Creativity + Courage + Community: Dawn Breeze

Dawn Breeze reading her poetry.

DAWN BREEZE, a 2017 graduate of Goddard College’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) program, is the Founder and Program Director of Instar Lodge, a space for creativity in Germantown, NY. In 2016, while an MFAIA student, she founded Instar Lodge as an opportunity to offer her Creativity + Courage™ workshops and to further embolden the practices of other artists by providing inspired space to create, exhibit, teach, work and learn together with the motto, Creativity + Courage + Community.

Dawn is also the program designer and curriculum director for Place Corps, a new year-long, experiential learning program designed for 18-25 year olds. Situated on a 900-acre Biodynamic ® farm in the Hudson Valley, Place Corps participants explore the urban and rural region as a living classroom — self designing college accredited study plans, engaging with practitioners, and organizations working at the forefront of social, ecological, and economic regeneration while developing a professional work portfolio aligned with their unique interests and future goals.

Community working at an Instar Lodge workshop.

As we started our conversation, Dawn mentioned that Instar Lodge and Place Corps, while separate projects, don’t feel separate to her. “They represent different approaches to similar questions, both having the intention of seeing the whole person in relation to systems — and with the intention of helping people affect systems in their places.” Providing context, she went on to add, “Instar has a narrower focus — supporting female-identified creatives in concrete ways, while remaining open to the whole community.”  This becomes clear as one recognizes the ways Instar Lodge is committed to create working spaces for women who may not identify as ‘capital-A artists,’ but rather as people who are more broadly creative. Dawn was especially eager to point out that the program honors all aspects of creativity, with some women engaging in traditional crafts or fine arts or even writing a dissertation. “Instar provides opportunity for creativity to flourish by creating spaces of support and developing community around it.”

Further connecting the intersections between her community-based practice and her education, Dawn spoke to the human necessity of spaces for reflection and creative action. “While at Goddard, my study of Joseph Beuys helped me articulate my own understanding of the relationship between art and creativity, and my practice as an interdisciplinary artist that is deeply enmeshed in education and social practice. It emboldened me to bring my thinking forth through public programs that declare we renew and rekindle our creativity in order to make necessary changes in the world.” And this is another link between Instar and Place Corps. Place Corps is a nontraditional gap year, serving 18-25 year olds.  Place Corps is meant as a life intervention for participants, allowing them to realign themselves in the workplace, in relation to their educational goals, and in relation to the needs of place. The program also has a commitment to reimagining service. Thinking beyond traditional definitions of charity, Place Corps believes, Dawn says, “we are in service when honoring our creative calling in relation to our place and those around us.”

Community gathered for the Tragic Instant Exhibit

Place Corps and Instar Lodge both utilize theories and methods ascribed to Progressive Education. For Dawn, these approaches are informed by the thinking of John Dewey and also by her experience in the MFAIA program. Place Corps is committed to helping participants develop “practical skills for radical living.” This is evident in the program’s commitment to helping participants think about systems and scale. The curriculum is designed to develop practical skills such as building an eco-dwelling. Construction skills are central to this part of the curriculum, but it also emphasizes broader insights like using permaculture as a design framework and understanding water and energy systems with possibilities for living both on and off a grid with zero waste. By understanding these systems Dawn and her colleagues believe the curriculum can ‘disrupt habits of living that perpetuate destruction’ and open space for imagination, agency and change.

“Goddard helped me see and recognize the dissonance in our creativity. Too often it’s the child who naturally draws well who’s seen as creative, and other children aren’t. But what if we taught drawing like we teach writing? Then everyone would be able to draw well, and is it drawing well that makes an artist? I don’t think so—but I do think it’s applying creativity to whatever we do that makes us an artist, so how do we learn to identify as creative and value our work?” Reflections like this have informed Dawn’s curriculum design at Place Corp. “Working with Place Corps has offered an incredible opportunity to apply what I studied theoretically at Goddard and what I gleaned from the action of building Instar Lodge. What we’re learning from our applicants is confirming my approach to an interdisciplinary curriculum design. The younger people we’ve accepted talk about wanting to diversify their perspective of what’s possible and to know their interests and the college graduates want to apply what they’ve learned while building a life that honors wellbeing.

Artist’s work in the space.

“All of this work, both at Place Corps and Instar Lodge, is so tied to my Goddard experience. The choice to go to Goddard was initially difficult for me because I was looking to professionalize and I didn’t understand how I could become a better artist without studio critiques. But I quickly learned that it was my responsibility to build the community of support I’d need for a lifetime of practice. And Goddard helped me understand that I had to build this community with an eye to being ethically engaged with the world beyond my self-interest.”

Instar community working with herbs.

In addition to her organizational commitments, Dawn remains a working artist, studying poetry with Bernadette Mayer and participating in the Succurro Fellowship — a year-long experience that’s focused this year on questions of healing and creativity. Breeze continues to lead her Creativity+Courage curriculum to creative professionals and looks ahead to be offering facilitator trainings later this year.

Before we began our interview, Dawn told me about a recent cross-country train trip she took. Originally planned as a self-created writing residency, she found herself looking out the window rather than at the page. She gave herself permission to follow this impulse, reminding herself that the experience at hand is what’s important, and that writing might be what’s better pursued at her desk at home. I reminded her looking out train windows is part of the writing process, too, which opened us to a brief conversation about the nature of practice and the need for it’s renewal. In a sense this search for renewed practice is the heart of Dawn’s practice. We’re all fortunate she undertakes it with bold invitation and in the presence of community.

Pete Hocking, Lead Faculty, MFAIA-VT & editor

•••

The Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) program at Goddard College is a unique graduate experience at the intersection of contemporary art practice and Goddard’s landmark method of low-residency, human-centered learning and teaching. Information about Admissions to the program is available at goddard.edu.

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