By Monica Wrobel
On Saturday, October 6, 2018, Open Buffalo hosted the highly anticipated return of Climbing PoeTree to the Queen City. For their third annual appearance, the celebrated spoken word duo upheld the power of art to elevate truth and hope in our movements for justice.
Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman have collaborated for 15 years to cultivate a unique blend of spoken word poetry, global music, and multimedia theater. Their creative synergy as Climbing PoeTree has its roots firmly planted in both women’s backgrounds as community organizers. Together, Alixa and Naima integrate their art as a versatile tool for activism.
“Every fall, we bring Climbing PoeTree to town for an infusion of creativity and healing in troubling times,” said Max Anderson of Open Buffalo. “They deliver rousing audio-visual art pieces that inspire and empower all in attendance.”
To kick off their visit, Climbing PoeTree spent time with Open Buffalo’s Emerging Leaders and Democracy Fellows. The morning workshop prompted dialogue on the vital question:
“How can art be fashioned as a tool at the service of our vision for a more just and peaceful world?”
Through an interactive session that combined performance, games, and storytelling exercises, Alixa and Naima framed art as “our weapon, our medicine, our voice and our vision.” Both cohorts reflected on how their own creativity, in whatever form it manifests, can be an antidote to destruction—from uplifting personal journeys to challenging the ‘unnatural’ disasters of systemic oppression.
A highlight for participants was the chance to and contribute to the S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D. project, a growing tapestry of more than 10,000 reflections collected from Climbing PoeTree’s audiences all over the world. Simply designed with little more than fabric squares and markers, the project gathers and displays the multitude of “deepest darkest secrets and highest brightest dreams” to reveal intimate and universal truths.
The energy shared within the workshop carried into the evening performance at the Matt Urban Center, located on Buffalo’s East Side. Before the show, guests had the opportunity to interact with a variety of civic and cultural organizations that provided information on resources and programs in our community. With more than 100 people in attendance, Climbing PoeTree took the stage, transforming the room’s atmosphere by interweaving lyrical storytelling with striking audiovisuals.
Whether speaking on healing from violence, restoring our relationship to the natural world, or the dignity of human rights, Alixa and Naima encouraged the audience to respond with what resonated. Among themes as vibrantly diverse as the S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D tapestry, a common thread was the rally to creatively reimagine the future we want to see. In a season where the path towards justice seems daunting, we at Open Buffalo are grateful for Saturday’s reminder from Climbing PoeTree that, together, “possibility is as wide as the space we create to hold it.”
Many thanks to those who attended, tabled, and otherwise contributed to this enriching arts event for our community! We are especially grateful to our event co-host, The Matt Urban Center, and to The John R. Oishei Foundation, whose support allowed us to offer this event at no cost to the public.
About our sponsors
The John R. Oishei Foundation enhances the economic vitality and quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region through grantmaking, leadership and network building. The Foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corporation.
The Matt Urban Center has been proudly serving East Buffalo, the Town of Cheektowaga and West Seneca for the past 40 years. Their mission is to revitalize neighborhoods, serve families and change lives by bringing together public and private resources in an effort to assist community residents in becoming self-sustaining.