Affirmative Art is a tool to help you express your life’s dreams and identify a community of support to empower those dreams. In 2012, Eirik Jarl Trondsen, a long-time resident of Kenya, began Affirmative Art as a tool to identify life goals for individuals and groups. Eirik said: “If we visually define our purpose in life on paper, we make it more real. With colors, anybody anywhere can easily participate. Since art is a universal language, it does not require literacy. It is accessible. Furthermore, it is cheap and available to all! It works for communities as well as individuals.”
When Eirik introduced Affirmative Art to students at MIT, Harvard, and Roxbury Community College while he was on a fellowship in the City Planning department at MIT, he was surprised at the great response. The students expressed the need to spend time reflecting on one’s purpose in life, even at some of the best universities in the world.
Eirik determined to take Affirmative Art to more places, and learn best practices to grow the program. In May 2016, the Affirmative Art Team traveled from Boston to Los Angeles and led 21 workshops in 21 cities in 21 days! My colleague Marcus Christensen and I went on this trip with him.
Do you want to host an Affirmative Art workshop in your neighborhood, school, church, or other organization? After our tour this spring, I developed a comprehensive guide to enable anyone to lead an Affirmative Art workshop.
Here are the basic steps:
How do I guide a workshop?
Drawing your dream is the first stage. For many people, the first time they draw their dream, it is too vague, or too small, or in fact it is someone else’s dream. It sometimes takes several sessions to get to someone’s genuine dream. Even then, the drawn dream is only the first step.
Next, the person needs to believe they can truly achieve it. And finally, the participant can take concrete steps in the real world to begin reaching their dream.
We developed this methodology over several years. It is called the Triple A-Process.
Affirm – draw it
Align – believe it
Act – do it
STEP 1: People and Space
• Gather 5-10 participants into a quiet, welcoming space. The workshop space can be an art room, a church, or a community garden. The space is transformed into a safe-space when everyone is comfortable, both physically and emotionally, to be themselves. The workshop guides are responsible for creating and maintaining this space.
• At times, the entire workshop takes on a certain personality: meditative, rowdy, jovial, or focused. The key for the guide is to remain flexible and in dialogue with the group.
STEP 2: Materials
Completion Time: +/- 15 minutes
Prepare the space with all the needed materials, including:
• Pencils, Pens, Markers, Crayons, Colored Pencils
• Triangle Exercise Prints (Appendix A in the comprehensive guide)
• 9×12 or larger Art Paper
• Permanent marker and large masking tape (for name tags)
• A table and chairs to gather around (or smaller tables arranged into one large surface around which to gather)
• Sign-in sheet with a “waiver to photograph/film” signature section (optional)
STEP 3: Introductions
Completion Time: +/- 15 minutes
• Introductions are important. They set the tone for the workshops. This is true in a group of friends, acquaintances, or strangers. This is a good time for everyone to become familiar with their environment and further enable a sense of belonging.
• Introduce yourself, the purpose of Affirmative Art, and a brief workshop outline.
•Communicate to participants that, although simple, parts of the experience may be difficult for some. It is okay to feel vulnerable. Share only what you feel comfortable sharing.
STEP 4: Triangle Activity
Completion Time: +/- 30 minutes (5 minute exercise, with 25 minute discussion)
• Explain the Triangle Activity warm-up in detail: “I would like you to list three activities that are important to you, three people who support your dreams, and three moments in your life you’re proud of. Then, draw your self-portrait, which can be a stick figure or a symbol meaningful to you.”
STEP 5: Dream Activity
Completion Time: +/- 45 minutes
• Explain the Dream Activity in detail: “I would like you to draw what is your ideal future dream life. It can be anything: a feeling, a future place, multiple aspirations, inner feelings, abstract or concrete. The purpose of your Affirmative Art is to think and become more self-aware of your dream, bringing it closer to your reality.”
• Encourage people to choose their five favorite colors and begin drawing.
• If the group is small, you can join in drawing your dream, too!
after +/- 45 minutes
• Ask if people are ready to present.
• Write down each person’s dream as they present on an index card, in their own voice: “My dream is…”
• After each person shares their dream, ask if anyone has any input on steps that person could take towards achieving their dream.
STEP 6: Dream Portraits
Completion Time: +/- 20 minutes
• Being seen and heard is a large part of the experience, both within the group, and globally with the virtual community.
• Ask who would like to take their Dream Portrait to be added to the Affirmative Art Dream Collection online community.
• Take a portrait of the person holding their dream. Take a photo of the person’s hand holding their dream if they don’t want to show their face.
Presently, we are developing Affirmative Art here and abroad. Eirik is teaching Affirmative Art at Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design (NIAAD) where students are learning to use art to develop their dreams in Uganda. Get in touch if you would like to learn more and help us grow Affirmative Art and lead a workshop. Download the entire manual here.
Affirmative Art seems simple. But have you considered what it would actually mean to really know what is in another’s heart — your friend, neighbor, political rival, or perhaps, most daringly, yourself? Would you have the courage to be vulnerable and share of yourself? Would the discovered humanity in others be disarming? If you have the courage to share and pursue what is in your heart, undaunted by the expectations of others, that is a bold act.
We met some bold people during our workshops on the 2016 Affirmative Art Tour. We learned that honest, open, and direct conversations are not draining, but keep people present, curious, and attentive. Mixed-age groups cultivate deeper conversations. We need to begin each workshop acknowledging that the seemingly simple exercise of putting marker to paper can elicit surprising insights, some joyous, and others difficult to share. Drawings are revealing to the person who drew the dream, as well as to the community.
One recurring image stood out in the workshops across the U.S.: the world. At almost every workshop, people drew the whole planet and expressed a desire to understand the world and their contribution to its betterment.