“A crucial part of a healthy community is having a sense of belonging to that community and experiencing a sense of control over your own life.” ~ Toolbox.
Joseph Artero-Cameron, President of Chamorro Affairs, leads that island’s initiatives to preserve and promote its root culture, heritage and language. I met Artero-Cameron at 2013’s National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) Leadership Institute that took place earlier this month in Jackson, Wyoming. Whenever I observed Artero-Cameron he confidently offered up insights regarding strategy, arts and cultural tradition. He has a knack for getting to the heart of a matter, providing fresh perspective with a twinkle in his eyes.
Artero-Cameron was attending his first NASAA meeting, but he runs several government agencies in Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States. Artero-Cameron oversees conservation of corals, fisheries and other ocean matters; he runs the island’s television station, is actively involved with building a new $30 million museum and a new 15,000 square foot art gallery. And those, says Artero-Cameron, are just a few of his duties.
We spoke of the role of women have traditionally taken in forming Guam’s culture; Artero-Cameron had made an observation about plenary speaker Terry Tempest Williams’ mother’s legacy of dozens of blank journals.
“We’ve noticed over the years that it’s not so much what is written or spoken, but the unspoken,” said Artero-Cameron. “And we define the soul on what is NOT said. It’s a very active voice, the soul.”
Historically, women are Guam’s heart and soul.
“My mother and grandmother live with me. This meeting is a wonderful experience, and it’s often said that it’s not what people say, but what they don’t say that matters most. What they do. Coming from a matrilineal society 4,000 years old the Chammurans (Guam’s indigenous people) were basically non-verbal until the Americans came in; then, writing things down was encouraged,” recounted the President of Chamorro Affairs.
How does the unspoken manifest itself?
It manifests via non-verbal cues. Artero-Cameron practiced psychotherapy for years and found that it was not so much what his patients said, but their physical cues, movements and words left unsaid that proved most revealing. Non-verbal cues divulge human behavior, why any behavior exists or doesn’t exist.
“It’s not so much what a community as a group thinks of as “normal,” says Artero-Cameron. “It’s quite okay to be neurotic, as long as you know that 2 + 2 = 4! You may not like the answer, but nonetheless it’s real.”
And what could shelves of blank journals have to tell us? Or any blank surface? Everything has the potential to be a canvas for words or imagery. Women, said Artero-Cameron, hold the key, even though Guam’s male population is attempting to “diversify” culture by defining womens’ roles for them and “making a mess of it.”
“In our culture, a matrilineal society, the women have a lot of voice, simply through their actions. Through their actions, they keep our language, culture and families together. Our spoken language is only one or two words, and those few words create just a phrase, but they communicate volumes.
My grandmother and mother were always communicating silently when I was growing up; the unspoken. But those were the white pages—-they were the most important pages in my life. They are what a woman is truly trying to say. A woman’s voice, her greatest asset, is her soul.” www.dca.guam.gov
My conversation NASAA’s Jonathan Katz extended a bit further. I was curious as to how an entire country of states’ arts representatives stay connected…how they interact out of session, throughout any given year. How do they influence each other, if at all?
“They connect in a number of ways. There are networks used quite often by the executive directors, the chair and council members, the arts education managers; we have webinars and get suggestions from the members about topics they are interested in,” responded Katz.
“We discuss different aspects of grant making, different kinds of partnerships with the military, programming, policy issues; somebody has a great project that they want to share—-we have three states doing that—-or someone’s great advocacy success, we talk about how we can see that success replicated. In essence, we’re a year-round learning network; that’s just one thing an association does. I really am an association executive, even though my members are government agencies, and we’re in the arts. What an association does is make leadership and learning possible. The website is an important focus of communication, a lot of our resources go there. Most of our staff are researchers, so it’s really about collecting answers to the questions that our members have.”
Katz went on to explain that if there’s a success in one state, it’s a success for all because the organization learns from it. On the flip side, if a state experiences a challenge or failure, the whole field advances because something is learned from the experience NOT to do, a particular strategy doesn’t work. That conversation, Katz said, will go on all year. www.nasaa-arts.org.
Speaking of “connections,” though last weekend’s closure of Master’s Studio felt surreal, the number of people turning out to help was reaffirming. What love and support! What acknowledgement! Despite the day’s circumstances I felt such closeness, community and solidarity; everyone performed a public service. The art gods willing, one day a beautiful new arts supply shop will open in Jackson, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if Master’s Studio’s master was at the helm?
Happily, we can still avail ourselves of Nowlin’s custom framing and matting services. His present East Jackson location is 85 McKean Lane. Phone: 307.733.9387.