We are excited to feature the work of Alyssa Machida who has been weaving theory through practice to develop a workbook and toolkit entitled: “The Dreamspace Project: A Workbook and Toolkit for Critical Praxis in the American Art Museum.” In this third blogpost, Alyssa shares a reflection on the most recently completed section of the workbook. Many thanks to Alyssa for channeling so much energy into creating this important workbook and for her willingness to share it with us here on the Incluseum. You can read Part 1 of the series here and Part 2 here. (The PDF version of the Workbook can be accessed here and the Live Google Presentation of the Workbook is here.)
As I worked on finalizing “Deconstruction,” the second chapter of the Dreamspace Workbook, I began preparing the blog post to be paired with its release. So much effort had gone into crafting the content of each page that a summary didn’t seem like the right format to capture the spirit of this new section. In thinking about how to present this new chapter in the new year, I reflected on the process of how this entire project came to be.
Over the past few years, I have been building this workbook with great urgency. It is a resource that exists as an open access Google Slides document and PDF for museum educators dedicated to core values of rights and justice in their work. It is meant to serve as a starting point and touchstone for practitioners navigating and countering oppressive forces in their institutions.
The workbook itself has taken a lot of time and energy to get to this point. Its evolution reflects all my explorations and meanderings. I had originally intended to be done with this latest chapter by the end of December 2016. Why had it taken so much longer than expected to write and deliver this chapter? There was the undeniable reality of writing this in my “free time,” and the fact that the sheer bulk and breadth of the content kept expanding over time. But there was something more. The question kept tugging at me. Then one day, I suddenly remembered.
On November 9, 2016, I woke up to a world that I never imagined to be possible. While I was in no way previously delusional, that morning I woke up to a world that horrified me. A world where everything I believed in, everything I was fighting for, everything and everyone that I loved was told they were unwelcome—that their lives and their bodies did not matter. I sobbed and my body heaved for all of the most beautiful and strong people in the world facing hatred they did not deserve.
I tried to go to work that day but broke down and had to leave. I could not look anyone in the eye and could not stand to be in the museum pretending to go about business as usual. I walked the streets of Detroit, aimlessly, on the phone with friends and family. I asked them all, “What’s going to happen to us?” All they could say was, “I don’t know.” We tried to comfort each other, to assure each other; we sought familiarity, wanting to feel connected, but our voices echoed off each other into a void. That day, no matter how hard we tried, there was an infinite and unknowable distance between us.
In the wake, my jaw clenched every time any notion of togetherness was evoked. How anyone could continue to ignore how undeniably divided we are. We tend to pin symptoms of complex systemic issues onto the morality or actions of specific individuals in order to distance ourselves from the problems, and point fingers, rather than confront how we are all complicit and responsible in different ways. I woke up reminded that I lived in a country upholding racism, sexism, and American exceptionalism, and not in secluded pockets as many would prefer to believe. And nothing I could do could change that.
From that day, all work on The Dreamspace Project quietly ceased. I had nothing to offer. I no longer believed that my work could lead to anything. That it would ever make any difference. I didn’t even have the strength to fight back. I don’t think I realized at the time what was happening; without a thought, I simply let go.
For a very long time, I could no longer read or write. More than that, I could no longer believe. I had no source of hope or inspiration to draw from. I would open up a fresh document on my laptop only to stare at the screen. I would try writing a sentence only to shut down in frustration. The Dreamspace Project was started as a way to process the turbulence of the world and harness it into a critical and liberatory practice. I started this project because I believed that systems could be dismantled and rebuilt to include everyone. Even at an achingly glacial pace, I thought we were making strides. But in an instant, all that was taken away. The oppressive systems—and the ignorance and intolerance upholding them—were given a place, and power, and an affirmation in this country that I could not comprehend. I could not see how this workbook would make any difference.
That’s when it happened. One random morning, in my inbox, an email. Someone writing to tell me they had read my blog post and workbook, thanking me for writing something they had felt for so long, but had not been able to articulate. I couldn’t believe it, nor could I have anticipated what this single message would mean to me. It lit me up inside in a way I had never felt before. Over the next few months, a few more arrived, expressing gratitude and interest. Strangers became thought partners and friends. It took me much longer to recover belief in myself or in my work, but I quickly sensed that The Dreamspace Project held a significance beyond me. Through new connections and conversations, I immersed myself back into research and writing. And here we are.
So it is important for me on this occasion, as we enter this new year, to take the time and space to thank you for your support. For every single generous word and message conveyed through email, text, in-person, or simply as energy waves resounding through the universe. Your encouragement was the only thing that could get me back to work when I could no longer believe in anything, least of all myself.
In this new year I wish I could tell you that things are better. I wish I could tell you we’ve turned a new page and that we have a blank slate. I cannot lie to you. We have a tendency to describe life as either getting better or worse; as if it’s on some measurable spectrum of goodness or badness. My mind has exploded and shattered too many times for me to make sense of anything anymore. I’ve stopped thinking of the state of things on any notion of progression or regression. I also refuse the notion of moving on. Moving on sounds like getting over, or getting past, something. I think it’s necessary to stay firmly rooted and confront the truth of our realities.
While I cannot promise that things have, or ever will, “get better,” I do know from this past year that we can heal. Perhaps not completely, but it is possible. There will be days we feel defeated. Know that this is not the same as being defeated. We have work to do.
I often get the question: “What is the Dreamspace?” I think the Dreamspace means something different to everyone but here are some thoughts:
The Dreamspace is a workbook, and more than a workbook.
The Dreamspace is a guide in critical self-work and institutional work.
The Dreamspace is hope. It may be steeped in the reality of our circumstances but it is hope nonetheless.
The Dreamspace is a point of connection for those who seek to be rooted in the long and noble struggle for justice and liberation.
The Dreamspace is a place of gathering. A place simultaneously physical, emotional, and soulful; for people to continue building community.
This past year The Dreamspace Project has connected me with more people than ever, both within and outside of the museum field. It extends beyond my initial vision as a resource for art museum educators on their path of anti-racism. It has become a way for people to find each other in the world. Groups and solitary readers. Within departments and across institutions. That is everything. That is the Dreamspace.
Please continue to seek and find one another. Please do not ever hesitate to reach out to me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Now that the first draft of this chapter is online, I have a few ideas that have been simmering on the back burner that I’d like to take time to compose over the next few months. Soon after, I’ll be developing the next two chapters of the workbook: Decolonization and Democratization. I can’t wait to continue on this journey, and am so glad to be learning and working alongside you all. Until next time.
In love and solidarity,
Alyssa Machida is a writer, artist, and educator based in Detroit, Michigan. She is the author of The Dreamspace Project Workbook, a toolkit and resource investigating critical, anti-oppressive pedagogies and practices in museums and education.
She earned her B.A. in History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.M. in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is currently an Interpretive Specialist at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
When not doing museum things or dreamspacing, she is usually drinking coffee, practicing piano, or listening to jazz. Please feel free to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org