Ducks in a Row

Obliteration. The Ghost Dance. Flash back to when I first arrive in Batti. Kula and I sit on the rotunda at Monkey’s Tale after three days of waiting for the conference he’s participating in at the university to conclude so that I can get face time with him and, above all, see the toys for myself. I need to get a better sense of what the Out-of the Box Curriculum is. Is it real? Is it a fantasy? After almost a year of being frozen out of the loop in Canada I’m beginning to wonder.

DSC01228Where do we go with the curriculum once we know what we’re working with, given the fact that its sponsoring organization and funding conduit, the Butterfly Peace Garden is, for all intents and purposes, now dormant. The Butterfly Garden flutters along on tattered wings  offering intermittent  activity programs on a day-to-day basis for local children. Lacking a reliable funder to sponsor comprehensive programs, the future is uncertain. All contracts for Garden animators have been terminated. They are now day labourers waiting for the phone to ring.

The Monkey’s Tale Center is also closed though we have temporarily pried the doors open a crack using funds generated by the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum campaign in Canada to conduct focus group sessions with students from the Fine Arts Faculty of Eastern University in Batticaloa. Kula and his assistant, Thevakanth, have been engaged to conduct these sessions as well as roll out the final product – four sets of ten curriculum toys – by mid September.

Kula urges me to seek funding for education programs in creative process at Monkey’s Tale. He asks, quite reasonably, what good are these toys now that we have (almost) finished four prototype sets without a center that produces, promotes, and trains people to use them? And what better centre than Monkey’s Tale to promote creative process? After all,  the Butterfly Garden owns it outright, so technically at least we would be our own masters. Why not do something truly relevant to the situation in postwar Sri Lanka, if not the whole world: promote alternative values, alternative realities rooted in compassion and a workable understanding of creative process. We must not lose this opportunity to engage the imagination and good will of young people.

BPG KIDS 2Art is pivotal in re-connecting people not only with their inner capacity to re-dream the world from the depths of imagination but also as a essential component in learning to promote community wellbeing through more thoughtful and creative communication. While digital technology enables instantaneous connection, its speed compromises thoughtful communication. Tweeting and texting are semiotic equivalent to a nod or a wink, and while that may be enough to get a date, we live in deeply disturbing times where hyper-violence, denial and dissociation are the norm. A deeper, more contemplative discourse is needed, one that allows intuitive, elliptical, and authentically heartfelt communication to take place. Collaborative art is the perfect medium to enable such dialogue.

I suggest drafting a concept paper and proposal based in conversations with Fr. Paul Satkunanayagam, Kula and other friends of the Garden to seek primary funding Monkey’s Tale education programs under  Fr. Paul’s patronage. We envision a forum to educate teachers, mental health care professionals, community workers and young people themselves with art practices that open hearts and minds to our common humanity regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious affinities. It is a radical concept in that it would include everyone from swamis and schoolteachers to substance abuse addicts and street kids. The Out-of-the-Box Curriculum encapsulates the core syllabus. I ask Kula the approximate cost of such a program per year. He works out a notional budget estimate of approximately CDN $30,000. Not much really, but where to find it?

Here we are talking about a home for the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum but we have yet to produce the full complement of toys. I point this out and ask to see what we actually have in hand. The inventory includes four handsome Crows, four bejewelled Snakes, Labyrinths but not quite finished, House of Peace perfect, Butterfly and Flower Kolams so-so, Masks and Dream Ladder in process, Mud Mountain remains invisible but I can assure you we are scaling its slippery slope this very moment.

The last three toys exist but only as prototypes to date. MettaMapping for example, an image-based planning process we pioneered at the Butterfly Garden, has been sidelined due to language complexities. The Amma Appa Wheel of Life has inherent design problems involving color reproduction. Mystery Painting, Kula feels, takes too much time, patience and commitment, attributes often lacking in today’s world. All the more reason for including it in the curriculum. It is central to the Heartwork practices of the Garden Path.

So we’ve come a long ways but there are still a few perplexities we need to work through. I’m positive all, or at least most, of our dead ducks will soon be up and in a row, squawking merrily on down the Garden Path. Hup, two, three, four…Quack! Quack! Quack!

Colombo, Sri Lanka
August 3 / 2015



Written by Paul Hogan