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Creative Currents Flow at Still Waters Collective

Oct. 27, 2010
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Ten years ago, poet, author and spoken word performance artist Dasha Kelly wanted to make a positive change in Milwaukee. She gathered several talented artists and offered their artistic educational skills to area schools under the name Still Waters Collective (SWC). Over the years the group has grown to offer in-school programs, teen poetry slam leagues and writing and spoken word workshops, as well as a variety of community events. In addition to fostering talent in others, Kelly continues to publish her work and perform at local and national venues.

What is the origin of SWC?

I was regularly being invited to do poetry and spoken word workshops in schools. I found I was good in the classroom, and I thought other artist folks I knew could be just as good in the classroom. So my initial idea was to start a sort of artist clearinghouse—to have one place that teachers and schools could come when they wanted to bring something different to the classroom. We'd have artists that were amazing in their own right, but that also could teach their art to kids.

What do you think is the major impact of SWC on kids?

From the very beginning, everyone we've worked with is surprised to learn what they can create. All of the workshops we do are founded on the idea of creating something without the pressure of making sure it's grammatically correct or in a classic poetry form. Every workshop I start, I say, “The best news is that in this space there are no wrong answers.” You don't get that in school very often. We want to get kids excited and open up their limitless imagination.

Other than the school programs, what community initiatives does SWC offer?

We do an adult series with an open mic and create a safe space for people to process their thoughts about the world. We bring a national spoken word artist to town every month. We've started a poetry slam team that competes nationally. We do quarterly writing workshops at Woodland Pattern Book Center. I also do a regular series at two Wisconsin prisons. Of all the outreach we do, I find the prison workshops to be among the most rewarding. One inmate told me, “I didn't know words could be this strong.” That really made an impact on me.

What new projects are in the works?

This year we are introducing a new component to our teen workshops to talk about global issues and social trends. Nowadays, young people are bombarded with so much information, but not really taught any way to process it. This workshop gives them an opportunity to talk and decide what they really think about all of the things going on around them. We want to get kids thinking about bigger world issues than just what is happening on “The Hills” or with Lil Wayne. So we sit and have a conversation over pizza, and by the end they have the meat to really write their thoughts about topical world issues. Give them the challenge of being creative about what they write, too, and they are hooked.

For more information about SWC and Dasha Kelly, go to www.stillwaterscollective.com.


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