Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Aguilar Family on Open Engagement 2014, Part I

Open Engagement is an annual conference exploring diverse perspectives in social practice. This year's theme was Life/Work, with keynote speeches by amazing artist-mothers Mierle Laderman Ukeles and J. Morgan Puett. The conference also featured Human Hotel, an evolving project by the Danish group Wooloo, providing free housing and on-site childcare for conference attendees traveling with families. Needless to say we wanted to include a full report on Cultural ReProducers. We got a great one thanks to the incredible Aguilar family, who between the six of them managed to participate in just about every aspect of the conference, from child care and housing to a group performance and conversation for the conference itself. We’re presenting their review in two parts. Here, Part I:

On the steps of the Louis Armstrong House Museum,
Queens, New York.
Joaquin Aguilar, 10
New York was the best trip ever. When we first came to New York City I was so excited to see everything there. Especially the Louis Armstrong Museum. After seeing everything we stayed at a hotel in New Jersey. The next day we went to the house we were staying at. The two people that hosted us were married. Their names were Joel and Avi. After that we went to Queens, NY and saw the Louis Armstrong museum. And we went on a tour. I learned a lot that I needed for my part of the presentation. I finished writing my speech and the next day was the presentation. We got there early and went to the daycare. We had a lot of fun there. We played tag, four square, built a city and got a redwood tree so that we could plant them for the future. And then we had to give our family presentation. For the presentation my mom sat on the stage in the corner finger knitting. My dad did a one-minute song about the moment. Then my brother drove a remote control car with a white lunch box on top of it while my sister was talking about my dad’s photos. Then I did the speech about Louis Armstrong and played the trumpet. Next was my sister. She sang and played the banjo while I played the trumpet. That was the end of the conference. We still had more time to see New York. It was one of the best trips I ever took.

Isabella Aguilar, 12

Our family was invited to be part of a conference called Open Engagement in Queens, New York. Our family had to do a presentation about integrating family and art. I presented a power point, which I made on the timeline of my dad’s art. There was another project
Madeleine and Isabella discussing daycare polls with conference attendees
going on called Human Hotel. It was a project that provided homes for families that were part of the conference. Our human hotel family was Joel and Avi Koepel. They were wonderful hosts. At the Queens Museum there was a daycare, where my siblings and I stayed most of the time, and what we did at the daycare was play games, go outside, see a diorama of New York City, and we had a small picnic. At the end of the daycare we had this paper asking 1 question: how can you make the conference less boring. Many people gave in answers. My sister and I read these aloud to strangers and conference people and we would just talk about it with them. We had a great time in New York. We went and explored as much as we can. This was the most impactful and favored trip we ever took.

Sonia Aguilar (mother)

When Alberto first told me we were invited to present at the Queens Museum I wasn’t too excited. I didn’t understand what that was or what it meant. One thing I did know was that through the conference and an organization called Wooloo they were providing housing for all 6 of us during our stay in New York. It was a huge relief and I was amazed that they would do that. 

We arrived in New Brunswick, New Jersey late evening. I remember all of us being nervous to meet the strangers who graciously opened their home to us. When we pulled up we saw a man sitting on the front lawn awaiting our arrival. We all got out of the van to introduce ourselves and extended our hands to him -- and Joel said, “Give me a hug!” That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Avi gave us a warm welcome as soon as we walked into the house.

It was urgent that we visit the Louis Armstrong museum that also happened to be in Queens, just a few blocks away from the Queens Art Museum. Joaquin’s part of the presentation was reciting a biography on Louis Armstrong inspired by a recent project he did
Open Engagement Daycare organized by Wooloo. Each child was given a
redwood tree to take home and plant and imagine it in 3014.
for school. Joaquin was really excited to learn even more about Louis Armstrong’s life and influences. I think we all left the museum transformed and inspired. There were even times during the tour I wanted to cry. 

Saturday we arrived to the Queens museum early so we could meet Martin of Wooloo and set up for the workshops we were leading at the daycare. Martin was so nice; we all talked a little bit about what we were going to do and then started setting up and making things. I remember at one point he said “I love how your kids just work so well together.” It’s funny how I don’t even notice, I’m so used to them making stuff together all the time I’ve become immune to it — but I realized at that moment that I am truly amazed by them. We spent the entire morning at the daycare. There were very few kids (most of them were our kids) but we had a great time just creating with them. Martin had bought little Redwood trees, about 30 of them spread out in this beautiful space. We all went outside to eat our boxed lunches by the empty fountain in the back of the museum. We took our Redwood trees outside with us, too.

After lunch it was time to prepare for our presentation. We sort of had an idea of what we
Integrating Family Life and Art Making: Sonia finger knitting and Joaquin
playing trumpet as Louis Armstrong
were going to do, but nothing is ever certain and decisions are made as we’re going along. Paolo was the last one to figure out what his contribution to the presentation would be. He put one of the empty lunch boxes over his remote control car and drove it around the stage during the performance. That was perfect for him because he loves his remote control car. You couldn’t tell there was a car under the box so it was funny seeing everyone’s reaction to a moving lunch box. 

During the Q&A people responded so positively. One woman said she was almost moved to
tears by Joaquin’s speech on Louis Armstrong, another asked us how we managed to make it feel so incredibly fluid, and I realized the power of what we’d just made as a family. Our trip and experience overall was incredible. We met some amazing people and got to explore New York City. What I was most surprised by was how much our kids loved NYC. They didn’t want to leave. 

Read Part II

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