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May 2001 / the ordinary eye :: email this story to a friend

A "TREC" Towards Understanding
By Shannon "Maddie" Earnest

"What is essential here is the presence of the spirit of dialogue, which is in short, the ability to hold many points of view in suspension, along with a primary interest in the creation of common meaning."
David Bohm & David Peat, Science Order, and Creativity, p. 247.

Imagine a space where all stories hold equal weight. Where everyone is heard and witnessed. Where people share their experiences and beliefs about race and racism. Where artists and self-described non-artists create and express themselves using visual imagery. Do you have this picture in your mind? Well, this is happening through a program called TREC: Talking Race Engaging Creatively. TREC is an arts-based interracial dialogue project. Its primary purpose is to combat racism through dialogues that utilize art as a way to clarify and communicate beliefs, feelings, and ideas.

Using 4"x 12" panels, participants in TREC workshops tell of their experiences of race and racism using mixed media to create small works of art. Participants need not have any past art history — they need only to be willing to share, witness other people's stories, and expand their awareness. Workshops usually last 3 hours. During this time, participants make two panels each. Facilitators of recent public workshops have used stimulus questions such as "What did you learn about race and racism growing up?" to provoke the panel making. It is amazing to watch as participants (many of whom do not believe themselves to be artists) creatively turn an assortment of random materials into their visual story.

TREC panel

After producing their first panel, each person is then able to give verbal voice to their piece and attach it to large metal panels using magnets. Participants witness the others' stories silently. It is during this time that the panels begin to form a visual dialogue — each piece important on its own and as part of a larger dialogue that is in process. After the witnessing, every person has a chance to make another panel and partake in another verbal encounter. All pieces hold equal importance and the large metal panels allow each story to be told, heard, and given attention simultaneously.

Thus far the TREC team has delivered two public workshops as well as facilitations at Washington University and the American Art Therapy Association Conference. Panels created at these workshops will soon be on display at the Vaughn Cultural Center. The show opens May 20 and runs through June 15.

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TREC(sm) is collaboration between The Visual Dialogues Project and FOCUS St. Louis' Bridges Across Racial Polarization® program. Visit to learn more about the program, facilitator training, and upcoming workshops, and to view photos from the workshops.

Shannon "Maddie" Earnest is a sometimes Social Worker, an aspiring gardener, a human being interested in eradicating racism, and an animal lover. She, along with Carol Lark, co-founded the TREC program.

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