A Leap of (Virtual) Faith

Sarah Wilbur, Ph.D.

COVID-19 delivers grace in unpredictable ways.

To name one: the pandemic has delivered, to me, the exhilarating feeling of running and jumping without knowing what lies on the other side, in the company of creative conspirators.

Through a fall online Service Learning course that I currently teach at Duke, entitled Artists in Healthcare: Collaborations and Complexities, I have resuscitated my relationship with Anne and the brilliant team at TimeSlips. Alongside 47 students from all sorts of backgrounds and the mighty collaborators at Dementia Inclusive Durham, much of my weekly work involves jumping into the unknown with an army of creative conspirators, most of whom I have never physically met.

I should back up and explain that I identify as a “dance person,” a choreographer and dance researcher currently living in Durham North Carolina. I am also the person you see here in this 20 year old picture, lying flat on her belly in the foreground. At age 26, Anne invited me to play the role of “Running Jumping Woman” in a mainstage theatrical production called TimeSlips (the play). Both the character and the play were invented by elders living with memory loss in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my hometown. Running Jumping Woman” (RJW) had no spoken lines, but instead spent the entire play dashing through the space holding a phone book, every now and then placing it down on the floor, jumping off, and tumbling to the ground. In one of the play’s last moments, RJW climbed to her highest point yet—over the two story wall of the stage set—and jumped into an unknown space, beyond the sightlines.

Artistic collaborations with health care partners feel a lot like a deep leap of faith. translation. I have been working in collaboration with health care professionals for two decades with regularity. The course that I now teach emphasizes some of the deep challenges and happy surprises that this work brings. Our class spent the last eleven weeks studying the collaborative complexities of art and health work while also engaging in service learning with Dementia Inclusive Durham (DID), a coalitional group invested in building a networked infrastructure of creative care sites serving persons living with Dementia and their care partners. This work has required more administrative, creative, and collaborative adaptability than I’ve ever experienced on a project. With grace, Duke students have designed recruitment materials, built a calendar and built one-on-one relationships using TimeSlips Beautiful Questions methods (over ZOOM and phone). Their commitment has managed to stitch together a system of support to help combat the widespread isolation that so many of us feel under COVID-19. And I honestly cannot say how this happened, except that it wouldn’t have happened if we had not been invited into the unknown and jumped!

The inaugural Timeslips play in Milwaukee was the byproduct of a gracefully stitched together effort (by Milwaukee elders, Anne Basting, photographer Dick Blau, choreographer Janet Lilly, and Director Gulgun Kayim). Similarly, the Dementia Inclusive Durham collaboration is the byproduct of many dedicated energies and critical moves to shift as the challenges of physical distancing enveloped our project. We have certainly withstood some bloopers that have stalled the journey—slow web connections, dropped calls. We have also weathered felt headaches—zoom fatigue, laborious email threads, anxiety, and failed communication. I have never physically met many of the DID community advocates and care workers, nor have I spent physical time with these 47 Duke students in the space of a classroom. But I do physically feel something shifting due to the delivery system of creative gift exchanges that has been built from their conspiratorial willingness. Together, we have delivered music, and laughter, and connection between relative strangers. Together, we have also been on the receiving end of magnificent creative gifts that remind us of the vast wilderness of creativity held within each and every body.

Inside of this collective online effort to build a Creative Community of Care, a quiet pulse is growing. Marching strangers are showing up, logging in, answering the phone and advancing toward creative fullness and Dementia Inclusion that we hope to grow at a citywide level.

You should join us.

I want to invite anyone reading this blog to join Duke students and myself on Thursday November 12th 2-3pm ET as the students share some of our findings at the TimeSlips Fall Festival of Creative Care webinar.

See you there?

Join us for this webinar, Artists in Healthcare: Collaborations and Complexities
Thursday November 12, 1-2pm CT / 2-3pm ET
Register Here: Duke University/NextGEN Webinar

Sarah Wilbur
Assistant Professor, Duke Dance Program

Picture Credit Note: “Running Jumping Woman” (Sarah Wilbur) TimeSlips – the play (2000). Director Gulgun Kayim. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

Click here learn more about the Dementia Inclusive Duraham project.