Stacy sitting on the ground with a child.
Image courtesy of The Well.

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Q&A with Executive Director and Founder of The Well

Posted on October 16, 2023

The Well has been centering art, writing, and mindfulness through community programs such as the True Body Project and Mindful Music Moments since 2005. FotoFocus interviewed Stacy Sims, Executive Director and Founder, to learn more about the organization and its participation in The Convening this month.

The Well is a Cincinnati-based, national nonprofit providing programs, practices and, connection at the intersection of arts and wellness. Its first program was the True Body Project (TBP), an award-winning, trauma-sensitive program that provides Leadership Training, workshops, and curricula for individuals to implement in schools and organizations in their area. The TBP has now been experienced by individuals and organizations from all over the world. The Well’s signature program, Mindful Music Moments, was piloted at a Cincinnati Public School as a response to the increasing number of young people suffering from anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. It combines contemplative and creative prompts with world-class music for daily use in schools, often over the announcements. Since the pilot in 2016, this curricula is now in more than 320 PreK–12 schools nationally, for which world-class performing arts organizations are commissioned to create new music. The Well has created other community programs including Mindful Poetry Moments and City Silence.

In 2019, these programs were rebranded under The Well, which became the non-profit, A Mindful Moment, and in 2022, they found their own permanent space in Camp Washington. FotoFocus chatted with Executive Director and Founder Stacy Sims to learn more about The Well and how the organization will be participating in The Convening.

TBP 169
Image courtesy of The Well.

FotoFocus: For anyone who may be unfamiliar with The Well, can you speak to the organization’s mission and values? How are those themes being incorporated into The Convening?

Stacy Sims: The Well, nourished by the non-profit A Mindful Moment, provides programs, practices and connection at the intersection of arts and wellness. Our mission is to improve the mental and emotional well-being, connectedness, and effectiveness of all persons through arts integration, mindfulness, music, movement, and healing-centered practices. Our core values are Accessibility, Connection, Collaboration, Diversity, Deep Listening, Equity and Social Innovation.

For The Convening, we are delighted to share our Sound Intersections project, a new music commission that will premiere in November in more than 100 schools across the country in a daily listening practice called Mindful Music Moments. This new music was created by Appalachian composer Nate May in collaboration with mixed Ancestry elder and storyteller Omope Carter Daboiku (Mama O) and Eastern Shawnee Tribe citizen Talon Silverhorn, and explores how sounds and human history weave together in the Ohio River Valley. We feel this project bridges all of our values with particular emphasis on Connection, Collaboration and Equity:

  • Connection: We believe in the direct and potent connection between mind and body, between two humans, and within the wider collective. We center arts and wellness practices as the vehicle for finding common ground and remembering our own humanity and hope.
  • Collaboration: We believe in the power of collaboration and partnership, harnessing our collective strengths to create a brighter, more inclusive future.
  • Equity: We recognize that historically marginalized and underrepresented communities have faced significant systemic barriers that have prevented important art, wellness, expressive and social resources to be honored as valued and important to individual and collective well-being.
Sound Intersections
Image courtesy of The Well.

FF: How does your personal work and philosophy relate to the themes of The Convening?

SS: To be honest, I have a lot to learn from the wisdom of artists and thought leaders like Talon, Mama O, Nate, and those who I will meet at The Convening. To hold space for deep and abiding appreciation of the sacredness of the land is a newer practice for me. I’ve been influenced by my relationship with the On Being Project team and in personal practice with a 10-day off-grid nature-based experience, yet I am not as steeped in this form of deep listening as I would like to be.

What I do nourish is connection, collaboration, and love to create the conditions for deep, creative explorations that help bring amazing people together and to influence the field at large. That is what The Convening does so beautifully.

FF: Do you consider this land, this place, this region in your work with The Well and how? How does place play into that?

SS: Much of our work is national and delivered digitally, virtually. We have only recently come to have our own space in Camp Washington. This has allowed us to fortify our place-based work. You will hear a lot about trains in the Sound Intersections program. As I write this, the moan of the trains in the near distance as they are maneuvered into the shunting yard are singing to me. This very sound became embedded in one of our commissions called Neighborhood Songlines, where individuals shared their favorite sounds and Jennifer Howd composed sound collages for two Cincinnati neighborhoods.

You will hear about these trains in the Sound Intersections workshop and performance. When I shared a draft of the music this summer with 12 youth apprentices who were working on an 8-week project with us based on their self-created theme of Planet Love, they thought the trains sounded like space whales. So space whales ended up having a big role on Planet Love!

That’s just one example of how the sound of this place has resonated in so many different ways.

Welcome Performance 2
A Welcome Reception and Performance on October 20, 2023 will feature musicians and key collaborators for The Well: Omope Carter Daboiku, Dayton, OH (image by Amy Harper); Talon Silverhorn, Yellow Springs, OH (image courtesy of the artist); and Nate May, Oakland, CA (image by Fjóla Evans)

FF: Is there anything you think our audience should know or consider prior to experiencing the performances on Friday night and Saturday afternoon?

SS: Yes. A couple of things. This project began with a conversation with the former director of the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition, who explained to me that the movement of peoples and the intersections and departures of movement was a more apt musical story of our region than to look at any single influence. One of our earlier collaborators knew Nate May. Nate had worked with Mama O. Mama O had recently met Talon Silverhorn. The thrill of producing projects like this is to ride the wave and see the alchemy of what comes from funding, inviting and making space for new, collaborative work.

And wait until you hear everyone. The music they make, the wisdom they hold, and the humility with which they approach their own listening practice is truly inspiring.

FF: What is coming next for The Well? How can we support your endeavors?

Well logo Square

SS: What a lovely question. We are excited about a new music commission with a soon-to-be-announced composer in actual and musical conversation with our friend Alan Lightman, physicist, author and inspirer. His three-part PBS series “Searching: Our Quest for Meaning in the Age of Science” will be the jumping off point for a 2024 conversation and the new music itself.

We are working to grow our impact on youth mental wellbeing in our school programs and in deeper dives, with more substantial creative output, including a youth-made offering for FotoFocus 2024.

There are two opportunities to connect with The Well during The Convening:

Join us from 6-9pm on Friday, October 20th at MECCA OTR for a Welcome Reception and Performance for The Convening. The evening will feature musicians and key collaborators for The WellOmope Carter Daboiku, Dayton, OH; Nate May, Oakland, CA; and Talon Silverhorn, Yellow Springs, OH. Then, on Saturday, October 21 there will be a Workshop Performance of Sound Intersections at the Contemporary Arts Center, 2:30pm, as part of the afternoon session. Sound Intersections is a collaborative new music commission uplifting Appalachian, African American, and Native American musical traditions within the Ohio River Valley featuring: Nate May, Composer, Oakland, CA; and Talon Silverhorn, Cultural Educator, Yellow Springs, OH; in sonic conversation with Cincinnati-based musicians Jay BolotinKathryne Gardette, and Baba Charles Miller

Check out the full Symposium schedule.