Written by Rachel Nash, Community Advocate, Street A
It happened on Day 3. The bench we had been trying to build in South Dallas finally got made.
Day 1 - Rain.
Day 2 - Herbert, our bench maker, was unable to create due to family issues.
Day 3 - Beautiful day, 70 degrees, no wind, a lot of sun. Today is the day, I thought. We will make this bench today.
Herbert rolled up, grumbling under his breath. "Elisabeth won't quit talking about this bench. She keeps bugging me to make it."
When Herbert shared he was not in the mood to make this bench, I replied, "Maybe you will be once you get started." You see, it's not my first time making art -- or woodworking for that matter -- with someone not in the mood.
Herbert might not have felt like making this bench, but he committed to it, and he was following through on his commitment.
So we started. Herb immediately began cutting the wood. "Why don't you have your husbands build this bench?" he asked. (He really wasn't in the mood to build.)
I told him, "Well, we want the community to build it."
One of the main goals of Street Art is to build community in a positive and healthy way. What good would it have done for my husband to build a bench and plop it in their space? It would be used as firewood in Tent City in no time. But, with people in the community building this bench, it definitely had a longer life expectancy.
Herbert paused, and mumbled to himself, "I haven't done this in a long time." Since we decided to build in the midst of a crowd of people who were sitting around and watching us, it didn't take long for the peanut gallery to chime in.
You're making a bench for kids.
Make it taller.
Who do you think is going to be able to fit on that bench?
Herbert was starting to doubt his plans (or lack thereof) when all of a sudden Mr. B saunters up from the crowd.
"Here's what you need to do," he said as he started to help. And then Jerone came to join in and help.
Jerone had his own opinion on how this thing should be built. He came in and started designing, making it clear that he wasn't doing the work for Herbert, and he wasn't taking over. He was "showing" Herbert how to do it on his own (while backseat driving).
In that moment, I realized it was a community affair: Herbert, Jerone and Mr. B were bantering about how the chair should be built. Opinions were flying.
You can't put a straight back on it, people want to relax. This ain't church!
And there it was, all in one bench, why we are doing Street Art. People coming together, building something they can be proud of that gives them a sense of self-worth. Collaborating together. Encouraging people to use their minds in a new way, or in an old way revisited.
Jerone told me he was a tinkler. His identity of being a builder was reinforced that day. I asked him "What is something that you have made that you're the most proud of?" He replied, "I'm proud of everything I make."
I asked Herbert at the end if he was proud of the bench and he said, "Yeah, I'm proud of it." His demeanor had completely changed by the end of the building process. He made something with his hands that day. His wife came over at the end, and she too was proud of him.
He had a new identification that day; he was a carpenter.
The most rewarding part of the day for me was seeing Herbert give Jerone some of his profits for building the bench. We compensated Herbert to build it, and he paid Jerone for helping him. Jerone had no idea Herbert was paid to make this bench.
Now that's community. One homeless guy paying another for helping out.
The bench isn't quite sturdy, yet. So, beware of leaning back too far. But do go sit on it, and hear stories of it being built -- I'm sure there are a few.