By Karen Price
Having a place at the table can mean many different things, and residents of Adams County will get to explore them all with The People Project from Adams County Arts Council.
Funded in part with a PA Humanities PA SHARP grant – Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan – the collaborative cultural project and event invites residents from across Adams County to share stories, create art, or perform music focused on the theme “My Place at the Table.” Through it, residents can find connections to one another and discover common ground.
“There are several different ways that people can interpret the theme, and that’s on purpose,” said Lisa Cadigan, director of arts outreach and community services at Adams County Arts Council. “The whole point of the project is to invite multiple perspectives so we can all try to think about things from somebody else’s point of view. That builds empathy, and we learn more about ourselves and other people.”
Inspired by her own performance in the live national storytelling event “Listen To Your Mother,” Cadigan first introduced The People Project in 2017 as a contracted guest artist with Gettysburg College. The theme was stories of compassion, inclusion and diversity, and the participants were college students who read their stories at a live stage event at the campus theater.
“The political polarization was becoming so awful then that I wanted to just get people listening to each other and seeing that we are so much more than just one thing,” she said. “That was my goal.”
The next year’s theme was stories of home, followed by masks of oppression. Cadigan joined ACAC in 2020, and that year’s People Project was performed
at Gettysburg College the weekend before COVID shut everything down. In
2021, she continued The People Project at ACAC, shifting to a mostly virtual format and engaging middle and high school students to explore the theme of using creativity to cope with the challenges of the pandemic.
This year, the PA SHARP grant allows Cadigan to expand The People Project into the broader community. In order to choose the theme, they invited members of the community to participate in two different focus groups, came up with a list of five possible themes and then held an online survey. “My Place at the Table” was the winner.
“We live in an agricultural area, which is how the theme was introduced, but we also had people talking about how during COVID everyone was at home, people weren’t eating out as much, they were around the family dinner table more than they’d been in the past,” Cadigan said. “But then we also wanted it to include my place in my family, my place in my community, my place in the world, and use it as a metaphor to tell a personal story.”
ACAC is currently collecting information from those who want to participate about their chosen medium, and they’ll determine the next step based on the submissions. The PA SHARP grant will allow expanding the original staged reading format and combine it with the visual art, music and video.
Making the project resident-driven is important, she said, because over time people have become passive consumers of cultural experiences rather than active participants. Storytelling, playing music, and dancing used to be common amongst family members and friends and were a way to create and build connections, but television and the internet have often replaced those activities. This, Cadigan said, is an opportunity for residents to actively engage in the arts and humanities around a theme that’s meaningful to them.
“The arts and humanities have such a powerful impact on healing and connection,” she said. “It can be an even more meaningful experience with the people you surround yourself with. It’s important to see nuances in perspectives; to see that you have so much that connects you within diverse populations of your community.”