Meida Teresa McNeal is a performing artist with Honey Pot Performance and Arts & Culture Manager for Chicago Park District. Her parents lived in Fifth City and participated in ICA's first community development project there in the 1960s.
Tell us about yourself. What do you do and where are you based?
I am an artist-administrator-educator. I am director of Honey Pot Performance, an Afro-feminist performance collective in Chicago. I also work with the Chicago Park District as Arts & Culture Manager supporting community arts partnerships, youth arts, cultural stewardship, and civic engagement initiatives across the city’s parks and cultural centers. As an educator and scholar, my work is at the intersection of performance studies, dance and critical ethnography. I teach courses in the body and gender, race, class, and sexuality; dance studies; critical performance ethnography; and black diasporic cultural production from time to time. I live in Albany Park now but have lived all over this city including Rogers Park, Edgewater, Humboldt Park, and Fifth City in East Garfield Park.
How did you encounter ICA? What is your current relationship?
My parents were part of the Fifth City movement. I went to the preschool and spent a lot of time in that community through the time I was about 12 or 13. Since then, I’ve kept a small archive of my parents’ documents and papers including some of the annual reports from the Fifth City project. Examining these led me to discovering ICA’s Global Archives and its ongoing Sojourns. I’m working on a solo performance project: Fifth City revisited / Imaginal Politics embodied. Digging in ICA’s archives has created a next level of richness to the project and the storytelling in the work. I am inspired and intrigued by the complexity of the work at the human scale. I find myself seeing many parallels in the work I do as an artist-administrator-educator and the core principles and methods ICA uses around consensus, creativity, experimentation, collective labor, contextual/historical information, facilitation and dialogue.
What are you currently working on?
In my work as an artist and in the parks, I am always surrounded by and working with community. At the core of my work is a central interest in guiding and activating communities to honor their knowledge and skill sets while leveling up on the skills and knowledge they may need to solve challenges they may be facing. My solo performance project, Fifth City revisited, explores the ways that the Fifth City demonstration project exists as a historical example in alignment with much of the coalition building and neighborhood focused planning happening today all across the city, and especially on the South and West Sides. I am interested in those resonances across and making them come alive in interesting ways through performance. In my work in the parks, one of my favorite programs is called Re:Center. With a team of folks, we guide park staff, community, and local artists through a neighborhood mini-cultural planning process at each one of our 15 park cultural centers throughout the city. For the past five years, it has been an amazing journey to imagine, plan, and create with different communities to see what kinds of cultural programs and events they dream up to meet the needs of those communities. We have also prioritized capturing our work along the way so we learn from the accomplishments and challenges of each community and then integrate into our best practices for cultural planning at the neighborhood level.
How does your work intersect with ICA and its mission?
I am fascinated with the intersections! The focus on community, process, solving challenges with people power—these are all things I see operating in ICA that are integral to my work as an artist-administrator-educator. I am particularly interested in the accelerate77 and Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network projects of ICA because of their reach across the city. This really is so much part of the work I do daily with Chicago’s parks and communities.