Editor's note: This article belongs to our Impact Stories series in which scholars, activists, artists, policymakers, and everyday people share their experiences putting OBI's research and principles into action in their communities.
I discovered the Othering & Belonging Institute in 2021, when I first began crafting plans for SPARK!’s pilot in Oklahoma City. A late night rabbit hole led me to Evan Bissell’s excellent article, “Frames for Life, Liberation, and Belonging,” which not only deepened my resolve, but also expanded my own frame of possibility. Since that time, the articles, interviews and videos that your extraordinary team makes available provide me with a constant source of inspiration for my work with SPARK! Creative Lab, the arts nonprofit I founded in December 2021 to create a space for Belonging in Oklahoma City.
Returning to OKC after decades of living in NYC and France was a decision I made to attempt to resolve the traumas of my past. Abuse runs rampant through my family tree, and the same is true for countless other Oklahomans. While our individual cultures are wildly diverse, collectively, we share vast histories of childhood, domestic, and systemic violence that lead to deeply internalized narratives of victimization. This invisible, yet pervasive, narrative of our collective culture Others us, both inside and out, leading to generations of disempowered and disenfranchised humans, living in cultural and economic silos. The political climate of the past several years has served to inflame those internal and external tensions, and we are isolated, divided, and distrustful of each other in a time that calls for community strength.
As an artist, I know in my bones that art can heal. Employed with intentionality, the curiosity and creative thinking engendered by the arts can open space for authentic expression and a deep sense of Belonging. When we feel we belong, that our stories and contributions are important facets of collective interdependence, we can learn to find agency within ourselves, which opens space for possibility, trust and collaboration.
However, the current arts environment in Oklahoma City, while evolving, nevertheless has many barriers to participation by our wider community. I realized that if I wanted to see the arts employed as a tool for Belonging and Bridging for all residents of Oklahoma City, I would need to create that space…and I would need a lot of help to make this tender and intangible concept attractive to a social and philanthropic landscape that has historically valued product over process.
Despite the hardship of creating an arts-nonprofit in the middle of Oklahoma, in the middle of a pandemic, SPARK! has just celebrated our one-year anniversary. We have given over $30,000 to a diverse and powerful group of local OKC artists to help create work geared for the common good. We have worked with over 80 high school students from our majority-Hispanic Capitol Hill neighborhood, teaching improvisation and ensemble-building. We have produced many events centered on the land and people of Oklahoma City, inviting our “audience” and community partners to participate as valued co-creators. Our motto, “All of You is Welcome Here,” is gaining momentum and we are increasing the creative capacity of our community, while changing the creative landscape of Oklahoma City.
I continue to gain inspiration from the Othering and Belonging Institute; here in the middle of the country, your resources are lifelines to my resolve, and to SPARK!’s continued momentum.
I am enormously grateful for your work, and hold deep thanks to those who support its creation.
Nicole Poole is a multidisciplinary artist, and the Founder & Executive Director of SPARK! Creative Lab, an artist-led nonprofit in Oklahoma City that pays competitive wages to a diverse group of local artists to focus their creativity on the well-being of the wider Oklahoma City community.