'm Going with the Previous Paragraph
I'm saying all of this because its been in the last week that I felt moved by a combination of the body that is CAMP and the parade.  It started a week ago when Emily Hemeyer, Jenny Shriner, and I worked together to set up the kids costume workshop on Saturday, as we worked, we dreamed and schemed summer programs.  Being in a space like that, lets you imagine the possibilities.
On Saturday, as we made examples for our art projects, we were serenaded by the Footbeat led by Celia, with a special group of instruments- guitar, banjo, and ukelele.  That afternoon the room became full with kids, there seemed to be the perfect amount of adults, and I felt the kids excitement grow as they made their projects and got to see the in-process artworks around them.  Adults worked hand in hand with kids to create sewn outfits, Mermen, Mermaids, and princess skirts.  Kids painted cat masks.  Tissue paper Mexican flowers filled the room.  I stayed late that night to repair my mermaid's head that had been damaged in the rain.  As I worked late and made a huge mess, I was relieved that I had the space and permission to do so at CAMP if even temporarily.

The next day, I arrived early, ready to get to work, to my surprise kids from the day before showed up again ready to silk screen a t-shirt!  This time they brought friends.  The kids message was viral.  Soon our room was filled with artists working on costumes surrounded my kids watching them and lending a hand.  The kids began to paint their shirts and I led a few, that had missed the workshop, through making cat masks.  Granny Shelly showed up and said she wanted to have her car in the parade and she set upon making painted signs with her grandson Tion.  The space was multicultural and multi-generational.  I noticed how energized the kids were to see the artists at work and how their enthusiasm from the previous day had carried over.   While I had not intended for it to be a kid's work day I also wanted to go with their desire to participate.  I left the building marveling at their chalk messages written on the wall, "We love to come to CAMP".

Mermaid Head
As the week progressed people were working at CAMP around the clock.  Neighborhood kids excitedly knocked on the door to find out what was going on.  On Wednesday, Sallie and I were fortunate to be there as a May Day event occurred.  An organization set up a Free Sale outside, BBQ'd free food, and talked with people on the street.  Meanwhile Sallie and I finally brought the mermaid to life.

By the time we reached Friday, the group of regular artists, worked around each other lending in a collaborative hand to complete their projects. Elisa, Cam, and Queen Bee Melissa Breed, rescued me by helping finish the Mermaid throne as I began to lose steam.  There was encouragement and support.  We didn't let the ongoing rain discourage us.

The Mermaid throne with extra help from QB, Cam, and Elisa.
Parade Day

Saturday morning, like a miracle, the rain ceased.  We began our tasks at hand- setting up the floats, finishing the bug, greeting Turner Center for the Arts, Face painting, putting on costumes, lugging things to the lot, setting up tents.  Kids arrived, Volunteers arrived.  At the lot we set up an art making station where kids could pick up costumes, make masks, or Tissue paper roses, as soon as we set up, the stand was packed.  So packed, that I later noticed they had to bring out another table.  Over at the sign-in people began to arrive.  We had a few no-shows due to rain and a few walk ups- just by virtue of seeing us gather.  The Footbeat began to practice.  A golf cart of hot cocoa, coffee, and water pulled up causing everyone to respond with glee, warm drinks in the cold weather.  Go time approached and as 1:11 struck we began to march down the street.  It was peaceful, graceful, and lovely.

Close up of the Bug Eye

Bug mechanics
The bug's hot dog
Elisa and Cam ready to walk.

*Lesson #6 The CAT mantra, whoever shows up is exactly who is supposed to show up.

I was reminded that as Lyndsey Scott had taught me, sometimes it's all in the small relationship.  A joyful hug from Grandma Shelly telling me to let her know about other CAMP events.  Seeing the lovely 5 year participants (from 8-13) Marlaisha and Jaylah painting faces and with painted faces.  Enjoying the parade regulars, Fort Gondo, Cinco de Volvo, and SLISS.


In those short few hours at the lot and during the parade there is a magic that exists.   I love hearing other people's moments- kids so excited they couldn't sleep the night before, the little boy that waived his arms from the sunroof of his grandma's car.  The sheer wow factor of people's costumes, floats, or puppets.

Turner Center for Arts Group Shot
Mermaids in Profile
Mermaid tail and throne

At one point I had struggled with the role of the parade in the community, as Cherokee developed, I questioned was the parade just a one day band-aid.  Something that made us feel better about all the days we lived separated by power, class, race, background, gender, or sexuality.  I think what I realized this year is that the parade, as a process, is community building, relationship building, the parade is a connector that brings neighbors together, the parade is reason for us to temporarily let our guards down and enjoy the celebration of being alive together in this city.  The parade is a culmination of a series of relationships, of events, of planning, of collective enthusiasm pointed at the idea that for one brief moment we might walk together with all our crazy, artistic, multicultural, generational selves and say I am present here.

Jessica Baran took several great photos during the parade, if you want to see more people go here.

Thanks for reading.

Finally Role Call!   Thank you to all these Parade Makers as you make it so good!
Everyone at that first Volunteer Meeting!
Jenny Shriner- Parade Coordinator and Rain Putter Outter
Elisa Sugar and Cameron Fuller- Lead Artists at the Workshop
Sallie Durbin- Mermaid Co-conspirator
Mermaid Crew- Jef Miller,  Shriner Family, Janie Ibur, Jennifer W., and others.
Wesley Fordyce and Digger - Gigante Experts Extraordinaire
Emily Hemeyer- Best Art Costume Shop Co-Teacher
Sophia Dalpiaz Brown and Kara Clark- Expert Graphic Design and Logo Making
Holly Lammert, Je DeSuza, Susanna Modesto, Alex Pennington, Peter C., Gary, all CAMP roomies,- Fellow Float and Costume Merrymakers.
Celia Shacklett- Pied Piper of All Footbeats.  Anyone singing in Footbeat- you make my heart soar.
Sarah and Emily- Continued Super Volunteer Love
Jenny and Mike Hansen and Emily- Lot Coordinators exceptionale.
All member of Fundraising Committee- cause you do the work I don't want to think about- Minerva Lopez, Kristen from Curio Shoppe, and others...
Lot Face Painters and Kids project makers- Allison, Candace, and Sarah.  Sophia and Friend.
All the fine Ladies that showed up to help kids make costumes.
Kid Enthusiasm- KK, Tamara, Camilla, Gabby, Tion, Da Prese, Lil Super Hero, Aryhana, Felix, Mina, Jaylah, Marlaisha, Jermaine, Tony.
Grandma Support from Shelly. 
Stitch aka Cherokee King just being yourself.
Mark Bohnert- photographer and parade enthusiast, for kindness among our project mess making.
My Tribe of Parade regulars- Galen G. Fort Gondo, Jessica B., Kevin, Wonder, Rebecca B., Michael A., Mike P, David B., Mike and Maggie, Willy Z., QB, Katie Mac, Celestial Theater., Stephen J. moped, bikers, scooters of St. Louis. Cinco de Volvo. Chris S.
Newbies- Poetry Scores crew, Bank, Latin Dancers.
Jason Deem- working yer magic on the red tape that might hold us back.
Anne of CSBA- Your great ideas and data base coordination.
Water/Coffee/Cocoa carriers- that was so generous.
C.A.T. crew, cause we keep getting smarter.
My Family because they volunteer every year.
Dick Blick for super generous and thoughtful supply donations.
If I forgot you write me a note.


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