ArtsBuild (formerly Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga) premiered a short film documentary, Walk in My Shoes, on Thursday, May 1, at The Salvation Army’s Recreate Café.
Walk in My Shoes documents the process of a theater program (of the same name) that brings local individuals’ stories to life. The film features the story of Lee Sanders, a man who found himself homeless in Chattanooga several years ago. Through a theatre program at The Salvation Army’s Recreate Café, Mr. Sanders was able to share his story with others, and he hopes, help others who might be in a similar situation.
The six-minute film was produced by ArtsBuild as a way to tell the story of how the arts touch the lives of people from all walks of life. “We were trying to think of an innovative way for ArtsBuild to show how the arts are woven into the lives of everyone around us,” said Dan Bowers, president of ArtsBuild, “The programs that have emerged out of our Community Cultural Connections grants are perfect examples of this reach.”
The CCC grant program, which started in 2012, is a direct result of Imagine Chattanooga 20/20, the community’s long-range cultural plan. The goal of the grants is to make arts and culture more accessible to underserved populations in Hamilton County. Since December 2012 a total of $120,000 has been awarded to more than 40 local organizations.
The Salvation Army’s Recreate Café was one of the CCC grant’s first recipients. The grant funds were used to help produce a theatre performance called Walk in My Shoes in August 2013. The Recreate Café at The Salvation Army 614 Corps at 800 McCallie Ave. seeks to bridge the gap between the homeless and artistic communities. It allows members of the homeless community to exercise talents and gifts they may not have an opportunity to use anywhere else, while inviting Chattanooga's artistic community to come alongside and minister with them.
Tenika Dye, who serves as the artistic director of the Recreate Café, created the Walk in My Shoes theatre program. “It might seem like a simple concept; however, Walk in My Shoes’ impact has proven to be great. I have discovered that these performances become about so much more than art and entertainment. The level of empathy that is created is inspiring,” said Ms. Dye.
In the production, homeless and non-homeless people tell each other’s stories of survival and hope. “In my opinion, empathy helps us to say ‘I feel with you, not just I feel sorry foryou,’” said Ms. Dye. “If you tell your story, that is powerful, but if you allow someone else to tell your story, that is monumental and that takes courage, but it is worth it.”
Leif Ramsey with SVAD Productions directed the film. “Directing the film Walk in My Shoes completely changed my perceptions about homelessness,” said Mr. Ramsey. “It had never occurred to me that these people, maybe just a few years before, had been like you or I - with a good job and a loving family. Life is fragile, and it can all fall apart very quickly, leaving one with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.”
When I was filming Walk in My Shoes, something very rare happened: I got to see someone's life change course right in front of me, in real time,” said Mr. Ramsey. “One of the characters in the theater production, ‘Lee,’ as a result of telling his story, realized he needed to put his life back on track. He's now on the road to leaving his camp, integrating back into employment, housing and a better life.”
“[ArtsBuild] hopes to produce more short films like this each year to show the community what an important role the arts play in our diverse community,” said Mr. Bowers. The Walk in My Shoes film can be seen at https://vimeo.com/90864246.