I have been facilitating workshops and events professionally since 2013.
Sometimes I’m called an arts educator, teacher, social artist, or facilitator. I’ve travelled to Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal to conferences, trainings, and roundtables to learn the hard skills I need to do this work skillfully: facilitating with questions, leading arts-based games and activities, lesson planning, building a curriculum arc, delivering evaluations, conflict resolution (and more, there’s always more!).
But there’s something beyond these obvious skills that helps me succeed. It’s the thing that motivates me to do this work. It’s the thing I’m actually best at. It’s what I’m meant to do.
In fact I’ve always been doing it. Ten years ago, in the context of my communal, creative, downtown apartment, I regularly hosted house concerts, potlucks, couchsurfers, and skillshares. And before that, I had travelled and explored the world as a canvasser, mushroom picker, personal organizer, activist, cook, musician, and artist. The common thread? I sought conversations and built relationships to provide me – and the people I celebrated with along the way – with new perspectives.
It’s been about relationship building all along.
Some facilitators use the term “container” to describe the way relationships are built and sustained in events. A container is built by setting group agreements and considering what will make the environment safe and engaging for our participants. This could be done with music, the way we set up our art supplies, or with the way we lead the opening and closing circles.
The impact of building a powerful container includes, but is not limited to, the way the room set up makes participants feel, the effect of the facilitators “stage presence”, the expectations participants have for themselves and others, how well trust is sustained, and the reality of what is possible in our time together.
If it’s done well, we have a room full of people who agree to listen well, to try new things, to take risks, to be generous with themselves and others. In order to build that container, I have to get to know my community partners really well before I even walk in that door. I need to take the time to get to know what motivates them in their work, what understanding everyone has of the issue we’ll explore, and what makes their group unique. If it’s done well, it can feel like magic.