July Artist Spotlight: Guerilla Haiku Founder Caley Vickerman

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Caley! Thank you for taking the time to do our artist spotlight. You just joined the COMPAS roster this month. Can you tell us a little about your background and what art form you teach and perform?

I am an actor, educator and community builder that has developed the Guerilla Haiku Movement, a public art experience that brings together all of my passions to provide a tool for community interaction and engagement by using haiku poetry (17-syllable, 3 lined poems) to bring strangers together in public spaces.   This program was built when I lived in New York City, and it has traveled to over 60 cities nationwide gathering haiku about the places and people in each community.   Now I am in the Twin Cities and excited to share these programs with schools and organizations regionally.

When did you both first become interested in the arts? Who were some of your influences?

My family (large Irish Catholic family from Minnesota) taught me early that there are no strangers.  From them I know that each human being I am lucky enough to meet is a magical discovery with so much to teach. From them I perceive human interaction as a form of artistic expression.

Words have been my lifelong companions and dear friends.  They delight and vex me and are my lens through which to experience the world.  I have been a voracious reader, and writer, and talker from the beginning (in different phases of my life, different modalities predominate).  Right now, I am obsessed with Nayyirah Waheed and her brief, beautiful, honest word pictures.  But Sandra Cisneros, and Anne Sexton, and Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and William Shakespeare are all poets of my heart.

Theater became a way to bridge my passion for human experience and my passion for words, and it is an art form I have been practicing since childhood.  I see it as the only art that will allow me to consider and walk in the words of as many experiences as I possibly can in this life.  Theater integrates the whole being and challenges me to trust and collaborate deeply with others.  It is Boal's Theater of the Oppressed and Viola Spolin's Theater Games that my pedagogy stems, and from whom I borrow in much of my Teaching Artist work.

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You founded Guerilla Haiku, which you call “a public art experience.” Can you tell us more about that? What inspired you to start it?

When I taught in the Bronx, I was amazed that my students did not have access to NYC resources (like Central Park) 5-6 train stops away from their neighborhood.  When I took my high schoolers on field trips, they did not quite know how to interact with the people they were meeting out of the context of the people they saw every day.  And they wanted to be able to connect.  (We all do.)

I wanted to experiment with tools that would embolden my students to interact with new people in public spaces.  Over time this evolved into the Guerilla Haiku Movement.  In the past 7 years, I have noticed that not just my students in the Bronx, but people in neighborhoods all over the country, are needing help in starting conversations with the people around them.  I have conducted events in big cities like Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and San Antonio as well as in rural communities in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Georgia.   Everywhere I go, I learn more.  People share their stories in 17-syllables, but they also connect more deeply with themselves, the people around them and the places that they live.  It is my belief that these small moments of sharing and connection is how empathy is built, how to renew a sense of commitment to our public spaces, and how, eventually, bottom-up community development occurs.  And so Guerilla Haiku continues here in the Twin Cities with COMPAS to keep on building those creative ties.

What do you think is the most valuable thing Guerilla Haiku can teach someone?

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The art of listening. First; to yourself- in the moment: How are you feeling?  What are you noticing?  Where are you, who are you with and what is important to you?  Second; to the people around you:  What did that person reflect on, what does that mean and how might it connect to me or bring up something that has meaning to me?

Finally: to the community of people who participate.  In some cases, we gather over 1000 haiku from a community in one place, and as other's walk through and read the words of so many community members, they listen to them all--  and understand a little better. Connection starts ALWAYS with better listening.

You’ve taught the arts in a few different States. What do you see as the benefits of working in Minnesota’s art community?

Returning to Minnesota is a homecoming for me.  This is where I am from, this is where my family is and this is the community I want to serve in for the long haul.  There are many things that make this region exciting artistically:

This is a place that values and supports artists and art-making.

There are many existing art organizations and collaborative ventures and so much creative energy that is focused on building better neighborhoods and communities.  I think the arts are an essential part of building the kind of places people want to live, work and play in- and Minnesota is leading the charge in this kind of arts-integration.

The city and state are changing (as everything does) and diverse voices are being recognized and supported here.  I want to be in a community that values new voices, and wants to reflect and represent all parts of their community.  I think Minnesota is working to do that.

Have you been working on any new projects lately?

I am embarking on a grant with the Tulpehaking Nature Center in Trenton, New Jersey to gather haiku about the Delaware River.  I will be traveling to different sites, and building an exhibit with the haiku and the people of the watershed that will start in Trenton, and move to different Nature Centers along the Delaware River.  I am looking forward to this new application of Guerilla Haiku so much, and will share stories as the project culminates through fall of 2018.

You just officially joined the COMPAS roster this month. Why did you want to be a part of COMPAS?

It is lonely creating your own ideas and I am seeking a community of teaching artists that are excellent at what they do, inspire me to learn and improve my process, and collaborate on exciting new projects and ideas.  COMPAS is where all of this happens!

How do you practice creativity in your everyday life?

The smallest motion-
The way we greet our neighbor
All an act of love.