Monday, June 22, 2009


I arrive on the scene all bleary eyed and quasi-cranky. It’s been a long week. I’d overcommitted myself—once again—to a medley of fun and interesting things that had somehow morphed into obligations. The cell phone—my alarm—had buzzed annoyingly this morning. I had yanked the comforter up over my head. Comforter: there’s a telling word for a blanket. I wanted the comfort of my own personal space and a time of respite. But it is Saturday and I am up as if it were a regular workday, tunneling through the subway for some artsy-fartsy conference-y type thing with a weird sounding name: Goodmeet@SALT, hosted by Double Happiness and SALT artspace. The theme, providentially enough, is on sanctuary. An open-ended discussion and arts workshop, it is posing the questions: How do you design, build, administer, and market a sanctuary? What are the challenges, responsibilities, opportunities, and costs of providing the experience of sanctuary in this economic environment?

On the ride up in the building’s elevator, a sound installation plays. The conference is already insinuating itself into my thoughts and into the everyday. I walk into SALT artspace and am prompted to wash my hands. Erik Fabian, the Goodmeet organizer, pours cool water from a pitcher over my hands. I’m not so much cleansing myself from the swine-flu infested subway poles as I am washing away the stress of a too-busy week. SALT artspace is like a negative exposure of a photograph of New York City: super-clean white walls, shiny wooden floors, peaceful. A bowl of apples and cherries—the yellow kind!—invite well being, and a pot of coffee offers stimulation.

“You are taking part in an experiment,” announces Erik, as we gather around in a circle of folding chairs. “We have a basic theme. And we have a blank schedule.” Erik sets the stage for the day, explaining the concept behind Goodmeet. Everyone is encouraged to create sessions that explore the theme of sanctuary through purposeful dialogue, playful games, and the arts. “You have the opportunity to make this day what you want it to be,” Erik says.

People begin scribbling sessions down in magic marker on blank rectangles of paper and taping them to the wall:

  • Tour of SALT: Story and vision for a contemporary community art space
  • What is “sanctuary” and why do we seek it?
  • The language of repose
  • Discuss examples of existing sanctuaries, both permanent and ephemeral
  • Relics and rituals: Are they relevant?
  • What about home is or is not a sanctuary?
  • What is a labyrinth? Let’s design and walk one.
  • Portable sanctuary. How to create sanctuary anywhere you go.
  • Card games
Each person is therefore a leader and a participant, as sessions can last for any amount of time and run simultaneously with other sessions. We are empowered to use the Law of Two Feet, to use our two feet and walk away if we aren’t getting anything out of a session or if we aren’t able to contribute anything to a session. Like butterflies and bumblebees, we are to flutter from session to session, cross-pollinating them with our ideas.

Products of The System, of changing classes when the bell rings, of routinely shuffling papers in our cubicles from 9 to 5, we don’t know where to begin, how to start. Everything is so freeform. We need a leader to rise up and tell us what to do, to boss us around. A woman speaks up. She is holding a session on session-planning. Everyone circles around her. Am I the only one that thinks this is ironic? Isn’t the idea to disperse and form new clusters? To think beyond the rules? When her session is over, the next woman steps in, suggesting that instead of breaking off into separate groups we all attend her icebreakers session. I hate icebreakers. I hate forced group participation. In fact, when the question arises of who likes thinking outside the box—a question that is supposed to get everyone moving in endorsement—I stand firmly planted. I’m a rule-follower, a cross-your-ts dot-your-is grammarian, who finds comfort in the box … as long as I have the option to leave the box if I so choose. But then we’re told to break into pairs and introduce our partners. Intimacy transpires. We begin knowing each other on a deeper personal level. These aren’t just guys with tattoos and girls with arty earrings; these are multifaceted individuals who have ridden their bikes across the country and who have survived war, these are seekers of love and lovers of words, these are building owners and instructors at MoMA. Each individual has a life story and brings a unique vantage point. Everyone is in this together, encouraging and inspiring one another along the way.

We begin trusting each other—and even trusting ourselves. We open up and start spreading out, breaking off into various sessions. Two people record sounds out on the rooftop. One man facilitates a discussion on the definition of the term “sanctuary.” On a tall mirror he writes in marker the discussion points—words like “boundaries,” “strength,” and “peace”—people throw out. Each individual’s image is reflected back to them, mottled together with these big ideas. The session ends when the session ends, one of the tenets of Goodmeet, but two people hang back, expanding upon the topic of Christianity that had been brought up. Down the steps in another room, some women have, like playful little kids, built a fort. They’ve found sanctuary under some tapestry they’ve strewn over a couple of chairs and are breaking down physical barriers by being in such close proximity to each other and writing on one another. Occasionally, they interact with the group right outside of their tent. That group is sitting quite properly at a table, and its members have taken off their shoes because sanctuary is a holy place. On a large piece of paper taped to the wall, they are listing out the positives and negatives associated with sanctuary. That discussion ended, the women have emerged from their tent and are now answering what the language of repose means through body language as they dance and pose each other. Conversely, the two men in the group have set themselves apart and are deep in thought. One speaks, and poetry comes out. Back upstairs a group of girls are giggling around laptops and ipods. Behind them is a sign: Share your ideas of places to find sanctuary in New York City.

I am sitting on the stairs by myself, listening, writing, invoking Erik’s words that, “It’s okay to be alone … for the whole day if you choose.” Grace Hwang, founder of SALT artspace, had invited me to document Goodmeet@SALT. She’d encouraged me to participate as I felt led. I am finding sanctuary today, though, in being a fly on the wall. It is peaceful listening in on conversations about discovering little safe havens within the hustle-and-bustle of New York City; about the fact that “The marine corps practices sanctuary because it is brutally essential”; and about the ability to find sanctuary even amongst depravity when you know Christ.

The freedom to do whatever one wants, to flow in and out of sessions, creates a sense of peace and purpose. Goodmeet@SALT itself has become a sanctuary. After a challenging week, I am getting just what I need out of this conference, which feels more like a retreat: an opportunity to spend eight hours soaking in creative energies and documenting artists at work through my writing. We leave Goodmeet@SALT exchanging email addresses and promises of future dinners full of more thought-provoking discussion.


Anonymous said...

sanctuary can be hard to find in this city

Julia said...

Hey all,

Thanks so much for your support of Rooftop Films in the past! This week, we have a really exciting upcoming screening. On Friday, June 26th, on the Lower East Side, Rooftop Films presents Humpday, a new twist on the bromantic comedy. It would be great if you could include it online this week.

Also, our July schedule is now available online!

June 26th

When Andrew unexpectedly shows up on Ben's doorstep late one night, the two old college friends immediately fall into their old dynamic of heterosexual one-upmanship. To save Ben from domestication, Andrew invites
Ben to a party at a sex-positive commune. Everyone there plans on making erotic art films for the local amateur porn festival and Andrew wants in. They run out of booze and ideas, save for one: Andrew should have sex with
Ben, on camera. It's not gay; it's beyond gay. It's not porn; it's an art project. The next day, they find themselves unable to back down from the dare. And there's nothing standing in their way - except Ben's wife Anna,
heterosexuality, and certain mechanical questions.

Venue: on the roof of the Open Road Rooftop
Address: 350 Grand Street @ Essex (Lower East Side, Manhattan)
8:00PM: Doors open
8:30PM: Sound Fix presents live music The Antlers
9:00PM: Films
11:30PM - 1:00AM: Open Bar at Fontana’s (105 Eldridge St), courtesy of Radeberger beer
Tickets: $9-$25
Ticketing link:;Rooftop_Films_Humpday

No refunds. In the event of rain, the show will be indoors at the same locations. Seating is first come, first served. Physical seats are limited. This means you may not get a chair. You are welcome to bring a blanket and sit picnic-style, but NO ALCOHOL IS PERMITTED.

For more information about this event and the rest of our summer events, please contact:

Danielle Kourtesis
Music and Outreach Manager, Rooftop Films
232 3rd Street, #D101
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Thank you so much for your time!

Julia Friedman

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a peaceful place of promise.

Erik Fabian said...

Lovely. Thanks for sharing your experience.


L said...

Glad you had a good experience. That a picture of the back of Grace's head? :P

grace said...

I'm so glad you came!

conversations from Goodmeet continue at a social supper @ salt:
July 10, 7-10pm
RSVP here: social supper @ SALT

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