Choreographing Care takes the form of an exploratory workshop series using artistic methods rooted in theater, nonverbal communication, and somatic theories to facilitate connection and healing among staff at homeless shelters and poverty support agencies.
Between August 2017 - May 2018 Jody Wood worked with staff at Men's Shelter of Charlotte and Urban Ministry Center, homeless shelters in Charlotte, North Carolina to produce Choreographing Care. The project establishes open workshops in which staff are invited to reframe care activities into performative tableaus, creating a heightened awareness of physical surroundings, vocal resonance, and touch. These activities can have profound transformative effects in increasingly bureaucratic care institutions that typically overlook sensory and corporeal experiences.
For staff at homeless shelters, self-care is not a luxury, it's a matter of survival. Unfortunately, many care workers are conditioned to put their own needs last, and poverty support agencies typically do not have resources to prioritize them. A fundamental component of Choreographing Care is to integrate secondary trauma processing and self-care into homeless shelter systems as a paid part of the work day. By reorganizing institutional priorities according to care ethics, the project considers processing and de-stigmatizing secondary trauma as integral to the labor of care in a care-valuing society. The project has also operated in Kingston, NY through support from Esopus Foundation and in New York City at The Door: A Center of Alternatives.
Men's Shelter of Charlotte adopted the workshop series and continues to integrate Choreographing Care curriculum into their workweek. In addition, One-Breath, a Charlotte-based nonprofit, has expanded their curriculum in partnership with Choreographing Care to address secondary trauma for staff in the Charlotte area.
As a result of the project, staff expressed that they were able to see themselves and each other differently - as vulnerable humans with needs of their own rather than armored care givers with the super-human ability to give tirelessly. Some staff expressed that the workshops helped them process difficult emotions and come to new realizations about their work. Still others reported that the workshops made them feel validated such that they could trust their own instinct at work. But the largest impact would be achieved if care work was valued by society at large and secondary trauma was addressed and prioritized by regulatory agencies such as HUD.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Jody Wood is an artist utilizing video, installation, performance, and community organization to engage with socially informed content. She is also the founder of Beauty in Transition, a salon on wheels serving residents at homeless shelters with free haircare. Her work has been honored with grant support from New York Council for the Humanities, Rema Hort Mann Foundation, Brooklyn Arts Council, and residencies with Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. In 2014 she was a Socially Engaged Art Fellow with A Blade of Grass. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Atlantic, Hyperallergic, and MSNBC.