By Grey O’Neil
I have often heard it lamented that when budgets are tight, art programs are the first to be cut. After a year filled with governmental talk of defunding “the arts,” from The National Endowment for the Arts to The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, I am grateful the 5/8 guys and I recently had the opportunity to create a video with Light House Studio.
Light House is a local non-profit that aims to equip Charlottesville’s young people with the skills and confidence to tell their stories and build community through filmmaking. The hope is that kids who go through the program will flourish as students, storytellers, and citizens. At first glance, it might be difficult to see how our project— a 4-minute rap music video about dodgeball and Prospect Ave— helps achieve these lofty goals in any meaningful way. Yet, after working on a variety of creative projects, I know few more effective ways of teaching and practicing good citizenship or, as we like to say in 5/8, building brotherhood. Whether it is music, painting, or videography, artistic projects provide spaces for collaboration and community that are difficult to replicate in other settings.
Throughout the entire process, I was encouraged to see the guys wrestling through imagination, communication, and compromise. We began with a blank slate in the basement of Trinity Presbyterian. The guys tossed around ideas for the video, hitting everything from a full length feature film to an interview based documentary to a sports highlight reel and, at last, to a rap music video. As we sat in the circle imagining the many directions we could go, it was great to see each others’ interests that do not come up in our usual weekly meetings (Macklemore, The Discovery Channel, obscure YouTubers, etc). We also gained a window into how the guys think and approach problems. Some were visionaries focused on the big picture and some immediately zoomed into specific and colorful detail.
For the next two weeks, we had to work on communicating these diverse ideas and visions into a coherent story that we would tell with video and song. Like many creative projects, words were sometimes hard to find and the direction seemed to fluctuate all over the place. Some of the guys focused on writing raps that wove together life on Prospect and our weekly games of dodgeball. The rest of the guys each took turns planning shots for the video as well as handling the camera. These new creative tasks not only required good communication but also a good deal of compromise.
With only 6 sessions to write and record a song, to shoot and edit a video, and to put those pieces together, we had to learn how to generate and communicate ideas quickly and how to let them go. This came through most strongly during the editing process. Throughout the project the guys shot hours of footage and wrote many verses for the song. We had to work together figuring out which shots and verses to keep and which to cut. This was a great exercise in learning to work through disagreements, to share responsibility and equipment and ultimately to compromise.
On the whole, our music video was both fun and important for our group. Although none of our guys may go on to become famous rappers, videographers, or dodgeball stars, simply going through the process led the guys (and the leaders) through some of the important motions of citizenship and brotherhood. I once heard it said that “good art” is “good” because it allows room for mystery. It invites us to come together in a shared process of interpretation (i.e. trying to figure what’s going on together). Our hope is that you will enjoy the final video with some friends and that it will encourage you to explore new and creative ways of building community.
Grey O’Neil is a Prospect neighbor and recent UVA grad in his second year of volunteering with the 5/8 Club.