“If you want to make God laugh show him/her your plans"- Unknown
I was invited by the wonderful folks at the NOLA Mural Project to paint a interactive mural over a five day period in New Orleans in late September. I was ready. I had a plan.
When I arrived, I got my first bit of unexpected news. The NOLA Mural Project and ACLU was in the process of suing the City to change prohibitive mural permitting rules, arguing that the city’s permit restrictions limited free speech. This was exciting to say the least. I would be painting for a cause, illegally. Sweet!
The unexpected events kept coming: 90 percent humidity, unpredictable thunderstorms, staggering heat, untreated and recessed brick (one of the hardest surfaces to work on), my 53 year old body breaking down from too much of the above.
It wasn't all unexpectedly bad. On the first day a group of awesome art students from a local art club dropped into to lend a much needed hand.
Mural painting for me is an act of improvisation. One mark on the surface builds on another to create the final image. I have to learn to let go of my plan and be willing to be changed by whatever unexpected arises.
I use the art of improvisation in my professional life to help businesses organizations communicate and collaborate more effectively. In improvisation, there is a simple but power idea that drives how the performers act and behave. Improvisers identify everything that happens in their world as an “offer”. Offers are anything that is recognized on stage (and in life) and then used to progress the scene or situation.
Improvisers are trained to see the world as full of offers. They see it as a place of abundance where anything can be used to build a collaborative story or idea as long as you have the presence to notice it, let go of your agenda, focus on you fellow collaborator, and add value to it. When you behave like an improviser the world becomes full of possibility and opportunity. When an offer shows up unexpectedly an improviser doesn't wish it away they simple ask “What can I do with this?”
For the NOLA mural the unexpected offers of weather, painting surface, physical limitations were at first a big bummer. I cursed the fact that a recessed brick wall makes it impossible to draw a straight line. When the sudden down pour washed away the section that I had been working on for the past 2 hours I was slightly devastated. But then I remembered that I actually teach this stuff. As they say, you can’t control what happens to you, you can only control your reaction to it. I snapped out of my funk and asked “what’s the offer here?”. The untreated brick allowed me to create an unplanned background. I created new designs and figures from the streaks and smudges that the rain stoked paint created. I had to work slower and take a ton of breaks which allowed me to meet some awesome people in the neighborhood.
The final piece wasn't what I had planned. It was better.
Everything's an Offer.
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