On Wednesday Nov. 7, a few days before Thanksgiving break, the Multifaith Chaplaincy held its yearly banquet in Old Commons, open to students, faculty, and community members alike. This year, the event’s theme was “The Art of Being,” featuring talented Bates student speakers whose crafts have shaped their lives in meaningful ways. The event featured live music, pipe cleaners, and origami activities, and a delicious meal provided by Commons.
Brittany Longsdorf, a Multifaith Chaplain at Bates, opened the event discussing Fritz Eichenberg, a German-American illustrator whose art explored religion, social justice, and nonviolence. While pursuing her Doctorate of Ministry at BU, she would often look up at a poster on her door featuring Eichenberg’s quote: “It takes devotion to create and reverence to enjoy beauty.”
She continued, explaining, “His spiritual exploration and practices transformed the way he approached his art. His wood carving art was his spiritual practice and his spiritual practice was his art. Our crafts, whether they are painting, teaching, meditation, pottery, comedy, dancing create in us a devotion that reminds us of what is bigger than us. What is transcendent in our midst, what deserves our reverence and awe. Tonight seven courageous Bates students will be vulnerable and creative and open as they share stories of their crafts, and the way this practice creates a sense of devotion and purpose in their lives.”
One of the speakers was Mamta Saraogi ‘21 who compared her craft of writing to a way of being. “I do a lot of things. I eat, sleep, breathe, and I also burn the popcorn sometimes. But in the midst of doing all those things, there is sometimes a need for something else that can make an identity. Writing is one of those things. It’s a form of achieving an inner balance in a manner not unlike meditation.” For Saraogi, writing has allowed her to make sense out of chaos, bringing a meaning to seemingly irrational thoughts.
Emma Proietti ’21 found her craft in the circus at a young age. She began her speech with the memorable one-liner: “I ran away with the circus a few weeks before my thirteenth birthday,” although, as she later clarified, her parents were there to take her to circus lessons. There, she found her adopted circus family, who in her words, “have been some of the most supportive people in my life, both literally and figuratively.” Her craft has also brought a new outlook on how to balance life and work. One of the phrases that she picked up along the way is “If you feel like you are going to fall, you probably will.” After pausing while the audience laughed, she stated, “I wouldn’t necessarily want this on a motivational poster, but it is something that I have taken to heart after too many times pushing myself a little too far —suffering the consequences and ignoring what my body was telling me. Reaching your physical limit is not unlike reaching your mental limit. You need to recognize the signs that you need a break. Discovering how to push yourself in a controlled way can make you stronger.”
For some, a craft can be as simple as a daily routine. During his speech, Jack Shea ’19 reflected on the importance of creating a routine in both his school work and in the real world. “I’m pretty confident that not all too many of us look at our day-to-day routine as being something that has been honed and put into regular practice for the betterment of our well-being. I’m not inclined to look at my own schedule and see it as art, because that implies that it’s something labored over, original, intentional, and creative,” said Shea.
“Routines can be craft too,” Shea continued. “This came up in abundance for me this summer when I was with the least self-conscious people around us, children. I was given a teaching fellowship at a public charter school summer program in Brownsville, Brooklyn.” Through his experience teaching, Shea found that success in the classroom relies on the environment a teacher builds. “In a classroom environment, consistency is the key. It takes those shocks from everyday life and absorbs them, giving back both positive reinforcement for good character and a stable environment for developing questions.”
Over his years at Bates, Shea found that to be successful, you have to be your own teacher. As Shea put it, “Have an environment which reacts to you in ways that feed your energy on good days and bounce you back on the bad. Make sure that what you do on autopilot, is put yourself in places that help you by consistently giving you what you need, and point you towards your own success.”
One of the final speakers at the event was Alexandria Onuoha ’21, a woman who struggled with her faith before exploring it through the medium of dance. “I got my start in dance at church and it brought so much joy in my life because not only was I using my body as a vessel of the Lord, but I was communicating a language through my body to other souls that needed just a glimpse of what freedom and happiness could be for them.” Through dance, Onuoha has provided a space for healing, holding dance workshops at a domestic violence shelter back in her hometown.
At college, dance also allows her to open a space for those seeking self-expression: “At Bates, through dance, I am creating a space where women of color are finally being highlighted and their stories are being heard, and black bodies are being celebrated.” Onuoha put it best, as she concluded, saying, “Simply, my art is finding my voice through other people’s voices.”